J. Cole Cole World: The Sideline Story

J. Cole Cole World: The Sideline Story
The expectations for J. Cole's debut studio album, Cole World: The Sideline Story, were almost impossibly high. Cole managed to achieve near-household name status after releasing three very successful free-to-web mixtapes and was anointed by Jay-Z as rap's next-to-blow, so he would have had to hit a home run in his first studio at bat in order to satisfy the critics. Unfortunately, Sideline Story isn't a home run, but it's a solid ground-rule double. Cole is one of the most adaptable young lyricists in the game today. Like his mentor, Jay, he's a master of clever wordplay able to switch speeds effortlessly. He's just as at home on high concept story raps like "Lost Ones" and "Breakdown" as on dexterous brag tracks "Mr. Nice Watch" and "God's Gift" and sex jams "Can't Get Enough" and "In the Morning." He's also a highly underrated producer, having created the instrumentals for 13 of the album's 18 songs, ranging from the Curtis Mayfield-sampling "Nobody's Perfect" to the vaguely dubstep-y "Mr. Nice Watch." In fact, there are only two real flaws on Sideline Story, although they are big ones. One: nothing on this album makes the listener go, "Oh shit!" There's no big, dirty, blow-the-competition-out-of-the-water single. The closest thing is "Who Dat," which was released over a year ago as a stand-alone single and is only on the iTunes edition of the album. Two: J. Cole, like his homeboy Drake, shouldn't sing. Next to Cole, Drizzy sounds like Gen Y's answer to Luther Vandross. Thankfully, Cole only attempts to warble a couple hooks over the course of the album, but a couple are too many. Sideline Story is a strong studio debut from a rapper and producer almost guaranteed to become one of hip-hop's perennial all-stars. (Roc Nation/Sony)