Day Ninety-Five: Rapid Reaction to J. Cole’s “Born Sinner”
by Tom Noonan
J. Cole’s decision to move up his album release to June 18th, the same day Kanye West cryptically and momentously tweeted as the release date for his messianic Yeezus, was widely covered as one of unfathomable hubris. His debut, Cole World: The Sideline Story, was as solid as it needed to be but certainly hadn’t raised his profile far enough from his mixtape come-up days to take on rap’s preeminent scholar. This wasn’t the 50 Cent-Kanye bet. This wasn’t going to get Cole on the cover of the Rolling Stone; it was more likely to get him pushed off of any and all covers completely. The unofficial challenge looked like an overconfident young talent overplaying his hand, but this was all before the aptly named, “Power Trip”, took all those conflicted expectations and legitimized them. J. Cole’s collaboration with another budding star proved he possibly had the firepower to take on the transcendent but volatile auteur, who seemed more intent on alienating his commercial audience than taking on one of his many unofficial apprentices.
Now, a week out from the release of both rappers’ albums, J. Cole is playing confident, streaming his album directly to fans. And it’s very good, maybe even good enough to put up a fight. It might not have the scope of a truly great record, but J. Cole’s sophomore effort goes down smoother than anything else being put out today. Outside of the album’s opener, the highly referential “Villuminati”, which somehow manages to blow up three of the most problematic words associated with rap while completely embracing them, most of Born Sinner is a populated with love songs, for his family, girls, crew, heroes, and, quite frequently, himself. It’s a theme that strings an otherwise oddly formatted album together comfortably. More importantly, at least in the context I am currently writing, Born Sinner sits nicely in that summer music sweet spot, an album you can just spend an entire night listening to while drinking and bullshitting with some friends, music meant to be heard through speakers instead of headphones. Born Sinner is an album that makes wasting a night doing nothing but sitting in a sonically dense basement seem completely worth it.