It has been proven to be a bit difficult for new artists to overcome the dreaded sophomore jinx, following a considerably successful debut with an album that resonates like the first offering. J. Cole on the other hand, reeled us in with his stellar mixtapes and guest appearances. While Cole’s debut “Cole World: Sideline Story” aimed to keep those “dollar and a dream” goals blended with great production and clever rhymes, Jermaine’s debut fell short of being a thrilling effort but didn’t make us question his capabilities. Returning with an admittedly darker theme, “Born Sinner” aims to serve as the apology for the aforementioned.
“Villuminaity” kicks off with a bang and it becomes evident Cole’s been working on his skills as a producer, although its a bit reminiscent of Timbo’s catchy production. With a fitting Biggie sample, Cole goes at those looking to take his position in his absence: “This is a message for some rappers tryna steal my spot/You ni**as famous on the internet I’m real life hot, homie…get your weight up.” He even lightheartedly disses newcomer Trinidad James before declaring “…But if the hoes like it, I love it ni**a, ni**a, ni**a.” Initially, i came into this album wanting tracks that talked about his new found success and how he’s coping with the fame and fortune. We get a glimpse of this in the form of the minute long interlude, “Mo’ Money” which easily could’ve been one of the most meaningful songs had it not been cut so short. “Trouble” is the darker path Cole was aiming for with this album; haunting choir, engaging production, and he’s even tackling the topic of new temptation.
Cole’s strength as a lyricist has always been his ability to be relatable to his listeners. He became popular amongst college kids because he shared the struggle of paying school debts, everyday money struggles, and having the determination to become better. “Runaway” does a magnificent job of capturing what he now goes through with the fame he has; facing the difficulty of being what his girlfriend needs: “You don’t wanna let her down, but you too young for the settle down” he proclaims. But the song becomes multilayered as he goes on to tackle some extremely touchy topics that easily make this track one of Cole’s best offerings ever.
With his second album Cole’s growth as an artist has become more apparent, but sometimes he misses the opportunity to execute. Such is the case with the clever “Forbidden Fruit”. The track incredibly samples A Tribe Called Quest’s classic “Ecclectic Relaxation” and features Kendrick Lamar doing background vocals but it needed a verse from K Dot to really bring things full circle. The track everyone’s been discussing as intended is “Let Nas Down.” Co produced by No ID, it’s everything you’d imagine it would be complete with a bluesy vibe, as Cole describes how he felt upon learning of his idol’s disappointment in using “Work Out” as a single. “You made “You Owe Me,” dog I thought you could relate.” Elsewhere, “Crooked Smile” features TLC on vocals and they deliver an uplifting hook with a storyline reminiscent of their classic “UnPretty”. It’s sure to be a hit for radio that even Nas may approve of.
Understandably, Jermaine is still finding his footing as an artist, but he’s off to a good start. Production wise he’s never been sharper than he is now, but his problem is his album runs lengthier than it needs to which often results in him coming off as boring sometimes. His talent is only laughable when he passionately delivers mediocre bars: (“Just copped a Maroon 5, no Adam Levine”). But his artistry lies in his dedication to make us believers. Even if that means releasing this effort on the same day as that megastar with the silly album title. Let the showdown commence.