cole world, cole life, cole blooded
Certain music evokes certain memories. It really is that simple, but isn’t it such a weird phenomenon? You know what I’m talking about–when you hear a specific song and your body seems to transport itself and literally go somewhere else. Every time I listen to J. Cole’s Born Sinner album, this feeling takes over, and I’m instantly back in the Big Apple. The first time I listened to the CD, I was in New York City in my buddy’s apartment, waking up from the night on the town. It was pouring down outside, and I had to decide what I wanted to do that day. There was no option really, I was going to be outside in the rain walking through Central Park, taking the subway to and from places, and experiencing the city as a tourist from Ohio. I didn’t really care about the rain, but I knew I was going to need some music to keep me company throughout the day.
As I’m searching through Twitter reading the daily news and funny comments from my friends, I saw a link to the Born Sinner album leak. The night before, Cole and his crew gave the leak to fans who had to go on a little “scavenger hunt,” to find where they could listen. Cole and his team accepted the new age of the internet, and realized that the album was going to leak regardless. I thought it was brilliant honestly, but I swore I was going to wait until the release date to listen to the album. Well, that ended quickly, because I immediately clicked on the link and the download to my iTunes library soon began. After a few minutes or so, Born Sinner had completed its download, and I didn’t really know what to do for a second. Eventually, I plugged in the headphones, pressed play, and let the rest happen on its own.
The album was different, much different–even darker than I expected. As the chorus chimed in with “I’m a born sinner, but I’ll die better than that…” and Cole taking over by saying, “It’s way darker this time,” I knew I was in for a treat. Seconds later, the beat dropped and I was instantly hooked. Sampling the Notorious B.I.G. from his smash-hit “Juicy,” the great rapper can be heard in the haunting background chiming in with, “Born sinner the opposite of a winner.” With J. Cole sometimes bragging like Hov, and sometimes being real like ‘Pac, I knew this was going to be one of my favorite projects by him from the very start.
With a five-minute and eight second lyrical assault, J. Cole lets it be known from the start that he is here to stay. After listening to the album countless times now, it’s safe to say that this song is still “over the heads” of many casual fans who have listened to his sophomore effort. But, if you really listen, you will catch a lot of these lines and realize that this song seems to be dedicated to his true fans. It’s quite a song to begin any album, and I think Cole and his team knew what they were doing with this one. After Villuminati ended, I caught my breath, and remembered that there was an entire album left.
Following Villuminati, Pastor Kerney Thomas introduces LAnd of the Snakes, channeling J. Cole’s inner Outkast-vibe with the looped and sampled, The Art of Storytellin’ Pt. 1 beat. However, Cole’s version somehow seems to take on its own vibe and really fits well into the album, in my opinion. Speaking on his experiences out in Los Angeles, Cole takes his listeners on a lyrical journey as he battles with the temptations of the city, following his rap dreams, and running into an old college acquaintance from so many years ago. While Cole was in a rush at the time, he still stopped to say hello to the girl, but started recalling how poorly he had treated her back in the day. While he was just playing the college game and enjoying his time, she obviously felt differently, and didn’t appreciate that the young Jermaine never called her back after a college hookup. I think many guys can relate to this situation in their lives, and it’s probably not something any of us are that proud of…when we actually look back on it.
Power Trip is the fourth song on Born Sinner, and fits perfectly into the album. Unlike Work Out, this song tells a much deeper and darker story, and is unorthodox to say the least. With the intro sounds, the beat and tempo of the song, and Miguel on the chorus; it all works so well, and is also in the perfect slot on the album. After Cole tells the story about a college hookup that he never called back in LAnd of the Snakes, Power Trip examines his life of love and lust a little more in-depth, as he battles with his love “addiction.” Up all night, drinking and listening to love songs, Cole recalls a former person who meant the world to him. After having thoughts of a ring for this person, sending anonymous flowers to her home, and even writing the song Dreams for her (off the Warm Up), we see a different side of Cole compared to his demeanor in the previous song. Just as every day can be so different from the day before, this is when I knew Born Sinner was right on the money. Talking about college and his flings, hookups, and girls he tried to smash on the first night; Cole instantly transforms before our eyes and we see a conflicted, maybe even obsessed side of him. With Miguel singing the hook, it’s hard not to get emotionally invested in this tune from the onset. Got me up all night, constant drinkin’ and love songs, she got me up alllll night….
Track five, Mo Money, is actually an interlude on the album and runs for less than a minute and thirty seconds. Much is said in the minute and eighteen seconds to be exact, and I think it is an important track on album. Not only does J. Cole display his raw skill on the mic, but he talks about money in a way many people never really do.
“Mo’ Money, blow money, show money, party money, side hoe money, dope money. New clothes money from shit that I wrote money, so much money, I don’t know who stole from me. Hard to keep track I’m used to havin’ no money, still broke compared to n***** wit’ old money.”
In my opinion, Cole is explaining how money has always run his life, even when he didn’t think it was running it. At a time when he was broke and didn’t have any money, he was always thinking of ways to get money for the girls, the cars, the clothes, his mom, etc., etc. Either way, the money was going somewhere, and now that he has some of it, it’s still always going somewhere else. Compared to other billionaires out there, he is actually not worth very much money at all, but when compared to the poor throughout our world today; he is considered very wealthy. But, most importantly, J. Cole talks about the control money has on people throughout the world today. Whether it is good or bad, money has authority and runs the world. In his opinion, Money control n*****, white man control money, laughing like yeah, yeah my n***** get yo money.” That’s another reason I think this album is so well-done, because each time I listen to a song, I seem to get a new meaning or feeling from it. He tackles an important issue when he talks about his mother having just enough money to “float by” on, but yet, she is talking to her son about saving money throughout his life.
How momma gonna teach you how to save yo money, when she barely on the boat, got stay afloat money.” This line stood out to me, as I thought about the parents who want the best for their children and don’t want them to struggle throughout their lives. While this is often inevitable, J. Cole’s mother wanted him to save his money, but she was having enough problems saving/making her own money. It’s a weird concept to think about, but now that he is looking back on it, J. Cole seems to see an entirely different side of the conversation.
Trouble soon follows Mo Money, and wastes no time in getting right into the haunting, bass-rattling beat and chorus. When talking about the album, Cole described the middle portion of Born Sinner as the descent into hell, and I think Trouble is when the listener starts getting this vibe. It’s a dark song with many meanings and goes directly into Runaway, one of Cole’s most thought-provoking songs lyrically.
One of my favorites off the album, Runaway starts slow and only gets better with each verse. While Cole talks about a relationship in which he is unfaithful to a woman so faithful to him, it’s hard not to get lost in the storytelling throughout this song. With Cole singing the chorus and the fading beat mixing with the sounds of a piano in the background, Runaway has that underground J. Cole feel that I’ve loved from day one. Runaway seems to really capture the temptations of life, fame, relationships, and longing for more out of the everyday grind, while taking a look in the mirror and truly thinking about your daily decisions and mistakes. I remember getting into a New York cab back in June when I first heard this track, and I’ll never forget how it made me feel. With Cole taking it even further in his third verse about a plantation owner raping a black slave, I had to just stop and rewind the track. No one tells a story like J. Cole, and it was all on display during one of my favorite tracks off the entire album.
She Knows precedes Runaway and has one of the most different vibes of any J. Cole song I’ve ever listened to. With Amber Coffman on backing vocals, the track fits in well with the album, but was one that definitely grew on me. It was a different style than I expected from J. Cole, but I just couldn’t get the I can’t be what you want from me, well alright line out of my head. And, once I listened to the album a couple more times, I realized that the song continued the album’s storyline. As Cole is battling with his own emotions of cheating on his girlfriend in Runaway, he knows that his girl knows that he is cheating on her. She knows he has been cheating on her for some time now, but gives into the dark temptations anyways. This song illustrates the true storyline of right and wrong displayed throughout Born Sinner, and I love that the album tells an entire story–an area in which J. Cole greatly excels.
Rich Ni**** follows She Knows on the album, and is another deep cut off his sophomore effort. After listening to this song hundreds of times now, I seem to hear this song differently each and every time. However, there is one particular reason I love this track, and I believe it appeals to so many different kinds of people. Throughout the song, Cole questions those that have gained fame through the glorification of money and even selling their souls to the devil for fame. While wanting his hard work to pay off, Cole questions corruption and greed, becoming a slave to the system, and becoming an entirely different person. Most importantly, he informs his listeners that, Money can’t save your soul. Money isn’t the only thing that is going to get you through the dark times, and this is something we all need to remember. While it may be helpful in many situations, J. Cole makes it a point to prove that it is not the only savior. During the album, J. Cole went through some depression, and was really struggling at one point while making his music. In the song, he talks about suicide and quickly states that his suicidal thoughts may have been a bit extreme. At the same time, these thoughts were very real. However, by eventually realizing the true values in his life, J. Cole never crossed the line.
Where’s Jermaine? into Forbidden Fruit transitions the album from the dark stages of hell into the pearly gates of heaven. The positive vibes start to crawl back after the middle portion of the album, and throughoutForbidden Fruit, backed by vocals from Kendrick Lamar, Cole talks about reigning the rap world. He’s ready to take over, and on the sampled beat from A Tribe Called Quest, he does so with such skill and ease, it’s honestly amazing to hear. His last verse alone is one of my favorites in any rap song, ever. It ends a little something like this…
When I said that I’m the greatest, I ain’t talkin’ bout later. I’mma drop the album same day as Kanye, just to show the boys I’m the man now like Wanya, and I don’t mean disrespect I praise legends, but this what’s next, the boy sick can’t disinfect, life’s a bitch and her pussy’s wet, my clip is loaded and this is the kiss of death…blawwhh”
I don’t think I need to say much more about that closing verse on the song, before Lil’ Cole comes in to buy his Jesus Piece. This portion of the song leads directly into the next cut off Born Sinner titled, Chaining Day.Another one of my favorites off the album (I have a lot if you couldn’t tell), this song is an instant feel-good track. Riding around town with the windows down, the sun shining and positive thoughts throughout my head; it’s hard not to like what Chaining Day brings to the table. First, with a fantastic beat backing his vocals, Cole talks about being a “slave” to the game and buying new chains and jewelry to display his wealth for the world and rap game to see. While he struggles with the idea of buying chains instead of providing for his mother, he is not sure how to feel about his decisions. While his friends tell him that “it’s just the game,” J. Cole seems to struggle with those thoughts of selfishness, but admits that he “chose this slavery.”
Ain’t That Some Shit comes in next, and is the second interlude song on the album. While you can feel the positive vibes growing and growing after Chaining Day, this song goes hard, plain and simple. Cole uses his hop-hop knowledge to boast about how his life may have had its ups and downs, but overall, he’s figured things out and is living the high life. He seems to be rapping directly at his haters from middle school onwards in this song, and I absolutely love it. Overall, the interlude track fits perfectly into the album and is a great introduction into the TLC featured track, Crooked Smile. With Cole battling his own insecurities for the world to hear, he informs his fans that perfection should not be the goal. We need to accept our flaws, and once we do, no one will be able to hold them against us. With T-Boz and Chilli nailing the backing vocals, this song has a 90s vibe to it, and is a fantastic song overall. With incredible piano accompaniment, Crooked Smile nails it on all levels and is one of the strongest singles to drop in a long time, in my opinion.
Let Nas Down is one of the most interesting tracks off Born Sinner, and was a track only Cole knew he was going to put on the album. Supposedly, he came into the studio one day and laid down the track, and no one on the Dreamville team knew about the song. How awesome is that? The track gives me goosebumps when I hear it, and it truly brings back that old school hip-hop sound. Recalling some of Kanye’s greatness from his Big Brother track about Hova, Cole talks about a rap idol of his own–Nasir Jones. One of the best to ever do it, Cole tells the story of the first time Nas heard his single, Work Out, and how disappointed he was with the track. He asked producer No ID why J. Cole made the song, and the emotion that pours from each verse makes this song an instant classic. If you’re a hip-hop head, you already love this track, and the remix with Nas is just too good to put into words.
The last track off the standard edition of Born Sinner shares the title of the album, and really seems to end the album on the right note. With James Fauntleroy singing the chorus on this one, it’s hard not to feel truly inspired after listening to this track. This song takes me back to the streets of the Big Apple, as I started to realize just how lucky I was to be alive. I know it sounds cliche as hell, but that’s truly how I felt when listening to this song on my mini-vacation to the craziest city I’ve ever visited. After the album ended with the chorus singing in the background, I felt like I could truly do anything I put my mind to. Throughout our lives, we will always go through our ups and downs, question our existence, relationships, jobs and much more. However, the ways in which we respond to adversity are most important, and I think J. Cole captures this essence throughout the entire album. We are going to make mistakes, we are going to have regrets, and we are going to face the lures of greed and temptations. But, we are human beings, and that is what we do. The smart ones learn from their mistakes and never look back, and Cole seems to capture this so well throughout Born Sinner.
With J. Cole’s legacy being formed off his free mixtapes (they are good enough to be albums) that are truly classics, free music he put out before his debut album, and changing the music industry model as a whole; Born Sinner delivered to fans and his naysayers as well. Although different from what I expected, I honestly think it even exceeded my expectations, and I was putting it on a damn pedestal. While I would love for his third album to be produced with some “DJ Premier” like rap beats, I could see him going for a more positive album overall, as he proved himself on his second album, and seems to have no fear in the game now. I’m hoping for that Kendrick Lamar collaboration album to drop as well sometime early next year, but honestly, I just want him to keep making music for years and years to come.
So, listen to Born Sinner again, and I think you’ll hear some concepts and lyrics you may have missed the first couple times around. Turn off your phone, get those headphones out, and give it another go. You’ll be happy I recommended it.