Last night at Roc The Mic studios in NYC, a listening session was held for J. Cole’s new album, Cole World: The Sideline Story. The album that was presented featured thirteen tracks and thanks to AllHipHop you can read a synopsis/review of each track, to get you excited for Cole’s Roc Nation debut.
Over a beat co-produced by The University, Cole explodes over strings, a booming bass, and multiple “switches” which he credits to his own role in the song’s production. The bass breaks down during the hook and continues as Cole begins his second verse. Piano keys are introduced as the beat breaks down once again. The instruments change throughout the song, coming in and out at the most essential times, as the bass just knocks. This is one that the fans who have been riding with Cole since The Come Up days will anticipate once they see the song title.
An unfinished version of this song was leaked back in early June. It was titled “Cheer Up” back then, no comment on its current name. This song finds Cole singing a hook dealing with the negativity that is attached to the positive things he is doing in his life and that as down as some things may get him, he won’t complain about them.
After two great tracks, Cole unleashes what I think is the most impressive beat yet, and yes he produced it. Over what I can only describe as “hard-ass” bass, Cole unleashes some witty verses over his own personal ode. You’ll know it when you hear it.
After the third track was over, Cole let us know that this is where he believed his song “Lights Please” from his The Warm-Up mixtape would go. He then told the room a story about how this was ultimately the song that got him the deal with Jay-Z after Cole’s now manager, Mark Pitts had the song played for him in his office. Both Mark and Jay, who heard the track six months later, had the same response, and knew that they had to sign him as soon as possible. Because of this, he felt it was only right to have the song included in his debut as well.
The song starts with a Jay-Z sample from the iconic 90’s film Backstage playing. The chorus begins once the sample ends and Cole then kicks off his first verse over harmonies playing behind him. There is a hook where J. Cole sings as “ratatat” noises blast off in the background. The second verse and hook follow and shortly after the song ends.
This is the song Cole proclaimed as his favorite on the album. Over building strings Cole tells several stories, and in the third verse he speaks directly to his mother, asking her not to break down. Flutes and a very soulful piano help the song ride out, but not before Cole comes back in with a harmony to cap the song off. It ends up coming to a close over a synthesized piano and strings. This seemed like the most personal song I had heard so far that night.
Track 6 (Skit)
Over light piano strings, Cole tells a short story about the night he got the text message telling him he got the deal from Jay. Moments later he was pulled over for an outstanding warrant over a drivers license issue he had in the state a few years earlier. He goes on to say that it was the easiest night in jail because he knew as soon as he got out of there he was signing his name on the dotted line and his career would kick into overdrive.
This song is essentially a guideline to make it off the sideline and finds Cole singing a hook about how to make it to the big game. The first verse finds him mentioning Liu Kang, Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife Coretta in a very witty fashion. He later raps a verse about himself going up against Jay-Z and later about how his hooks could knock Rocky out. There is a piano that plays until the end of the song.
This is the craziest sounding song on the album and my personal favorite that I’ve heard so far. There is a mixture of video-game, Tron-sounding, futuristic noises blaring throughout the intense bass. I know that description sounds ridiculous, but it has to must be heard to truly be appreciated. The first verse finds Cole rapping double-time at first and then slowing down as the futuristic noises resonate and weave throughout the bass which ends up cutting out and then almost immediately re-dropping before the second verse. If I had to compare this song to anything I’ve heard recently it would have to be “Who Gon Stop Me” from Watch the Throne. This song just sounds 10 times better than that.
After the song ends Cole tells us that this is where the previously released “In the Morning” will go. The Drake featured song was a radio hit when it was released, and Cole says that it hasn’t ran its course yet; that there are still people and places that have yet to hear it and need too, and that it doesn’t hurt to have last year’s biggest name in rap featured on his debut either.
There was a rough version played for us because the song was only recently completed and features someone that many people would not expect and would be surprised to see and more importantly hear on Cole’s debut. Without giving the guest away, I will say that she is a female rapper who’s hook was written specifically for her in hopes that she would capture the Aaliyah-ish vibe that Cole was looking for. After her wonderful intro, Cole begins his first verse off beat but eventually ends up lining up perfectly after the first few bars when the bass drops. The hook comes back in and as it plays, he abruptly ends the song to tell us the very intriguing story of how the collaboration came to fruition. This song is certainly a pleasant surprise and sounds right at home on the album.
Cole tells us that this is a “very personal record.” Turns out it is the previously leaked and critically applauded “Lost Ones.” The first verse finds Cole rapping from the man’s perspective in a relationship where a child is on the way. The second verse is told from the woman’s perspective. Overall this is like he said, a very personal record. Relationships, abortion, and marriage are all topics found within his lyrics.
This is the new single from Cole, “Can’t Get Enough,” featuring Trey Songz. Soon to be on radio everywhere because this right here is the definition of a “hit.” They recently filmed the video in Barbados, and it should be premiering any week now.
Before the song starts Cole tells us that this is the only No I.D. produced track on the album due to issues with sample clearances, but that it is one of his favorites that the two of them worked on. With a crash in the background and a slow buildup, the first verse begins. After the first verse there is a short dialogue between a father and son. After the second verse there is another short dialogue between a boyfriend and girlfriend. Over synths, the third verse concludes, as a sample of a comedian, I’m not sure who, repeats a short part of their act to an audience.
This is the last song that was played for us and we’re told it will also be the last song on the album. The reason that you haven’t seen a mention of that infamous Jay-Z verse in this preview yet is because this is where that feature is intended to go; if Cole gets it in time. He says that he has come to terms with the fact that he may not and that it will only add a motivational chip to his shoulder. When asked why this is the one he wants the feature for, he tells us that as a fan, of all the songs he has, this is the one that he would most want to hear Jay-Z on.
After a slow 10 second build, the first verse starts and while the lyrics and content are 100% Cole, I can’t help but hear a strong similarity to the way Kanye West sounds here. This may be a further reason why Jay would be so perfect on this. Cole does the second verse, once again sounding very Kanye-like, and as we wait for the third verse to drop, the song ends. We are told that this is where Jay’s verse would go, and that if he does not get it in time, he is prepared to write a third and final verse to the song, which will ultimately conclude the album.
The last few songs are a little bit slower and more moody, which Cole attributed to the “winding down” of the album, but that he does not know if that is a good thing or bad one yet. He has been looking back to the tracklists for artists like Jay-Z, Kanye, and Drake to see how they sequenced their albums. It is tidbits like this that just show how hands on he has been throughout the entire album’s process as it truly is his baby.
And with that, the night’s album preview is over.
After a round of applause, several questions are asked that Cole is glad to answer. He reveals that he is equally proud of every song on the album and does not yet know where his current single “Work Out” will be placed in the album’s sequencing. He is very proud of one song in particular that he produced (Track 8) because it sounds like nothing he has ever done before and he is glad that he was able to stick to his word on keeping the features on the album light.
He reveals that in total, not including what ended up on his mixtape Friday Night Lights, he had 30 records to choose from to create his album. He is so proud and believes so much in what he has created that he has already begun laying out the blueprint for his second album.
Overall, J. Cole has created an album that is new, fresh, and true to not just himself but to Hip-Hop. This is what the people have been anxiously awaiting. There is no shortage of the Cole that fans are used to, and equally as much growth can be found in the album’s lyrics, content, and top-notch production. For an album that is still being called a “work-in-progress,” it sounded very much complete to me, and I personally believe that it will live up to the expectations and even surpass them once it has time to be digested the right way. Those that are banking on the album’s ability to be a “classic” on whether or not he gets a Jay verse are going to be disappointed because Cole has created a “classic” without it, a “classic” debut that is.
By: JP DelaCuesta