The summer of 2013 is an important one for American hip-hop. Numerous hip-hop artists have taken a few years to write and produce new work, and they are all looking to deliver. New and upcoming albums by Kanye West, Mac Miller and Jay-Z have all been highly anticipated releases.
All things considered, the artist who may have the most to prove with his newest album is J. Cole. “Born Sinner,” the second effort by Cole to hit the market, was released on June 18, the same day as West’s “Yeezus.” West won the battle of the charts, selling 327,000 copies in the first week and peaking at No. 1. “Born Sinner” was a close second on the chart, only 30,000 copies short of matching “Yeezus.”
The sophomore studio album by Cole is very much a departure from the equation that made studio debut “Cole World: The Sideline Story” a commercial success. “The Sideline Story” was released in 2011 and peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. Singles “Work Out” and “Can’t Get Enough” were extremely successful and made it onto radio airwaves and house party playlists across the country.
Cole spits his lyrics magnificently on the tracks and relies heavily on his samples and cool rhythm to give an edge to melodies that would otherwise be considered slow jams. This is more or less the story of the whole album, and the formula worked and made “The Sideline Story” a gold-certified album. Altogether, it showed off his versatility by being able to put out music that appeals to different audiences, whether the songs are for the clubs or are lyrically more socially conscious.
“Born Sinner” contains different portions of the formula that brought J. Cole to the forefront of the hip-hop mainstream, but it is a lot harder to take seriously. He shows much less adaptability, sticking mostly with the experimental samples and cutting out the potential for any of the album’s singles to be radio hits.
As the title may suggest, the lyrical topics are much darker, and it’s a common theme for the entirety of the release. In his lyrics, he struggles with the battles he faces romantically, morally, religiously and financially, and almost sounds conflicted in different tracks.
Certain songs that could be construed as emotional or deep are slightly tarnished when he references profanities out of nowhere, like in the opening track “Villuminati.” The track opens with some very rhythmic percussion and beautiful strings, but he starts rapping about haters, drops the word “faggot” and gives a strange, contradictory reason for using the word. Cole’s maturity level seems to have regressed from where it was at in his debut.
All in all, the album is difficult to take seriously. Essentially, it is a repeat of “Sideline Story” but with much less thought put into it. The instrumentals are wonderful and provide a smooth, groovy vibe for each track, but in the end, listening to his lyrics counterbalanced the great work that was done musically. It’s a decent effort, but very mediocre. Cole should have put more work into his lyrical writing and shouldn’t have diverted from the sound that made him famous. I give the album 2.5 out of 5 stars.
Joseph Wenberg is a junior in mass communications. Please send comments to email@example.com.