T.S. Eliot wrote that all art, and all life, cannot be experienced in a vacuum. Humans are the sum of everything they’ve experienced. It’s impossible to look at a painting without thinking of every painting you’ve ever seen, incomprehensible to listen to a song without subconsciously comparing it to every song you’ve ever heard.
Claiming to listen to “just” the music is self-delusional at worst and naïve at best. Relax, this is the review of J. Cole’s Cole World: The Sideline Story. However since Cole is expected to exceed average rapper status, he deserves more than the average 2 stars or 4 mic album review.
It’s impossible to “just” listen to Cole without that loaded question humming in the background of your brain: “Is this the hip-hop savior we’ve been anticipating? Does this sound like a man Jay-Z should have made the flagship artist of his label?” This Sideline Story just scratches the surface of answering those questions.
Rap stars, the kind Cole wants to become, can’t just make great music; they have to make hits, (Kanye, Eminem, Jay etc.) It’s here that Cole World feels lost. The lead single Work Out, is an obligatory addition to the album and inspires indifference more than anything. Mr. Nice Watch–a coronation track, should have been a passing of the torch from Hova, but instead feels formulaic and purposefully disavows the “I’m just like you” bond. Never Told, one of the few examples of anti-infidelity rap you’ll ever hear and the captivating Breakdown, is where Cole dares to let us closer to his life than any established “star” could ever afford too.—fix this line and we’ll post.
While there may be one pleasantly surprised Nat King Cole fan who accidentally downloads Cole World on iTunes (it is right next to The World of King Cole), the rest of us will inevitably listen to this album with “rap’s next great hope” expectations. This album is a beginning, and in time Cole may become the timeless artist so many hope for, but only if he fights to develop his own sound, independent of the literally thousands of execs, fans and sideline critics telling him how he should sound.
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