Cole World, no blanket, huh?
That witty play on words doesn’t truly tell the story of the warmth and support rapper J. Cole gets now in his hometown, Fayetteville, N.C.
The release of his debut album Cole World: The Sideline Story has been highly anticipated since the man who put the city I currently reside in on the map for more than just Fort Bragg and it’s Fayettenam moniker.
The tweets began much earlier but it was after the albums’ midnight release on iTunes that one tweet stood out to me. A friend of mine casually stated, “Man, it’s a great day to be from Fayetteville.” That only begins to tell the story of how much he truly means to that city and North Carolina’s hip-hop scene as a whole with producer 9th Wonder and rapper Phonte also releasing albums today.
WATCH theGRIO’s TODD JOHNSON INTERVIEW J. COLE HERE
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What’s more ironic about his signature phrase is how difficult its been for critics and aficionados to describe him without using some blanket statement that ignores important components of who he is.
To say he’s conscious is to ignore the heavy influences of Pac and gangster rap in his music. To say he’s raw is to ignore how simply and eloquently he can convey complex ideas. What isn’t confusing is that for every act North Carolina has put out, none have had the pressure or exposure Cole has had leading up to his debut.
Petey Pablo had the monster single — “Raise Up” — that Cole has found elusive. And Little Brother had the untouchable underground following but neither had this many people waiting with baited breathe for their initial release like Cole has.
Cole World: The Sideline Story is J Cole bursting out the tunnel and through the smoke with the North Carolina flag in his hand, sprinting towards glory.
From the beginning you’re instantly indoctrinated into his journey.
On “A Dolla & A Dream III,” Cole perfectly describes the balance he achieves, “I got nerds rapping hard, the dummies rapping smart.” Putting the third installment of a track on your debut album is also a perfect example of the shift artists have made when mixtapes became legitimate projects, not just throw away tracks.
“Lights Please” — reportedly one of the songs that caught Jay-Z’s ear and led to him being signed by Roc Nation — made the album despite being a couple years old. “In The Morning” with Drake is also a track, long-time Cole fans will recognize from his mixtape, Friday Night Lights.
The obligatory Jay-Z feature, “Mr. Nice Watch,” was shooting for something spacey and futuristic. While the verses were nearly impossible not to love, a soulful sample and smoother beat would’ve been more fitting.
It was great to hear Missy Elliott again on “Nobody’s Perfect”. Especially with booming bass and a Curtis Mayfield sample behind it. The No I.D.-produced “Never Told” was a dope perspective on the chase, the code and being a torn young man. The keys struck me like they were subtly paying homage to “Moments In Love” by the Art of Noise.
“Rise & Shine” felt like the Cole that was so engaging on “Simba”, “Grown Simba” & “Return of Simba”. It was passionate, hopeful, honest and full of braggadocio. Tracks like “God’s Gift” knocked where tracks like “Breakdown” were just undeniably well done
So what could you say for his transition from mixtape star to mainstream commodity? I’d say he’s won this first round unanimously.
Powerhouse self-production and well placed tracks from others like No I.D. erase all doubt of what Cole would come up with being left to his devices to come up with the album.
Lyrically, it’s just hip-hop. Raw, passionate, insightful, brash but most importantly dope. The worry has always been for everything Cole brings to the table lyrically, he’s struggled to put out just a monster single or club anthem and I don’t know if you can point to one song on this project that will be his breakout hit.
Time will tell how radio reacts to his release but at the very least Cole has reinforced the logic that you can truly make it from anywhere in this current music landscape. Even though he was proactive about giving himself the best possible chance — moving to New York City after high school to attend St. Johns University — he encapsulated his logic for it perfectly in a bar aimed at New York, “I came up here to take advantage of that sh*t you take for granted.”
With such a solid opening salvo, let’s hope hip-hop doesn’t take this Southern treasure for granted