You could scoff at Cole’s opening boast “Sometimes I brag like Hov, sometimes I’m real like Pac”, but you can’t erase the truth. At 28, J. Cole’s still Cole – rhyming about summertime fine women and the game not being innovative – but Born Sinner crosses out the bravado to note the North Carolina native is as human as the Jordans on his feet. His “real world” wordplay still reigns in finesse, stacking hotel room admissions (“Power Trip”, “Forbidden Fruit”) on top of street level realizations (“Chaining Day”) and grooming interludes like “Mo Money” and “Ain’t That Some Shit” to sic the jaws of life on your neck. He’s all Pac, no Molly, soaking his deepest thoughts, slip-ups and major label problems into the abyss that is the studio. This record is a rear-view and the subjects are darker than they appear.
All the while, Born Sinner manages to flex Cole’s love for production while being calculated. Cameos from Miguel, Kendrick Lamar and James Fauntleroy are no surprise, but you’d be hard-pressed to find another rapper that can near choke-up over samples of Outkast, Hubert Law, Ronnie Foster and Cult’s “Runaway”, which smacks your Macbook off the table with soft vocals from Dirty Projectors’ Amber Coffman. But can classic soul and tricked out jazz parts help an MC top the charts? For nearly four years, listeners have been asking “who dat?”, and J. Cole’s latest raises a hand and gets all subjective to hit you hard. As “Born Sinner” responds, “This life is harder than you’ll probably ever know/ Emotions I hardly ever show/ More for you than for me/ Don’t you worry yourself, I gotta’ do this for me”.
Listen: “Last Hope”, “(One Of Those) Crazy Girls”, “Future”, “Part II” || Watch: “Power Trip (ft. Miguel)”