Album Review: J. Cole – Born Sinner

While the production is good, there are far too many average songs

J. Cole moved the release date for his second album Born Sinner forward to coincide with the release of Kanye West’s new album Yeezus. A bold thing to do considering the power of Kanye, he beat 50 Cent in sales when the two released albums on the same day in 2007. In the end Kanye managed to achieve the “largest sales total in more than two years” according to Billboard! Good luck J. Cole.

Lyrically the album opener “Villuminati” is poor; it lacks a topic but what it does have is brilliant production and a well used Biggie sample. Cole touches on illuminati rumours late in the song, much like when most rappers discuss the subject it sounds forced (see Rick Ross on “Free Mason”). “Villuminati” is nothing more than an intro song and being that it is a good way to start proceedings.

The following Kerney Sermon skit sounds real, it feels like an ad you’d hear or see on a religious based tv or radio station. But it’s quite random and the album wouldn’t be any better or worse if it was not on it.

J. Cole samples OutKast’s “Da Art of Storytellin’ (Part 1)” on “LAnd Of The Snakes”. Ultimately though Cole’s song isn’t as good as Andre 3000 and Big Boi’s was, having not heard the original though it is likely that one would favour this song more. The beat switch towards the end of the song is brilliant though, if only it lasted for more of the song.

“Ass stupid, how you get to college?” – J. Cole on “Power Trip”

Cole mentioned that the early version of “Power Trip” featured his drunk vocals on the chorus, that would be interesting to hear. J. Cole and Miguel do however work well and bring the song together and ultimately the song serves its purpose of being a radio single well.

The interludes/ skits on the album are annoying and Born Sinner would be better if it didn’t have them on it. “Mo Money” is a key case in point; it features an underground sounding beat and with the next song it’s like the statement being made is more money more problems. But this is a long way of making a statement that was made in a far more entertaining way by Biggie and Diddy. The following song, “Trouble” is another instance where the production overshadows the vocals/ lyrics. As a song it is nothing more than average, when it comes to recalling the best songs on Born Sinner this will not be one the songs mentioned.

“In this life ain’t no happy endings,
only pure beginnings – J. Cole on “Runaway”

Cole uses another old school/ gritty sounding beat on “Runaway” but the vocals once again blend in to the backing track. Apart from a few qoutables there is little little here to make the listener want to come back to this song after the initial play.

“Even in your lowest days,
when you’re no longer Superman, at least you know you got Lewis Lane” – J. Cole on “Runaway”

“She Knows” feels like a a song targeted for radio aswell as Cole’s core female audience. Because it feels like Cole is playing a role rather than expressing something genuine, it is hard to enjoy “She Knows”. It is however one of the better average songs on the album.

“What these bitches want from a nigga
that’s some DMX shit
I know them other niggas love trickin’
on some BMX shit – J. Cole on “She Knows”

Once again the production is decent on “Rich Niggaz”, this time the beat has an introspective feel to it and Cole’s are softly delivered. Cole takes up the role of a hater on this song, which is a wierd choice of character. As he doesn’t really make a point about haters, infact the points he does make could have easily been done without the role.

“Money can’t save your soul” – J. Cole

Although the “Where’s Jermaine” skit does set up the following song, it is not necessary and is a long winded way of leading into “Forbidden Fruit”. The skit is reminscent of the intro to Lauryn Hill’s stunning debut album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill too. Kendrick Lamar features on the song’s chorus and is the only rapper to feature on the album. It must be noted though that all of the rapping on Born Sinner is done by Cole, Kendrick is ‘singing’ on “Forbidden Fruit”.

“I’ma drop the album the same day as Kanye
Just to show the boys the man now like Wanyá
And I don’t mean no disrespect, I praise legends” – J. Cole on “Forbidden Fruit”

“Chaining Day” is one of the rare songs on Born Sinner, where the concept and idea of the song is executed well. It touches Hip Hop (and J. Cole’s in particular) fascination with image and showing of wealth and is one of the album’s few highlights.

“My guilt heavy as the chain I wear” – J. Cole

Cole uses a fast flow on “Ain’t That Some Shit” which he doesn’t use often. Imagine what it would sound like if Timbaland was to make a Drum & Bass song and you’ll get pretty close to what the production sounds like. Interestingly the song is almost the opposite end of the spectrum to the previous consciuous song and even begins with Cole sauying, “OK I lied.” Qite odd.

Cole brang back TLC to feature on “Crooked Smile” which was a nice touch. But the song is another that can be adding to the large pile of average songs on Born Sinner.

“Let Nas Down” is much like Kanye’s “Big Brother” and even borrows a line from it “No I.D. my mentor now let the story begin.” I’m thankful Cole let his hero down because we got “Let Nas Down”Born Sinner‘s best song as a result. Thank you J. Cole. He describes how Nas (Cole’s idol) was disappointed when after the good work Cole had done, he released “Work Out” which was a clear compromise by Cole to try and gain radio play.

“Long live the idols may they never be your rivals
Pac was like Jesus, Nas wrote the bible” – J. Cole on “Let Nas Down”

The chorus on the album’s closing song “Born Sinner” feels forced and targeted towards the mainstream radio loving audience rather than Cole’s core. This lets the song down because if it were not for that, this would be a brilliant song.



Even though the album’s worst tracks are the useless interludes and skits, there is little on Born Sinner to warrant purchasing the album. While the production is good, there are far too many average songs (and I would not suggest purchasing an album purely for the production).

Avoid | Stream | Recommend

Born Sinner was released today and is available to download from iTunes. You can also stream the album on Spotify.

Previously: (Album Review) Disclosure – Settle