"I’m out for Presidents to represent me"
Jeru Da Damaja & Big. Brooklyn.
Action Bronson handles his…
Seven Series Triplets
"& Guardin’ the base like Graig Nettles"
"I know ya thinkin’
Well, God Damn,
What he drinkin’”
"Here’s a toast to my foes, trees & women,
it’s like a whole new beginning”
It’s said that an artist’s best work, comes from them being in one of the worst places in life. J Cole is no exception to this theory. Cole stated that he was fighting depressing throughout the process of this whole album, due to multiple reasons. He recently admitted that his first album “Cole World”, was a little rushed. He felt like he was losing the opportunity to capitalize on his buzz, so he had to put an official body of work out there. It make’s sense, us hip hop fans noticed. Compared to Cole’s “Warm up” & “Friday Night Lights” mixtapes, his debut album was subpar. But this “Born Sinner” shit, this shit right here…this is the J Cole we’ve been waiting for.
The album almost has a 90’s feel, with the skits and just the raw hip hop on it. There’s only one real commercial record & it’s his single “Power Trip” with Miguel, aside from that, it seems like Cole had the creative control of this album. The album starts off with one of the best tracks off “Born Sinner”, “Villuminati”. An interesting title as it is, Cole follows up with bars over his own production. Threw the Biggie sample on it, “Born Sinner, opposite of winner” *Biggie voice*. One of the more notable pieces of this song is how he admits that Pac had him “saying fuck Biggie & Jay” at an early age, the irony, considering Jay is his mentor/ label head. He also stays true to the title of the album when he explains how he’s done a deal with the devil (the industry), & is pleading for his soul back. Cole does something interesting with his production on this album. On a couple of tracks, he flips a couple of songs that had an influence on him. He displayed this one the next track “Land Of the Snakes”, where he samples “Da Art of Story Tellin’” by Outkast. The title is pretty self explanatory. But Cole sums it up in the first 2 bars of the song, when he states “Lord knows, the hoes from the past like/ “Damn Cole, wish I knew you would be rich”. Insinuating that people from his past, might try to establish themselves in his life again after his success, these people, are the snakes, obviously. He starts off reflecting on his come up. Times in which he was sharing the bedroom with his brother, & the first stages of him as a country boy from North Carolina, contemplating going to the “Big city” that is New York. He says in the chorus that a chick he met in the club that night is warning him, “watch the snakes, ‘cause they watching you”, a nice twist Cole adds on from a writers standpoint, considering the chick he met in the club is probably exactly what she’s warning him of. The best verse of the song is the third, maybe not bar for bar, but concept wise it is. This third verse is about how after all his success, J. Cole runs into a girl who let him hit it and quit it on the first night. If anyone, a jump-off like that, would be the ideal person to try to snake you. But Cole spits “Now I’m standin’ in the street, tryna politic with her/ in her mind she calling me a misogynist nigga”. It’s an ironic twist that now hes trying to talk to her instead of vice versa, and at the end of everything all she has to say to him is “Yeah, I remember you and nah you ain’t worth shit nigga”. Damn, shot to the pride. Skipping over the single “Power Trip”, there’s the “Mo’ Money” interlude. The first thing I picked up when listened to this was he was kind of using the same flow Jay-Z used in his first verse to his 1997 song “Imaginary player”, in the same boastful way. Jay-Z boasts “You beer money, I’m all year money/ I’m “papi, you ain’t gotta count it”, its all there money”, & Cole states “Party money, side hoe money, dope money/ New clothes money from shit that I wrote money”. Cole, however, shows humility, when he says in the following lines “Still broke, compared to niggas with old money”. After the interlude came the 6th track, “Trouble”, A relatable song in the sense that we’ve all come across the females who are trouble from the jump, and we know it. The type of woman that Bel Biv Devoe was talking about in their classic “Poison”. In the first verse, he’s talking about a chick he’s hesitant to fuck, because once he does, it’s likely he’ll get caught up in the web and fall into the trap. His crew doesn’t understand, they’re attitude is just “Fuck it, fuck her”, but they don’t realize it from the standpoint of being a well-known rapper. Once he slips up, she runs off with half. In the second verse, he speaks on a female who fools people from the surface. She’s in school, seemingly trying to do right, but even a woman with her potential has the same old ulterior motives. Cole raps “I ain’t fooled cause a lot of cool bitches that nigga went to school with is major hoes/ and their mans don’t know, mans don’t know, fa sho’”. Moral of the story is don’t get caught up, don’t be fooled, no matter what the situation seems like. The following track, has some of the most substance on the album. “Runaway”, is a love and departure type of song, with a very personal look inside J Cole’s relationship, or what was. It’s another example of how good of a job Cole did, at connecting with the people on a deeper level. It’s based on a man in the worst predicament, knowing they have a good woman, but knowing they’re not over old habits. So out of respect, they tell them outright. It’s almost like Donnell Jones saying “I’d rather leave than cheat”, except Cole says “Love my girl, but I told her straight up/ don’t wait up”. It’s a horrible realization to come to for either party involved, but it’s a stand up move. The title “Runaway”, is his way of pushing his girl out. He’s telling her “I’m no good, not ready, get away from me before you really get hurt”. He sprinkles other gems in there aside from just relationship. In the third verse, he goes into symptoms of the depression, he spoke on fighting through the making of his sophomore album. “Yeah, unbelievable seen evil that not even Knievel know/ At age 3 I knew this world was three below /Listen, even know my ego low achieved the unachievable/ Imagine if my confidence was halfway decent, yo”. This could also be interpreted as Cole giving his girl another reason to get away, misery loves company. Perfectly put, after a song about telling his lady to “runaway”, he gets a little more in-depth on why she should do so, on “She knows”. This track is a piece all about temptation. Cole gives some insight into what a night at the club looks like for him, “Good southern bad hoes try me, they try me/ This is Martin Luther King in the club/ Getting dubs, with a bad bitch / In his ear sayin’ she down for whatever/ In the back of his mind is Coretta”. He starts off in the second verse, admitting he really tries to turn all the box down, but just can’t do it, because he’s up against a double edged sword. He feels like if he does right by his woman, he loses out on some “bad hoes”, but if he goes with it, then he has an attack of conscience. Hence, the chorus “She knows, she knows”, as in his girl has to know all the wrong that’s going on in his lifestyle. Cole continues the theme of personal insight, picking his brain piece by piece in front of an audience on track nine, “Rich niggaz”. The song starts off with a nice guitar rift, slightly reminiscent of the beginning of Nas’ “The Message”. The emotion of this song is his jealousy towards people in the upper ranks of the food chain, from the eyes of a struggling kid, such as himself. He details the everyday troubles people in his neck of the woods face everyday, from robbing, a mom in and out of bad relationships, and just being poor. He then compares his side of the coin, to the rich people’s seemingly strainless life, ridiculing them saying “Or maybe that’s daddy money, escalator no ladder money”. He seems to be speaking to the Donald Trumps of the world, people who didn’t necessarily have to work for the money and had their foot in the door since birth. He elaborates on how people in an underprivileged position look at a rich man, typically white, and typically always trying to rip someone off with no regard for anything but where they have to go. Which, unfortunately, is not so far from the truth, it’s just not in the abundance that an angry person in the eye of the struggle would imagine it is. I want to take a brief intermission of track by track breakdown, to applaud Cole on his honesty on this album. He shamelessly lets us all see him at his most weak and vulnerable point, and basically puts together an album with a storyline of doubt, depression and anger. Not many rappers this day in age are still capable of that. Now, back to the regular scheduled programming. I spoke on back before “Land of the snakes”, how Cole sampled some influences for his production of this album. On the next track “Forbidden Fruit”, he flips A Tribe Called Quest’s “Electric Relaxation”. This is another highlight of this album, and it doesn’t hurt that its got a catchy hook courtesy of Kendrick Lamar, one of the nicest cats out. As you can tell by the title, he plays with the religious metaphor of Adam and Eve. “Do you believe that Eve had Adam in check?/ And if so, you gotta expect to sip juice/ From the forbidden fruit and get loose”. He continues the string religious metaphors, saying his “black book” is “a little thicker than the old testament”, and criticizing the churches contradictions, claiming the minister is getting brain from a prostitute. “Niggas pay for head but the pussy sold separate/ Same bitch giving brains to the minister”. Aside from the religious metaphors he throws in to keep up with the title, the song is about the basics of life according to Cole. The chorus is Kendrick Lamar harmonizing “Bitches come and go (You know that)Money come and go (You know that), Love come and go (Don’t shit last)”. So in Cole’s eyes, that’s what life is, women who are in and out of your life, blowing money, and the thought that all good things come to an end, even love. He manages to speak on personal situations, while throwing religious jabs throughout the whole song. Cole gave a sneak peak to the 12th track “Chaining Day” at an open mic event. The title is obviously a play on the 2001 film “Training Day”. The underlying theme of the song, is like the underlying theme of that movie. You work so hard for something, and just grow to see right through it. In the case of the 2001 film, Ethan Hawk playing a rookie cop who dreamt of becoming a cop only to see the dark side of the career while being trained by a crooked LAPD officer, played by Denzel. Learning that there is a not so glorious side, even to our dreams. Now in the case of this song, Cole is speaking on working so hard to get these material objects, specifically jewelry, only to end up questioning what its worth after what he had to go through for it. He kicks off the track emotionally, “Look at me, pathetic nigga, this chain that I bought/ You mix greed, pain and fame, this is heinous result”. Saying that he’s “knee-deep” in this music shit, and its not what he envisioned it would be, as so many other artists have said as well. He speaks further on the issue, explaining how this is all a part of the higher society keeping a hold on the underprivileged and vulnerable. As if the powers that be throw money and jewelry in their face, and just as predicted they jump at it. This is possibly tied in with his upbringing and mentality he spoke on in “Rich Niggaz”. He ends off his first verse, and summarizes the song with “My partner said that’s just the game my nigga/ Swear I heard my jeweler say, “Here go your chain my nigga”. On Cole’s last album, he brought out Missy Elliot, who people hadn’t heard much from in years. This time around, he brought us back TLC, whose been M.I.A. for roughly a decade. Chili and T-Boz make their return on “Crooked Smile”. In some senses, this song alone is a metaphor for the album. The album is based around insecurity, whether its in his relationship or in the industry. While the insecurities in this song may be a little more vain, being based around physical appearance, the message remains the same, face and embrace it or get nowhere with it. Cole’s way of facing his insecurities in the bigger picture, was making this album, speaking on them and giving it to the masses, announcing this is what I’m going through, and I made a solid album with it. Cole’s way of facing appearance-based insecurity on “Crooked smile”, was by saying “it’s all part of what makes me, me. Fuck it”. When speaking on his teeth, which Cole admitted in an interview was his biggest insecurity, he spit “My shit is crooked look at how far I done got without it/ I keep my twisted grill, just to show them kids it’s real”. I know its starting to sound cliché, but this song is just another example of Cole making a connection with his people, a connection that goes deeper than music by displaying the fact that at the end of the day he is human. At the height of Cole’s modesty, comes my favorite track, coincidently falling on my favorite number and based around my favorite rapper of all time, Nas. “Let Nas Down”, is spoke over a backdrop of classic production by both No ID and J Cole himself. What draws any hip hop fan in is how he starts the song, rapping a piece of the first verse of “Nas is like”. “Freedom or jail, clips inserted, a baby’s being born the same time a man is murdered”. The song is based around his praise of Nas and the fact that he disappointed one of his idols. He speaks on how he was stuck between the proverbial “rock and a hard place”, which is his creative control and “Hov asking where’s the record that the radio could play?”. That’s how Cole’s first big hit “Work out” came to be. Apparently the single was met with distain from Nas, because Nas felt “you the one, yo why you make that shit?” as Cole said. It’s almost as if Cole is explaining himself to Nas. Throughout the whole song, Cole goes deeper in on the sacrifices and pressures of being a new guy in the hell of an industry, known as the music business. “Therefore I write from the heart/ Apologies to OG’s for sacrificin’ my art/ But I’m here for a greater purpose, I knew right from the start”. There has never been a song of this type and there may never be again. I say that, because I don’t believe many rappers are humble enough to admit to something of that nature, and make a genuine song about it. I’m sure Nas forgives him after this album. The final track, is the self titled “Born Sinner”. This is Cole saying he overcame the sinning in his early days and his attitude is more-or-less “take me for what I’am”. “Whether you were there or not there (I was there) / I was born sinning/ But I live better than that (better tonight)/ If you ain’t fucking with that/ I don’t care”. More of Cole embracing his flaws, while almost trying to make himself believe that he’s truly overcame the trials and tribulations he’s faced so far. In the track before this, he was explaining to Nas why he disappointed him, on this track, he’s trying to reason with God instead. The song is a 2 verse conversation with the most high. Just like the thesis statement at the end of an intro in an essay, a title track needs to summarize what the rest of the piece is about. With that said, if that’s the aim, J Cole did a solid job at that. He did a good job at overviewing and bringing everything in to give a picture of the whole album, which is, “Yes I’m a successful artist, but I’m a human who feels what you do, who fucks up like you do, let me live”.
A real artistic piece of work is so good, that when you look back at it after years of being away from it, it brings you right back to the place you were when it was made. J Cole will be able to listen back to this album, years and albums down the line, and this album will still bring about raw emotion. Cole put nothing but honesty and heart into this album, and he blended it with creativity. Each song displayed a different emotion, whether it was indecisiveness, insecurity, temptation, hate, depression or envy. J Cole didn’t go the route most rappers go, trying to seem invincible, in fact he did the opposite, which is why this album will live with hip hop fans forever. People throw the term “classic” around far too easily these days, and don’t let time speak for itself. That being said, I won’t label this album anything other than one of the best albums of the last 10 years. This album is a perfect example of why labels need to let there artists be what their name portrays, an ARTIST. Atta boy Cole, keep doing your thing kid.
I’m dropping the re-edited version of the J Cole “Born Sinner review” tonight. I’m going to be doing a blog on Kanye West’s “Yeezus” as well, along with Action Bronson’s “SAAB Stories”, Pusha T’s upcoming “My name is my name”, & Jay’s “Magna carta holy grail”, among a lot of other mixtapes & albums…If you have any suggestions let me know!!. I’m trying to build this brand & I could use all the support I can get. Thanks fam. P.s. I’m also gonna be doing write ups on my top 10 albums, I already did one with Raekwon’s “Only built for Cuban Linx”, and ill continue on that. As you can tell my taste in music is 90s oriented, & you could expect a bunch of blogs with interesting shit from that era.