There is much to be said about the artist known as J.Cole. As the first to be signed to Jay-Z's Roc Nation label, the expectations for him are high. In fact the expectations are so high it’s a wonder how anyone could embrace them. Having released 3 critically acclaimed mixtapes, while building a cult like following largely due to the internet. His fan base watched him progress from up and coming rapper, to the next big thing in rap. If it's one thing that the public loves to see, it's a come up story. Of course in rap when an artist goes from underground unknown to mainstream icon, it often alienates fans that have been around the longest. The detractors have already voiced their displeasure at Cole's singles, while the faithful maintain hope. For the sake of this review, the only thing that matters is the final product, as it was meant to be heard by the North Carolina artist. Cole World: The Sideline Story is his first step on a major stage, and Cole handles it well.
The album starts off with an "Intro" that sets the tone of the album, a short track which leads into "Dollar and a Dream III". Fans of Cole's mixtapes will be familiar of the title, and as the third offering of the series it holds up to it's predecessors well. Followed by the most Trey Songz assisted "Can't Get Enough". The caribbean inspired track has an upbeat, soothing sound to it. The inclusion of Trey Songz on the hook may seems small, but certainly makes the track a standout one ladies will love. "Lights Please" is the follow up track, and while it serves as an album gem, longtime fans of Cole will point out that the song is quite dated. In fact it's the song which impressed Jay Z enough to sign Cole. This alone was reason enough for the song's placement on the album.
Fans will also point out that "In The Morning" featuring Drake, is yet another questionable song on the album due to it having been released well over a year ago. In it's defense, it's still a great song which flows well on the album. Sometimes what separates a good album from a great one isn't necessarily what is on it, but where it's placed. While these songs may be old, their placement on the album breathes new life and compliment the story telling feel of it. Cole did a good job sequencing the album so that each song compliments the last, making this into a borderline concept project.
Cole has done a good job of winning people over with his introspective rhymes and stories. He certainly maintains that aspect of his music with tracks such as "Sideline Story", and the incredible "Lost Ones". The latter of the tracks is a look into a relationship where a man finds himself at odds with his girlfriend over an unplanned pregnancy. Though fictional, it's a song which connects with people of all backgrounds, and it's one that will surely touch a nerve in listeners. "Breakdown" is another emotion filled track, and really gives you the feel that Cole's story isn't the only one he's trying to tell.
In addition to producing almost the entire album himself, Cole keeps the guest list short. Missy Elliot and him teamed up for "Nobody's Perfect", a song that most will nod their heads to when played in the car. Missy Elliot doesn't rap here, but she harmonizes the hook in a way that ironically makes her perfect for the song. Then of course we come to "Mr. Nice Watch", the song which the world held' it's breath for as Jay-Z adds his own vocals to the album. Mr. Roc Nation himself provides a witty and stellar verse, paying homage to the finer things in life. One would question why Jay would hop on this track as opposed to songs like "Rise & Shine", or "God's Gift", both of which are heavy bass tracks which almost demand his presence. Of course, when looking at the immense potential "Mr. Nice Watch" has as a club single, it's easy to see why Cole's boss would be much better suited for that song.
The Sideline Story is one of a player trying their best to get off the bench so that they can make an impact in the game. From start to finish, Cole uses every song to do just that, as he holds nothing back. He gives you his thoughts, his feelings, his fears, and his dreams all over a project in which he handled much of the production. His diversity as an artist is put on display in a way that will appeal to newer fans, but still make the older ones proud. There are many who want nothing more than to see this man win, and it's safe to say they can all enjoy this victory of an amazing album with him. The project has no fillers, which is a welcome change of pace with the current state of music. While it would certainly be jumping the gun to call this album a classic, it is sure to stand the test of time. If this is any indication of his future, then it's looking like a Cole World indeed.