Album Review: Cole World: The Sideline Story

Its been a long and often turbulent journey for North Carolina rapper J Cole but finally his labour has come to fruition with the release of this, his debut album. Back in 2009 Cole’s “I Get Up” was one of my favourite tracks for that year and since then I’ve had him firmly on my radar. Having gotten himself signed to Jay Z’s Roc Nation label two years ago, surely theres got to be mixed emotions from the up and comer  regarding his constantly delayed debut? The subtitle of the album suggests that there is a story to be told here, and considering he has shown us over the last few years that he is capable of spinning interesting yarns with depth and dexterity, the content of Cole World is a little disappointing to say the least.

In the albums intro we’re teased with the prospect of hearing Cole’s story this is mildy touched on in an interlude and in the track Sideline Story. Other than that this promising and interesting concept is dropped for the more commercially digestible structure of random, unconnected songs pieced together. Straight off the bat the record has missed a golden opportunity, this is not to say that the album dosent fit together or hold any shape, its just that this would have been a fantastic thread to keep running and expand upon as the album progressed. Although we dont exactly get his story we are treated to some clever, thought pricking, deeper than your average story raps. Although some of which like “Lost Ones” and “Lights Off” may have been heard before they still shine as examples of the calibre J Cole can reach. Breakdown is a fantastic example of an MC who despite gaining a pretty big following is still hungry and not afraid to embrace the hardships of his past and put it into his work. The concept of embracing pain and transferring it into art is a concept seldom seen anymore in Hip Hop. This is why when J is on point he’s really capitalising on the potential shown over these last few years. Lyrically he has the ability to be thoughtful, soulful and inventive. So when a good portion of Cole World is dedicated to passive raps about the ever so cliched categories of money and girls I cant help but feel a little dissapointed. In this sense the content of the record feels somewhat diluted, whether this is the result of studio interference and one of the reasons to why the records experienced such delays I dont know, but what I do know is that it somewhat sours what could have been a great debut.

In regards the albums instrumentation for the most part the beats featured are pretty solid, there are moments in particular songs which are pretty spotty, but for the most part the album from a musical point of view stands up well. Certain tracks however have a much more distinct presence songs like “Dollar and Dream” and “Rise and Shine” show just how much Cole has developed as a producer.

Although its not as good as I was hoping it would be, Cole World still remains a good example of what hunger and forward thinking can achieve in Hip Hop. There’s no doubt that J Cole has plenty of talent and potential its just a shame to see a good portion of it misdirected here on his first effort.


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The Author

Jim Napier

Jim Napier

Lover of movies and The Big Lebowski.