J. Cole’s ‘Cole World: The Sideline Story’: A Review Roundup
J. Cole’s ‘Cole World: The Sideline Story’: A Review Roundup
J. Cole’s ‘Cole World: The Sideline Story’: A Review Roundup
J. Cole’s ‘Cole World: The Sideline Story’: A Review Roundup
In 13 days, after dropping mixtapes, a couple of EPs, and many free-floating singles over as many years, J. Cole will finally unleash his debut album, Cole World: The Sideline story on Roc Nation. (Okay, so we’ve been keeping track.) In August, we had the chance to hear the album in full during a private listening session, but at that point the third verse on “Mr. Nice Watch” was still blank. The space was reserved for Cole’s mentor, Jay-Z, who delivered late, but right on time.
The beat is an original Cole production and fans of the North Carolina rapper will recognize the chorus line “It cost me a lot” from his Friday Night Lights track “Cost Me A Lot.” “Mr. Nice Watch” made its official debut online and on the radio today, and now we’re back to the countdown…
Young Mr. Cole gave a small group of writers a first listen of his debut album Cole World: The Sideline Story (Sept. 27) last night at Roc the Mic studios in NYC. For anyone already familiar with Cole’s body of work (The Warm Up, Friday Night Lights), expect an album that remains impossibly true to his own aesthetic (in other words, he didn’t get the Lupe treatment). For new listeners, get ready for the full Cole experience — fine-tuned, polished, with some exorbitant displays of his ever-improving production skills.
Set up in front of a MacBook, Cole ran through roughly 16 tracks—narrowed down from 30—getting so lost in each that he only came back to reality as the songs ended. He introduced the second listening session of the night by admitting that he was less nervous than the earlier preview, adding, “This is a moment for me.”
The Roc Nation signee skipped a few of the tracks that have already been out for public consumption—“In The Morning,” “Work Out,” “Lights Please”—but he did get a bit sentimental over the latter, crediting it fully as the song that impressed his manager, Mark Pitts, and Jay-Z, landing him a deal.
With the track list still not 100 percent confirmed, we can’t share the titles jotted down in our Moleskine, but they range from thoughtful cuts like “Lost Ones” (originally intended to appear on The Warm Up), which tackle some heavy relationship material, to rowdier self-produced bangers, one of which might be best explained as an insanely amplified version of his mixtape cut “Cost Me A Lost.” He hopes it will be a single.
The “Simba” series doesn’t make it onto this album, but another one of his earliest and most thematic tracks, which first appeared on The Come Up, then in a second installation on The Warm Up, sees its third incarnation on The Sideline Story. A bulk of the album was produced by Cole himself, (partly due to sample clearance issues) with No I.D., Danjahandz and The University making a few notable contributions.
The album’s only skit finds Cole, in good humor, recalling the day he got word about his record deal. The celebration happened to be in his car and minutes later he was interrupted by sirens and flashing lights. Though he spent that night in jail, he took comfort in the fact that the cops, for lack of better words, had no idea that he was about to “Blow Up.”
And, yes, there was talk of that Jay-Z verse that may or may not happen, but for now, one of the only other features on the album is a completely unexpected female guest (we’ve been sworn to secrecy) that gives him a throwback to “that 90s sound” he’s so fond of.
After the session Cole stuck around to take questions and we chatted with him one-on-one for a minute about the anticipation leading up to this album. One of our favorite lines from Friday Night Lights is, “I rap so vicious, but I talk so politely,” (“The Autograph”) because it couldn’t be a truer statement. There’s one particular line on the new album which reiterates that fact, and while it can’t be quoted right now, nothing about that has changed.
It’s been a long time coming, but here we are, just a month shy of J. Cole’s Roc Nation debut, Cole World: A Sideline Story. Jay-Z’s 25-year-old protégé kicked off Heineken and Roc Nation’s Red Star Access Tour at the Bowery Ballroom last night, and though he’s yet to release an official album (Cole World hits September 27), he still had enough popular tracks to run through onstage, screaming out, Hov-style, I’ve got a million of these! If he wanted to, that is.
In the past year, Cole has been on a wild ride, opening for Drake in Europe, performing dates on Rihanna’s North American tour, and even killing a solo show at Bonnaroo back in June. No sweat, though, because his hectic touring schedule has only improved his live performance since we last caught him at the Highline Ballroom in December.
Cole opened last night’s show with his verse on “A Star Is Born,” his first big feature, which appeared on Jay-Z’s Blueprint 3 album. Then he went here, there, and everywhere, bounding between his earliest hits, like “Lights Please” from The Warm Up, to “In The Morning” from Friday Night Lights, and his first official album single, “Work Out,” which samples Kanye West’s “Workout Plan.”
Standouts of the night included Cole’s verse on the G.O.O.D. Friday single “Looking For Trouble,” where he went so crazy on the beat that Kanye simply decided to turn it off for a few seconds and let him go nuts. Check out video footage from the show, with Cole performing “In The Morning” and his new single “Work Out.”
“In The Morning”
Photo Credit: Heineken/Wireimage
Earlier this year, despite pressure from fans, J. Cole stood firm behind his decision to bypass a follow-up mixtape to 2009’s The Warm Up. His reasoning: Why ruin the anticipation for his buzzed-about Roc Nation debut (an entrée, as he put it) by dropping another mixtape? But with his album’s release date now pushed back to spring 2011, Cole finally gave in, releasing his Friday Night Lights mixtape on November 12, and shutting down his blog with download traffic. “I realized that there would just be too much time before the album came out,” Cole explains. “I did it for my fans, and for myself. Just like they couldn’t go any further without hearing new music, I couldn’t go any further sitting on all that music and not having people hear it. It was bothering me too much.” Last night, Jermaine wrapped up his current tour at Highline Ballroom, blowing away a packed house with classics like “Lights Please” and “Grown Simba” from The Warm Up, and, of course, the new Friday Night Lights lineup, which commanded an appearance from Drake to perform their collaboration “In The Morning.” Juggling a tour schedule, prepping a new album, and dropping verses for Kanye will keep anyone busy, but we were curious to find out how Cole would fit his new songs into his daily rotation.
J. Cole’s Favorite Friday Night Lights Tracks:
To Jump Start the Day: I usually listen to songs that haven’t come out yet, and try to figure out what needs to get better, but “Blow Up” is knockin’. It’s super-duper high energy. If I need some energy, that’s the song that’s gonna give it to me in the morning.
Before a Sold-Out Show: I’m definitely playing the “Friday Night Lights (Intro)” because it sets the tone for a great show. It’s incredible for that “I’m getting focused, I’ve gotta get my mind right” kind of mood.
Tour Stop in a New City: Without a doubt, “Villematic.” I could’ve picked “Higher,” because it’s also a celebration song, but “Villematic” is more my style of celebration. I’m into the real emotional intensity of it. And as for the title, if I’m in a different place, it’s just so funny to say “Villematic” because it reminds me that I’m coming from Fayetteville, North Carolina, a very small city in comparison to say, London or Paris. It just feels really dope.
Taking in a View of the New York Skyline: “Before I’m Gone” is such a dramatic track, and that hook–“One time for the City!”– embodies Manhattan completely.
Returning to Fayetteville: “Home for the Holidays,” absolutely. It captures the nostalgic emotion of getting back up with my homeboys after being gone for awhile. I’ve got a couple more unreleased songs with the same vibe, because that’s been a big part of my life since college – that feeling of going home again.
The Best Verse on the Mixtape: It’s between “Villematic” – which feels like cheating because it has such a long, great verse – and the second verses on “Farewell” and “Too Deep for the Intro.” Those are the top verses. No – wait! The third verse on “2Face” is hands down the best on the mixtape. Hands down. I just changed my mind. Write all of that and then write that I changed my mind. The third verse on “2Face” is super emotional, super intense, super passionate, and it’s saying a lot of real shit on top of all the emotion.
Photo via GoodFellaMedia.com
It’s difficult to write about Dr. Dre’s Detox album without sounding like some sappy, sentimental, musically-deprived hip-hop fan, but it’s not often that you can describe an album as being “almost a decade in the making” when you’re talking about a genre that began to blossom in the 80s. This year, the first concrete evidence that Detox still exists, even conceptually, came in June with the leak of the Jay-Z featured track “Under Pressure,” which quickly prompted Dre to run some damage control. He confirmed that the track was unfinished and would not appear on Detox, before promising to release an official single within a few weeks. That never happened. And clearly, no one has any patience left for Dre’s timeline, because yet another song has leaked, finally forcing him to push it as an official single.
The Snoop Dogg and Akon-featured “Kush” has received a much warmer reception than “Under Pressure,” but this time, Dre released a disclaimer about the song’s content. “I don’t want people to think that that’s what my album is about,” he explained in an interview with Los Angeles’ Power 106 radio station. “This is actually the only song with that type of content in it. It’s not a representation of what the album is.”
So, we shouldn’t be expecting The Chronic Part II, but what can we expect? “I see the finish line right now. I’m wrapping it up,” Dre continued. “I need about two or three more songs and hopefully I’ll start the mixing process at the end of next month. From that point I’m about 30 days out.” Fingers are crossed, but this feels a little bit like déjà vu. We’ll check back in six months, and in the meantime, here are a few rumored Dr. Dre collaborations that we can look forward to, in case Detox doesn’t surface until next winter.
Eminem: In addition to “Kush,” a new Dre and Shady collabo, “I Need a Doctor,” also hit the web today. The duo have tag-teamed numerous hits on their respective albums, and last month, during a Shade 45 interview, Em sparked some excitement when he revealed that he was back in the lab with Dre. There will be more where this came from – independently of Detox, if we’re lucky.
J.Cole: Jay-Z’s protégé dropped his Friday Night Lights mixtape last week (in anticipation of his Roc Nation debut) and then confirmed that he’s been cooking up some magic with Dre. He declined to spill the details – “I did some work with Dr. Dre, without going any further than that” – but we already have the chills.
Dipset: Camron, Julez, and Jim Jones finally ended their feud and pieced the Harlem crew back together this summer. Their new album is due out in 2011, and a few snapshots have appeared of them in the studio with the West Coast producer. Look out for Jim Jones dropping some ad-libs over a Dre beat.
Justin Bieber: Just kidding. But, seriously – the tween pop star did score some studio time with Dre back in July, and if a Dre and Bieber collaboration were to leak before Detox, or any music from the preceding artists, things could get ugly.
Imagine the value increase in Beats By Dr. Dre Headphones if they were accompanied by some actual Dre beats.
When North Carolina native J. Cole packed his bags, moved to New York and enrolled at St. John’s University, he had a specific four-year plan: to land a record deal. With no intention of actually securing a diploma—“School is for lot of people,” he says, “but not me”—Cole got on his grind, trying to produce, rap and network his way into the music industry. But almost two years after graduating, J. (born Jermaine) still wasn’t any closer to realizing his dreams. Instead, he slogged through his day job as a newspaper telemarketer for $10 an hour.
But then Cole’s music caught the ear of one Mr. Shawn Carter. Three weeks later, the 24-year-old rapper became the first artist signed to Jay-Z’s Roc Nation label. He has since released a mix-tape and recorded a verse on “A Star is Born,” a track from Hova’s recent album, The Blueprint 3. “One day, I want to have the biggest album of the year. I’ll let some kid I believe in get on a verse and change their life,” Cole says, paying it forward in his head. But despite his powerful backing, Cole understands that his success is up to him. “Jay is not the type of guy that’s going to take you from level 1 to level 10,” he says. “You’ve got to work all the way to level 8 and then he’ll take you from level 8 to level 10. He’s given me a great opportunity, but it’s up to me to fulfill my own destiny. If I succeed or fail, it won’t be because of Jay-Z. It’ll be based on what I did.”
Listening to your mixtape The Warm Up, it sounds like you feel entitled to success. Is that because you’re talented or have you just worked hard enough for it? It’s a little bit of both. I always felt like I was good enough but I realized once I got to a certain age that the talent wasn’t enough. You can’t just be the best basketball player in the world and not have work ethic or drive and it’s the same thing with rap. It’s like, okay, you’re really good but what are you doing with it? Are you really trying? So The Warm Up is from the standpoint of me sending all these guys my beats and songs and not getting hit back. I felt like nobody was even listening; I was doing it for years, trying to get my foot in the door. As a matter of fact, ninety five percent of The Warm Up was done when I didn’t have a deal. I didn’t know for sure that the deal was coming, I was just going off a feeling like — This is my year, I’mma be signed this year. It was that type of attitude, like “I deserve this shit, I’mma show ya’ll.”
You moved to New York to pursue your rap career and used college as a medium to get there. Is that your version of the benefit of school? I don’t want to minimize the importance of college. If somebody’s going to be a dentist or a pharmacist or something like that, great, school is for you. School is for a lot of people but I was a smart kid and school was never really hard, so for me it was just the next phase. It was something I knew I was going to do, but it wasn’t like, man I’ve got to graduate, I’ve got to come out of here with this degree so I can get this 9-5. There was no career plan involved with my college experience.
At the time, did New York seem like your only route to landing a record deal? Looking back, I understand that anything is possible and if I’d just known what to do from home, I could’ve done it there. But when I moved, I was clueless; I didn’t know anything about the game. Now I have a clear perspective on how you get these guy’s attention and I could’ve stayed home and put out the most incredible music within my city and state because the music speaks for itself. I could’ve found a way to promote myself and I feel like they would’ve come knocking but at the time I didn’t see it like that. It just thought, I’ve got to get out of here, because ain’t nobody checking for me.
When someone like Jay-Z signs you and gives you a verse on the biggest album on the year, some people might say that you’re being handed your success. Are you prepared to deal with that mentality? I’m prepared for it because I feel like once they actually listen and hear my story and hear the talent they’re going to realize it wasn’t a “give me” situation, it was earned and it was deserved. Not to mention that I’m not content with that — that feature was great and I’m grateful for it but my career plans are so much greater than what that verse is. One day I want to have the biggest album of the year and let some kid who I believe in get on a verse and change their life. That’s where my thoughts are, it’s not on “man, I hope people don’t think this is a hand out,” because I know it’s not a handout, I know it’s earned and deserved and I think that’s going to come through in the music.
Do you think your success will be equally based on your own effort and Jay-Z’s help? I think it’s more about my work. Jay-Z is at a position in his life and his career where he doesn’t have to do anything but push a button. Jay is not the type of guy that’s going to take you from level 1 to level 10. You’ve got to work all the way to level 8 and then he’ll take you from level 8 to level 10. If you use him too early, he’ll probably take you from level 1 to level 5 but I don’t want to use that card too early. Even though I’m on his album, he’s not out there everyday screaming my name with his arm around my shoulder, promoting me heavy. He’s giving me a great opportunity, but it’s up to me to fulfill my own destiny. Basically, what I’m trying to say is that if I succeed or fail, it won’t be because of Jay-Z, it’ll be based on what I did.
Jay had no intentions of making Roc Nation a rap label but when he heard you, he obviously changed his mind. Does that put on any added pressure to do well? I get the pressure question a lot but I didn’t really understand it until lately. I didn’t dwell on but then I started realizing that there is a positive pressure — I just don’t want to let these guys down. My manager Mark Pitts was Biggie’s manager but he’s been out of the rap game for so long because he’s been turned off. Now he’s working with me and he’s got high hopes, so it’s like I almost brought him back into the rap world. Same thing with Jay and my team – they’ve got high hopes for me, they believe in me and my team is so strong that I feel like a first pick in the draft. With that said, I can either be like Kwame Brown or I can be Lebron James. The difference is that they’re both talented but Kwame Brown couldn’t handle the pressure of being that first round pick and Lebron said, “I’m going to show you why I’m the number one pick.” I want to have that attitude.
Has recording the new album been challenging at all? I came into the album process with a stack of potential songs to weed through and see which ones were actually going to make it. They’re all incredible and the new songs I’m doing are incredible also, so it’s a little scary because it’s getting to the point where I’m on such a streak that before I know it, I may have too much great material to choose from. Seriously — I don’t know if any of this sounds too crazy or overconfident but I’m just almost impressed with myself. I’ve already got all this material and I feel like I’m only getting better and doing better music.
You’ve resided in the North for a few years now, but does being a Southern rapper add a different dynamic to your career? Definitely. Ten years from now I want to be on the top five list — I really want to be number one. So ten years from now when some kids form North Carolina, South Carolina or Georgia are having these “greatest of all time,” conversations, they’ll be like “Yeah! We got one.” Right now I guess the only people we’ve really got on that list are Andre 3000 and some kids out there have Lil Wayne on their list, so I just want to add to the cause. Add to the respect of southern rappers and change the direction a little bit. I think that when I come out, there’s going to be a lot of kids down there that’s not going to be afraid to be more lyrical and more creative.
Southern rappers are fans of ‘colorful’ names, especially the ever popular “Lil” prefix but your alias is derived from your full name Jermaine Cole. Why so simple? It just seems so gimmicky now. I’m not saying that everybody has to use their real name, because my rap name used to be “Therapist,” for a long time and even when I was 13, “Blazer,” was my rap name. But it just felt like too much of a persona now. I don’t want to be called “Therapist,” — what the fuck is that? I wanted to be something that really reflected me, so that it’s more relatable to everyday people.
Rappers do take on a persona to put an interesting spin on their music. Are you comfortable going that route or will you try to keep focused on reality? A lot of rappers just find new ways to say the same shit and there’s nothing wrong with that, just like a lot of directors somehow continue to make the same movie. If you watch Fresh Prince, you know Will Smith’s character and you know that every episode, one of a few things are going to happen — he’s going to fuck up somehow, or there’s going to be some girl he has a crush on etc. It’s the same few stories recycled in a new way, that’s kind of how rap is, and I don’t know if that’s a bad thing or not because your story is your story. I’m not going to be just a struggle rapper my whole career but my first album, of course, is going to touch on that because it’s just a lot about my life. I’m getting really personal, so it’s not just The Warm Up topic anymore, it’s family issues and a lot of deep shit that I’m not sure if I even really want to put out there.
It’s easy to hear that you’re a serious lyricist, but will that translate well to commercial success on the album? I don’t worry about making pop songs. It’s about the lyrical side — which I possess — then translating that to a mainstream audience without compromising your integrity. It’s just about finding that balance, which think is very possible. I think I’m onto something with this album.
J. COLE’S TOP-FIVE PARTY SONGS TO RING IN THE NEW YEAR 1 2Pac’s “I Get Around.” 2 Rich Boy’s “Throw Some D’s.” 3 Pastor Troy’s “Vice Versa.” 4 Jay-Z’s “I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me).” 5 Dr. Dre’s “Xxplosive.”
Photo by Randall Slavin. Grooming Will The Barber. Production Sara Pine @ Creative 24.