Tag Archives: J. Cole

Top 20 Albums Of 2011

No intro needed — with no further ado, here are my top 20 albums of 2011 (in order of release date).

  1. Frank Ocean – Nostalgia, Ultra (Feb. 18) — Odd Future and Tyler, the Creator burst on the scene this year, but Ocean stole the show with this tape that was so grandeur it would earn him songwriting credits for Beyonce, and placement on Watch The Throne. Witty songwriting, smooth vocals and drum-heavy, 808 production make this a great, easy listen. The standout cut Novacane was one of the best R&B records of the year.
  2. Adele – 21 (Feb. 21) — 2011 was Adele’s year all the way around. Charting and platinum in over a dozen countries, she cut across genres and cultures, as great music should — a testament to her soulful sound. 21 yielded two Billboard number 1 singles, and the critical and commercial acclaim to match. Moving 5 million-plus units, this is the best-selling album since 2004.
  3. Marsha Ambrosius – Late Nights, Early Mornings (March 1) — Long respected as one of the most talented vocalists and songwriters in the game, she further cemented her place with this debut solo album on which she produced a majority of the songs and wrote (or co-wrote) all of them. Sensual from beginning to end and it never feels forced.
  4. Raekwon – Shaolin Vs. Wu-Tang (March 6)  — For awhile, Chef Rae had the best hip-hop album of the year. Feature-heavy and a tad long, yes, but it comes together quite nicely.
  5. The Weeknd – House of Balloons (March 21) — In the same vein as Frank Ocean, the Weeknd made his initial mark with a debut mixtape and then proceeded to dominate the rest of the year — musically and virally. This is what jumped the whole thing off and he hasn’t looked back since.
  6. Big K.R.I.T. – Return of 4Eva (March 28) — KRIT came all-the-way-correct with his first mixtape, but he blew my mind with this one. Just listened to the entire thing all the way through again last week and it sounded just as stellar as the first time. Incredible production, soul samples, and some of the tightest rhymes and flows spit all year.
  7. Fly Union – TGTC (April 26) — How these cats continue to remain slept-on absolutely baffles me (and is proof that a lot of the blogs, labels, A&Rs, etc. aren’t doing their damn job). After a year or two of buzz-building via free “Value Pack” EPs, this was their first full-length project. Their chemistry is great (all in-house production), the content is diverse and relative, and it really doesn’t sound like anything else that’s out right now. Plus the features — namely BJ The Chicago Kid — are on point.
  8. Bad Meets Evil (Eminem & Royce Da 5’9″) – Hell: The Sequel (June 13) — Two godbody MCs and they rip this shit to shreds. Period.
  9. Big Sean – Finally Famous (June 28) — Big Sean shocked me a little bit — this, I thought, was a really good album. Much credit goes to No I.D., who blessed Sean with incredible production, but Sean could have dropped the ball and he didn’t. Three hit records (two number 1s) and counting on here. Real solid work.
  10. Beyonce – 4 (June 28) — Not sure how this is still yet to hit the platinum mark, but that shouldn’t take away from the quality of this album. Beyonce did a great job a channelling earlier eras and influences — there are some really strong records on here, especially Party (one of my favorites of the year) and Love On Top.
  11. Dom Kennedy – From The West Side, With Love II (June 28) — Dom came through with one of the best flowing albums of the year. From Grind’n to Money Don’t Stop to OPM to 2 MPH, and on and on, this is something great to ride to. Real playa shit all the way through.
  12. Kendrick Lamar – Section.80 (July 2) — Sonically, this is the most advanced shit I’ve heard this year. We knew Lamar could rhyme but he really showed his ability construct a complete body of work, a skill many lack today. Conceptually this joint is off the charts. This is really, really dense, but it gets better with each spin. Been listening the day to it since dropped and I’m yet to tire of it. Blew 99 percent of everything else clean out of the water.
  13. Jay-Z & Kanye West – Watch The Throne (August 12) — That people had the nerve to hate on this is pretty outrageous. Higher expectations are the only possible explanation. Even if they didn’t meet them (in the eyes of some), they came close and still landed far beyond most anyone else in hip-hop. No Church In The Wild is the best intro of the year — that joint drives. Otis is the best sample of the year. Niggas In Paris has taken on a life of its own. Murder To Excellence is phenomenal. Great sampling, great production, and sick rhymes….and cats we’re hating.
  14. J. Cole – Cole World: The Sideline Story (Sept. 27) — This has grown on me more than any album this year — especially the back end. There’s still some things I think Cole could have done differently, but there’s no question that the pros heavily outweigh the negatives.
  15. Phonte – Charity Starts At Home (Sept. 27) — Phonte is now near the top of my “most underrated MCs doing it” list. While this was his solo debut, he’s obviously a seasoned vet from his Little Brother and Foreign Exchange days. Not only can he rhyme with the best of them, but his singing is on-point, the production is solid and the content is excellent.
  16. Freddie Gibbs – Cold Day In Hell (Oct. 31) — Gibbs has me all the way on board now, and this is what did it. The flow is razor-sharp.
  17. Pac Div – The Div (Nov. 8) — This is another one that’s continued to get better with time, albeit short. There’s some tracks that really knock on here, but Pac Div really wins when they smoothen things out, and that happens often on The Div. “The system for you to be a part of it”, says Mibbs on High Five. “Declare your independence.” Indeed, they do.
  18. Drake – Take Care (Nov. 15) — People love to hate on Drake, but there’s no denying this album. More than anything, it’s 100 percent cohesive. Whether he’s rapping or singing, the canvas, often provided by 40, is perfect. Hit records are galore, but never forced, and the guest appearances are well-placed.
  19. The Roots – undun (Dec. 13) — It’s between this and Section.80 for hip-hop album of the year, in my opinion. Conceptually, sequentially, lyrically, cinematically, musically, it’s flawless.
  20. Common – The Dreamer, The Believer (Dec. 20) — Common’s bars are cool on this, but nothing we’ve never heard him do before — the sequencing, a fantastic supporting cast (writers, producers, instrumentalists, background vocalists, engineers) and No I.D.’s presence all over are what made this album so good.
  21. Other dope shit: Anthony Hamilton, Back To Love; Tyler, the Creator, Goblin; Jeezy – TM103; TiRon & Ayomari – A Sucker For Pumps; Maybach Music Group – Self Made.
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Wale Feat. J. Cole & Marsha Ambrosious – Beautiful Bliss; Attention Deficit

Producer: Green Lantern & Mark Ronson

Samples: The Spinners – (Do It, Do It) No One Does It Better [Link]; Lupe Fiasco – Theme Music To A Drive-By [Link]


J. Cole – Cole World; Cole World: The Sideline Story 

Producer: J. Cole


New Joints I’m Feelin’ At The Time…

This is the fuckin’ groove. Straight up. I love this joint. Got that early 90s hip-hop soul feel. Nice songwriting, great bass line. Her vocals are on point, Cole is smooth… This is the first track I’ve heard of hers, but I’m pretty much sold already.

Elle Varner Feat. J. Cole – Only Wanna Give It To You; Perfectly Imperfect

Producer: Oak & Pop

Common – Blue Sky; The Dreamer, The Believer

Producer: No I.D.

Samples: Electric Light Orchestra – Mr. Blue Sky [Link]

Joey Sap – Hy Expectations; Flosa Nostra


“They killin’ niggas for Js, that’s death over designer”

J. Cole Feat. Missy Elliot – Nobody’s Perfect; Cole World: The Sideline Story [Link]

Producer: J. Cole

Sample: Curtis Mayfield – Think [Link]

 


Review: Cole World: The Sideline Story

J. Cole’s debut album, Cole World: The Sideline Story, is officially out. Finally. Leading up to its release, Cole has been up-and-down. Moving from fan-favorite to internet-hated and back. So I’ve been anxious to hear what he had to say, and how he was gonna go about doing so, especially after numerous delays and floundering singles.

It starts strong with “Dollar and a Dream III.”  Remaining consistent with his mixtapes — where Dollar and a Dream I and II reside — Cole continues the series here, spitting triumphant rhymes over some slick strings and strong snares. Moving from this to “Can’t Get Enough” to “Lights Please” to “Sideline Story”, I can’t complain.

Up next is the Jay-Z-assisted “Mr. Nice Watch”, which leaked a couple weeks back to “cole” reception. Reminding me very much of “Off That,” it sounds better in the context of the album, but feels somewhat uncomfortable. He snaps on “Cole World”, “In The Morning” is nice, I love the joint with Missy, “Lost Ones” is poignant… everything on here is solid.

Not a whole lot is great or really, really good, however. As is the case with so many cats, it’s not  a question of whether Cole can rhyme — he does that with the best of them, and flows well on every song on the album.  It’s whether he can construct a great record. Conceptually and thematically, Sideline Story is cool and cohesive. He raps about relatable everyman topics: insecurities, imperfections, ambitions, turbulent relationships, dualities of life, etc. But as showcased by the struggles of Who Dat and Work It Out, making a commercially-appealing song is not his forte — at all. The two songs, lead singles 1A and 1B, ended up being bonus tracks. That’s pretty damn telling. I’ll say it again for effect: neither one of the lead singles made the final album. Not shockingly, both songs are produced by Cole.

So it seems as though his biggest road-block might just be himself. It’s the production. I don’t know what his creative process is, or how he goes about producing songs, if he takes input from others or not, but he should. The beats are cool, that’s it.  The Kanye comparison is inevitable because of the rapper-producer me-against-the-world thing, but let’s be real — it’s not even close. Cole is actually a better rapper and lyricist than Kanye may ever be, but production-wise, the story reads vice-versa. Young Kanye was cookin’ up classics for Hov, Scarface, Alicia Keys, Ludacris, Beanie Sigel and Freeway before he made his own rapping debut.

Honestly, now: who has J. Cole produced for other than Kendrick Lamar? To his credit, “HiiiPower” is crazy. It’s also arguably the best beat he’s ever made — at least that I’ve heard. It’s cool that he makes his own beats. That’s part of his MO. But that doesn’t mean the shit is crack (it’s taken some time for me to realize this myself.) His snares slap; they’re sharp. But the bass lines, by and large, are boring as hell. I mean, damn…

I hear him, but I don’t feel him. It’s not because of his rapping necessarily, but the music, the production. “Sideline Story” is a perfect example. Same drums as the rest of the album, but the bass moves the song. You can actually feel it. Many of the other tracks, while solid — even stellar, at times — lack that.

It’s not ironic, then, that the two most viable radio singles are those produced by other parties. Brian Kidd, a former Timbaland affiliate, handles “Can’t Get Enough,” and L&X are responsible for “In The Morning.”

Clearly, some other marketing balls have been dropped, most notably the album cover itself. After purchasing the album on iTunes, I finally took a critical look at the cover. It’s so plain. Nothing about the cover intrigues one to delve further, unless you already know who J. Cole is. To make matters worse, his name, and the album title, are buried in the bottom right corner. How careless is that? It sounds picky, but there’s serious research (and money) that goes into understanding and analyzing reading patterns and other subtle, but crucial human tendencies. We read, — or scan — more or less, in a “Z” pattern…

I’m not here to ruin his moment, though. Cole World: The Sideline Story is pretty good and J. Cole is without question a damn good rapper. The features — Trey, Jay, Drake and Missy — are on point, too. (He’s the only cat outchea with Missy Elliot on their record, gotta give him that!) But I think with better, more varied production and producers, it could have been improved. I understand that he may not be concerned with mainstream, commercial success. I don’t have a problem with that at all. Even so, with a higher-grade canvas, his message could be better conveyed, regardless of who the audience is.