Monday, 2 January 2012

The Urbanite Hip Hop Album of 2011 - Cole World: The Sideline Story

1. Cole World: The Sideline Story (J.Cole)

"Cole under pressure. What that make? Diamonds".  

Performing under pressure is what J. Cole does best.  After spending a few years on the Roc Nation sidelines, patiently waiting whilst Jay Z told everyone around him that the North Carolina lyricist would be 'the next big thing', the time had finally arrived for him to show the world what all the hype was about.  Would he go the way of past Jigga proteges who showed potential but failed (Beanie Sigel; Memphis Bleak)?  Or would he deliver an album that matched the quality of the hip hop mixtape of 2010 - Friday Night Lights?

On Cole World we get a classic debut; an up close and personal album, mainly produced by Cole himself, that allows the rapper to both flex his lyrical muscles and paint a vivid depiction of his upbringing, his musical journey and his fears for the future.  

He uses Breakdown to curse his absent father and tell us about his mother's long drug addiction.  On the self-produced Dollar And A Dream, he gets all poetic about his struggle to achieve musical success.  One of the album's finest moments, Lights Please, sees him unsuccessfully talking to his girlfriend about causing a social revolution ("she said I know you wanna change the world but for the night please, just lean over and hit the lights please, lights please").  Even amidst all the bravado and ego on Rise and Shine he manages to weave in a few words about how this musical journey is all about pleasing his mum ("hope my mama get to see Jamaica before she meet her maker").  

As seen on his previous mixtapes, his storytelling abilities are what makes Cole stand out from the rest of the new crop of US rappers.  The brilliant Lost One's is an argument between a young guy and his 'baby mama to be' over whether she should get an abortion; Cole adopting two different styles of voice and leaving the listener feeling like they are in the room when the two characters begin to kick off.  

Even the commercial songs on the album do not stray far from Cole's typical style, with the rapper adopting the Jigga formula of making radio friendly songs whilst still maintaining your credibility.  Can't Get Enough is a sexual innuendo filled, samba influenced summer jam featuring Trey Songz on a hook that makes you feel like you've just ordered a chicken breast in pitta from Nandos.  Work Out sounds like something that was left off Drake's Thank Me Later whilst on the Jay Z featured song that nearly missed making it on the album, Mr Nice Watch, Jigga and his protege drop heavy verses about, you guessed it, their rolexes.  

There isn't one song on the album that is a dud and, whilst there are a few flaws (such as the lack of variety in producers), Cole World comes across as the best hip hop debut album this century.  And after seeing him perform live in November, The Urbanite predicts that we are witnessing a legend in the making.  

Choons to Download: The whole album, otherwise Lights Please, Mr Nice Watch, Cole World, Lost One's, Rise and Shine

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