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J. Cole, ‘Born Sinner’ – Album Review

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“I feed off of rejection,” said J. Cole as he gave the back story of his sophomore album, ‘Born Sinner,’ for a room full of fans and press at his listening session in New York City Thursday evening (June 7) at the SVA Theatre. The 28-year-old emcee’s journey up to this point has been complicated.

As Jay-Z’s first signee to Roc Nation, a former XXL Magazine Freshman with popular mixtapes and someone who crafted a solid debut LP, ‘Cole World: The Sideline Story,’ the pressure was on Cole to create an album that met the expectations of the buzz surrounding him.

So in response to the demand, he delivered. But radio wasn’t catching his pitches. From ‘Who Dat’ and ‘Higher’ to ‘Blow Up,’ Cole’s singles were falling short. His boss Jay-Z believed in the potential of each song, but even he couldn’t predict the songs’ performances.

Cole soon became a slave to this downfall. He wanted to grab the ears of radio listeners and lost his essence along the way. “I made uninspired music,” he admits. The North Carolina native did break through with ‘Work Out’ and ‘Can’t Get Enough’ featuring Trey Songz, but his debut album had a lukewarm reception.

Now Cole has retraced his steps to shape ‘Born Sinner’ into his “reintroduction” — the one he owes his fans and himself as an artist. This album is about “going through hell trying to make it to heaven,” he expressed to the audience inside the SVA Theatre.

Has he finally reached those pearly gates? His new record shows he has and also that he deserves entry. Across the board, Cole has shown growth.

Thematically, ‘Born Sinner’ is a symbol of spiritual warfare. Cole is tugged by temptation, fame and women while trying to remain true to himself. He provides a rich story of these battles. Sometimes he’s Preacher Cole. On ‘Chaining Day,’ he mocks those who validate their souls with pricy pieces around their necks. “If a hater snatch your chain, I swear it still won’t free you,” he raps.

Other times he’s the troubled man, needing to get saved. On ‘Runaway,’ Cole has a good woman in his life, but he has wondering eyes. He honestly raps that “there’s a whole lot of actresses I like to bone.”

On ‘Let Nas Down,’ an anticipated track, Cole apologizes for sacrificing his art to fit in to a mold that he was never meant to be in. “Pac was like Jesus / Nas wrote the Bible / Long live our idols / May they never be our rivals,” he proclaims.

The mood of ‘Born Sinner’ is mostly dark and heavy and Cole’s transitions are intricately woven in. Occasionally, the voices of a gospel choir chime in on several tracks, a motif adding depth to the album. Cole shows he’s a proud ‘80s baby, sampling rap anthems he grew up on including the Notorious B.I.G. on ‘Villuminati,’ OutKast on ‘The Land of Snakes,’ and A Tribe Called Quest on the Kendrick Lamar-assisted ‘Forbidden Fruit.’

He successfully places features where they need to happen, but is able to steer this ship without many hands.

‘Born Sinner’ makes one thing clear: Cole isn’t a waste of time. From the rapper’s choice to push up his release date to compete with Kanye West’s ‘Yeezus,’ to the tech savvy idea of presenting the album in eight cities through the mobile app Lisnr, Cole eagerly wants this moment to be right. The people decide now.

The album hits stores June 18, 2013.

Watch J. Cole’s ‘Power Trip’ Video Feat. Miguel

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