It’s actually happening. After two years of hype after signing to Jay-Z‘s Roc Nation, J. Cole is finally poised to release his debut album Cole World: The Sideline Story. The album, which drops September 27th, comes after a litany of mixtapes, guest spots, and leaks — after all, two years is a long time to try to sustain a buzz in today’s fickle climate. That’s why his listening party Monday night seemed like more of a celebration than your typical industry affair. Gathering fans, journalists, and industry insiders alike inside NYC’s Santos Party House, Cole seemed completely enthused to just be there with the DJ previewing his album’s tracks. He was rapping along with his own songs and smiling so hard, you wouldn’t have guessed that he’d badly sprained his ankle just two days prior.
The album has its fair share of bangers. “Can’t Get Enough,” which has been tapped as the set’s next single, is best described as “Big Pimpin'” part two. The song, which features Trey Songz (though his contribution to the track is negligible), finds Cole’s braggadocio in full effect as he gets raunchy with lines like “I hate to get the seats in the Benz wet/But that’s how good your a** is.” “Mr. Nice Watch” is another radio-ready joint full of flossing and stunting that not-surprisingly features a decent enough cameo by Jay. Reminiscent of Jay’s own collaborations with Timbaland, the beat shook the speakers like an earthquake. The crowd, already hyped up, lost their collective minds over it. Speaking of Timbo connections, Missy Elliott sings on the hook for “Nobody’s Perfect,” another hot track that fits within the player poses of most the album’s lighter tracks.
While the obvious crowd pleasers were nice enough, J. Cole really wanted the crowd to feel his more earnest songs. He, after all, is a gifted lyricist (a fact the label chose to play up with posters adorning the venue walls featuring black backgrounds with various lyrics from his songs stenciled in white). Prefacing each track with a “This might not be the right place” disclaimer, he played them anyway and was just as joyful and giddy for each song as he was for the more radio-friendly material.
The songs, admittedly, tackle much more difficult material. “Never Told,” the No I.D. produced track that Cole described as the one that “you may skip it the first time” but you would definitely come back to, takes a look at men’s cheating ways and how they are passed down while standout “Lost Ones,” covers teen pregnancy and abortion. Cole’s personal favorite track, which happens to be the album’s final one, is “Breakdown” which found Cole speaking to and about absentee fathers. These, along with his more introspective songs like the Drake-esque “Dollar and a Dream III,” seem to be the material where Cole’s heart really lies.
It’ll be interesting to see how J. Cole handles the dichotomy he presents on his debut in the future, but for now he seems just glad that his album will finally be out. After playing the last song and thanking the folks at Roc Nation, the crowd started chanting for a reprise of “Nice Watch.” Though I’m sure he’d rather they’d ask the same of “Breakdown,” he still happily obliged.
[Photos: Lisa H. Brown]