J. Cole’s name has been floating around the hip-hop community for a few years now, but nobody quite knew what to expect from Cole World: The Sideline Story. Releasing an album isn’t nearly as easy as it used to be, and gone are the days when a debut album was truly a debut. To release an album in the hip-hop world today, an artist must first establish themselves by releasing hundreds of free songs and multiple successful mixtapes. Cole has done this over the past 4 years or so, but getting a record label (in Cole’s case Roc Nation) to approve a debut album is merely the beginning. Often times labels will force artists to commercialize their music to boost sales, causing artists to abandon the style which garnered them fans. Couple this with the expectations that accompany an album years in the making, and artists face the seemingly impossible challenge of pleasing both fans and their label, while still putting out a quality piece of work that is true to the vision of the artist.
These were all concerns that I and many others rightfully had as Cole’s album was continually pushed back, particularly because Cole has a raw style that is tough to release to a broad audience. However, the album finally arrived, and to the relief of many he stayed true to himself and released an album marked by its impressive production, creative lyrics, and unmatched rhymes. Sure, there are big name features, including Jay-Z, Trey Songz, Drake, and Missy Elliot, but unlike previous peers such as B.O.B. and Big Sean, Cole released his album without a radio hit. The album is undoubtedly authentic and true to the unique style that made fans cling to Cole over the years. Simply for this reason, Cole deserves acclaim regardless of the number of copies his album sells. There is a surprising twist to this story, however: The album did sell, and sell quite well. In fact, it debuted at #1, making Cole the first artist to have their debut album open at #1 in 17 months. All these accolades couldn’t be more deserved, because the album is simply remarkable.
When first listening to this album, one can’t help but be amazed by Cole’s lyrical talent. His diversified rhyme scheme and gut wrenching lyricism jump out in nearly every song and it’s tough to not be impressed by how hungry Cole truly is. Midway through the intro, it’s quickly apparent that Cole wants listeners to know exactly how hard he worked for everything he has accomplished, and how difficult his struggle truly was. This gives his songs an edge that is unmatched by any artist today. As one would expect, this also leads to extremely personal songs, with topics ranging from reminiscence on his mother’s sacrifices in “Breakdown”, to exploring the issues of early pregnancy in “Lost Ones”. The production of the album was done mostly by Cole himself, with help from big time producers such as No I.D., and not only are the beats diverse and outstanding, but every song tells a story. Additionally, the tracks are played in such an order that they blend well and create an overall story for the entire album. There is no doubt that Cole doesn’t disappoint on this long awaited debut, but the message he sends on the album is perhaps most important: You can do it your own unconventional way, maintain your artistic integrity, and still come out on top.
-Witness Cole in Concert in D.C. October 19th at the Fillmore Center
- Ryan Martin, Co-Host of Eargasm, Sunday nights 10-11 PM on WGTB