Over the past 10 years, hip-hop has changed drastically. Signing a deal no longer means anything unless you have the fan base to gain the label’s support to release an album. After being signed to Roc Nation in 2009, J. Cole released two more mixtapes before releasing his debut album, “Cole World: The Sideline Story” on Sept. 27.
“Cole World: The Sideline Story” is a culmination of where J. Cole has come from, where he is now and where he expects to be in the future. The first full-length song on the album, “Dollar and a Dream III” does a perfect job of connecting the past with the future. On his first mixtape, “The Come Up,” J. Cole began the “Dollar and a Dream” series, and continued it on “The Warm Up.” He brings his fans from the beginning along with him as the journey of his debut album begins.
J. Cole continues to pay homage to his past with “Lights Please,” the fourth song on the album. During his meeting with Jay-Z in 2008, he played this song, which ended up being one of the reasons he was signed to Roc Nation. As the album continues, Cole continues to talk about his journey and struggles on his way through the industry. On “Sideline Story,” he says, “I wish somebody made guidelines, on how to get up off the sideline.”
Songs like “Mr. Nice Watch” featuring his mentor Jay-Z, as well as “God’s Gift” feature Cole’s ability to flaunt the benefits of celebrity. “Same broads use to hang up on my walls, now they come up out they draws, how’s that for a mistress?” While many rappers would need multiple lines if not an entire verse to deliver that message, J. Cole is able to do it with one simple punch line.
Few artists in hip-hop today still have the ability to tell stories the way artists of the previous generation in the genre have. On his Twitter page, J. Cole’s description reads, “My story ain’t the only one I’m tryna to tell.” And he proves that with many songs on his album including “Lost Ones,” where he tells the story of a young man who gets a girl pregnant from both perspectives. He continues to showcase his story-telling abilities on the last song of the album, “Breakdown,” where Cole shares his own problems and issues with the listener.
As the album begins to come to an end, J. Cole gets stronger lyrically. “Rise and Shine,” one of many standout tracks on the album, features Cole’s most impressive display of lyricism to date. “In a game full of liars it turns out that I’m the truth. Some say that raps alive it turns out that I’m the proof. Cause the ones y’all thought would save the day can’t even tie my boots, the ones y’all thought could hang with me can’t even tie my noose, let these words be my bullets, n***a I don’t rhyme, I shoot, bang!”
The most impressive part about “Cole World: The Sideline Story,” is that J. Cole produced 12 of the 16 songs on the album and co-produced another. The last major rapper that released an album where the artist produced the majority of their debut album was Kanye West with “The College Dropout.”
With “Cole World: The Sideline Story,” J. Cole made a statement to the industry and other rappers that he is here to stay. He was able to withstand the, struggles, setbacks and delays along the way, and finally has his moment. Last month, Jay-Z called the album “a classic;” he was right.