The Force is strong with J. Cole. I first witnessed this during a performance in a small auditorium at New York University’s Kimmel Center in August of ’09, when tangible sincerity radiated off of Jay-Z’s first Roc Nation signee and alleged protégé. I’d become familiar with his mixtapes prior to the show and, like the NYU students, curious industry onlookers, and countless others who weren’t present, had started to believe in the young Jedi’s potential to herd hip-hop into the next golden era.
Fast forward to last night at Roc The Mic Studios in Manhattan where a tiny group of music writers gathered in the very same room where Cole recorded his “A Star Is Born” verse for Hov’s Blueprint 3, where Beyoncé and her husband (no pressure!) stood by watching. It was the second of two intimate listening sessions for the North Carolina-bred rapper/producer’s first full-length album, Cole World: The Sideline Story, and (Jermaine) Cole was present to walk us through the sixteen tracks and single skit on his highly-anticipated September 27th release. Less nervous than he was for the first group of critics because the ice had now been broken, he made the disclaimer that he wouldn’t play songs we’d already heard (including Drake-featured “In The Morning,” the album’s first single “Workout,” or the song that got him signed, “Lights Please”), but we’d get to hear everything else. While song titles and the track order may still change before Cole turns-in the final product, Jay-Z has already dubbed Cole World a “classic.”
Whether you’re already familiar with his music or not, you should know that most of the tracks on the LP were produced by Cole himself. Just like his verbal techniques, Cole World is wildly multi-faceted; his emotionally-aware lyrics are supported by a plethora of flows and delivery styles that can often leave you feeling like he could hail from any region in the country. Remaining relatable and grounded while on his path to stardom, the 26-year-old rapper tackles issues on the album that are just as much heartfelt as they are cerebral. His tracks are frequently wordplay-riddled stories about temptation and failed relationships, a father that abandoned him, and the stress that comes with developing a trustworthy circle while fighting for industry respect, all of which expose the rapper’s relentless confidence and innermost vulnerabilities, and everything in between. Effortlessly pandering to the progressive listener, his versatility simultaneously manages to not alienate potential fans that might be a bit less open-minded; in an era of hip-hop when objectifying women is what’s popular, J. Cole’s new music makes you want to shake his single mother’s hand for raising such a smart, respectful—but still cool and potentially radio-friendly—young man.
Besides Drake and Trey Songz (the latter of which sings a hook on already-revealed “Can’t Get Enough”), Cole World includes a feature from a hush-hush female artist whose identity we’re not at liberty to divulge, but was written by him “with her in mind” and is assuredly bananas. As the listening came to a close, Roc Nation’s prince discussed how, considering the album’s fast-approaching deadline, still waiting for a verse from throne-watching Jay-Z makes him feel like he’s a player on the bench, wondering if his “coach figure” will, in fact, ever put him “in the game.” But Cole seems zen-like and mentally prepared for either outcome. Should
Obi-Wan Jay decide to bless the hip-hop Jedi, the song is ready, beautiful, and, might we add, perfectly tailored just for him.