J. Cole: Born Sinner – Old Soul in a Cole World [Article]
Fayetteville, NC – J. Cole is at it again having released his sophomore album Born Sinner today and before this, dropping mixtapes Truly Yours and Truly Yours 2. The mixtapes were short, featuring 5-6 tracks on each tape. Prior to this he hadn’t released anything since his debut album Cole World: The Sideline Story, which many felt wasn’t as good as his three mixtapes leading up to his debut. Personally, I was among the majority that wasn’t so happy with the album and my feelings towards his limited material are mixed. I would love to hear more of him but his pace makes his music somewhat exclusive and highly anticipated amongst his fans.
When Cole first stepped into the urban music scene his tapes were chiefly comprised of self-produced beats, showcasing himself as an artist and producer which he is equally strong in both areas, but for these recent tapes Cole has strayed from his producer role and opted to use a good deal of samples instead. Unlike many mixtapes that sample heavy trap singles Cole uses samples of more soulful music such as “Nothing Even Matters” and “Zion” from Lauryn Hill’s Miseducation album. He also uses older tracks like Bootsy Collins “Munchies for Your Love,” to create “Crunch Time” and The Manhattan’s “Hurt” to create “Kenny Lofton.” Songs like these display his musical influences and help to conjure the image of him waking up to his mom playing oldies when he was young. Other tracks like “Stay” that uses a Nas instrumental also reveal his influences and his appreciation of non-electronically generated music and live instruments, specifically horn. If you didn’t know, Cole is from North Carolina where drumlines featuring horns are the norm.
I could go on but this isn’t really about the mixtapes so much as it’s about the artist. I’ve wanted to write this piece for a while because it’s admirable that even after being signed and enjoying considerable success, his content has remained consistent and hasn’t wavered into the popular culture of trap music. Cole continues to acknowledge the larger systems that keep people oppressed and the effects of those systems on the black American community; men, women, and children. I dare to compare him to Tupac whose content was of a similar nature.
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Tupac is a touchy subject and artist because it’s impossible to really explain the impact that he had on the world by bearing his soul, both the good and bad, but if I had to compare him to any current artist, it’s definitely Cole, hands down. No one else in this industry (Jay-Z included) comes close to emitting the feeling that Tupac’s music did, but Cole gives me a hint of that feeling once again. Granted, Tupac is a more intense person than Cole, he grew up in an era where civil rights issues were still highly pertinent, crack was booming and life as a young black male was harder, but Cole’s music mirrors the same issues and delivers the same message.
Like Tupac, Cole’s mother was addicted to drugs and he speaks about that openly, just like everything else. Neither artist is one to be ashamed of their circumstances or experiences, and if they are, that still won’t stop them from putting it out there. Unafraid of judgement, they speak their deepest and most private thoughts, knowing that there are others who will reciprocate and find comfort in their words, no matter how harsh. But it’s not just their own pain that’s used for ammunition, both artists seem to feel the pain of others and as if they bear the weight of the world are able to describe the suffering of others in words so honest you would think they had lived it themselves. Songs like Tupac’s “Baby Don’t Cry,” and Cole’s newest single “Crooked Smile,” draw this comparison well.
In addition to content there’s also a personality similarity. Cole is the first one to acknowledge that he’s just a man and has faults that are quite hypocritical to the messages he preaches, much like Tupac. Everyone knows Tupac was a “hypocrite,” there are entire university courses on how complex he was. He made lots of music that talked about what we should be doing differently to make the world a better place, but he also made a lot gangster rap that glorified violence. Cole too makes empowering music but indulges in subject matter that demeans women and praises money. It’s like neither artist can stay away from the life that they know is self-destructive and while I’m sure this is the case for most people in the world these two individuals appear to be particularly conflicted about it. Cole acknowledges this as one of his defining characteristics when he says that he was “…sent from heaven with a set of horns…” a line that describes the rapper’s logo. If the message needed to be driven home any further, he titled his new album Born Sinner.
I’m not saying he’s Tupac reincarnated, but if there were a Tupac of this present time, to inspire a peoples in a time of need, to speak for them and describe their frustration, to say things they can’t say in ways they can’t say it, I believe it’s him.
Written by Leandra Legendre (@LeandraLegendre) for HipHopCanada
Download Born Sinner on iTunes here