Recording information: Cole's Crib, New York, NY; KMA Studios, New York, NY; Quad Studios, New York, NY; Roc The Mic Studios, New York, NY; Stadium Red, New York, NY; Tree Sound Studios, Atlanta, GA; Wava Glow Studios, Los Angeles, CA.
Photographer: Leann Mueller.
Anyone who encountered his numerous mixtapes can tell you that before his official debut landed, rapper/producer J. Cole had spent some time bringing the whole Drake, Wale, and Big Sean style to a more street level. It's worth mentioning because Cole World: The Sideline Story has little of that debut desire to cross over, and while the multi-talented Cole is a skilled, interesting beat-maker in his own right, a superstar production would have certainly made this album more approachable. Instead, No I.D. -- the biggest behind-the-boards name here -- turns in a sluggy, druggy construction for "Never Told," Cole's deep, rich study of father/son confidence. Cole handles most of the rest on his own, turning in B stabs at dubstep ("Mr. Nice Watch" with guest and label boss Jay-Z), indie-hop ("Cole World" or "flossin' with a laptop"), and his own humbler version of the Roc-A-Fella sound (the great single "Lights Please"). Add an "Intro" and then a part III -- the first two parts to be found on earlier mixtapes -- and you're practically telling the aboveground crowd they're stale from the start, but the tradeoff is a talent that has matured in the underground and is free of any forced outside influence. Cole's fantastic style shoots off bold punch lines one minute ("I blow brains, Cobain-style") and then goes deep the next, with equal skill and all while stringing together eye-level, real-life stories that have that classic flow. The reservation count is high and the flaw count is zero, and in this case, that's the proper formula for a rich hip-hop album. Take a couple listens, let it sink in, and then discover that Cole World is one hell of a debut. ~ David Jeffries
After numerous days standing outside Jay-Z's office in hopes of handing him a demo, producer and MC J. Cole finally ran into his idol, but the reception was well below chilly. He was shocked, then, when he received a call from the man weeks later, and even more shocked when he got a chance to contribute to Jay-Z's 2009 effort The Blueprint 3. In 2011, Roc Nation released his official debut, Cole World: The Sideline Story, which debuted on top of the Billboard 200. Featuring the single "Power Trip," Born Sinner followed in 2013 with guest appearances from Miguel, TLC, and Kendrick Lamar. The title of his 2014 release, 2014 Forest Hills Drive, was the address of Cole's childhood home in North Carolina. ~ David Jeffries
Rolling Stone (p.67) - 3.5 stars out of 5 -- "He's a technically superb rapper, packing these sleek, snappy, mostly self-produced tracks with dozens of great punch lines."
Spin (p.71) - "[I]t's the production that shines, with liberal swaths of rolling piano and melancholy guitar loops..."
Entertainment Weekly (p.74) - "SIDELINE is a well-rounded effort, and deeper than most, offering cuts that tackle unplanned pregnancy and uncertain love." -- Grade: B