Sunday, June 23, 2013

Born Sinner & The Gifted: Double Album Review

J. Cole and Wale have both pushed their way to the forefront of rap and they show exactly why in their new albums. Other than that, the two are complete opposites. Cole has traditionally made songs about life, emotion, and simplicity. Wale meanwhile is more showy, usually rapping about money, girls, and how great life is...but it works because he is a superb lyricist. Just looking at the album covers, you can tell the difference between the two: Cole's is simple and dark, while Wale's has all kinds of art behind, a much lighter (straight up white) look, and a giant bust of himself front and center. Even the title is a boast...and Wale IS in fact gifted.

Now, first off, J. Cole produced most of "Born Sinner" on his own, which is a great feat in and of itself. It doesn't hurt to have learned from Jay-Z (an all-time great) and Kanye West (excellent
rapper, world-class producer). After a string of very successful mixtapes, Cole dropped his first full-length album, "Cole World: The Sideline Story", in 2011. It was...something. There were certainly some great tracks, but it was missing something that his mixtapes all had. That thing was an appeal towards his fans. Cole broadened his horizons, producing more pop-influenced songs for "Cole World", while "Born Sinner" thankfully begins to bring back that "what the fans want" type of music.

Cole shows a deeper side of himself on this album, choosing to take more of a look at himself and his perspective of the world rather than other people's. The first words Cole utters on the album are "It's way darker this time"...and boy is he right. He comes crashing out of the gates with tons of vintage Cole punchlines in "Villuminati". He tosses out lines about homophobia ("Pause, maybe that line was too far/Just a little joke to show how homophobic you are"), the Devil ("But the Devil run the T.V. so the demons in him/I'm in trouble/Did a deal with the Devil but now I'm pleading with him/Like give me my soul"), and his fear of a career crash and burn ("Re-adjusted my target audience/Cause it's obvious/I've gone astray/Losing my way like Timberlake/Produced by Timberland on that goddamn FutureSex/LoveSounds").  One song in and I'm already blown away. After a quick skit, Cole comes back with a slower Outkast sample in "LAnd of Snakes", then we get to the hit single "Power Trip"...which ends up being
one of the album's weaker songs. Still good, but already overplayed...and maybe the only radio song here. The next few tracks a bit boring, with few memorable lines, but Cole hits back with "She Knows". And then, the big one...which ends up being slightly disappointing. "Forbidden Fruits" is a collab with Kendrick Lamar and it sounded like it would end up being amazing...but Kendrick does little more than provide a hook for Cole to rap around. Not bad, but not what I was expecting. The rest of the album is very solid, with perhaps the highlight being "Let Nas Down". This is about one of Cole's rap idols, Nas, did not like Cole's first single "Work Out". Basically the only people who liked it were the ones who only listen to rap on the radio, and Cole was disappointed and felt like he let Nas down with this first single. Cole takes a deep look at himself on this track and produces one of my favorite songs in recent memory. And of course, the James Fauntleroy-aided title track, "Born Sinner" brings Cole's sophomore effort to a triumphant close.

Overall, the beats on this album were consistently well-produced and easy to listen to. Cole seems more reflective on this than on his first album, which felt like a bunch of unconnected thoughts. The songs on "Born Sinner" are all more closely related to the theme of Cole's young, rich, college educated black man living in the 21st century personality. He shows a more understanding view of the world. I would give this album an 8.5/10, easily surpassing his first album and coming close to his mixtapes in terms of Cole's best work.
One of the cool parts about J. Cole's album was that it had very few big name featured artist. Wale, on the other hand, brings us an impressive roster: Meek Mill, Cee Lo Green, Yo Gotti, Nicki Minaj, Juicy J, Rihanna, Ne-Yo, Rick Ross, Wiz Khalifa & 2 Chainz. Impressive. Even with all these big names, Wale still manages to make himself the forefront of the album and show off his lyrical talents. After four successful mixtapes, a small label album and a big label debut, Wale is out to prove he is more than the ambitious newcomer he showed us on that debut, "Ambition".

After the album's first track, I can see how people unfamiliar with Wale could be turned off to it. I'm sure there are listeners getting that "oh no another album full of bragging and material lyrics". Because that's exactly what the first song is. This continues on the next couple songs, but people should know that this is what Wale is. His lyrical talents totally make up for it, plus "LoveHate Thing" has a killer beat. Wale likes to show off. But he's amazing at it. Every song he makes has a catchy part to it and features at least one amazing line. This is shown on "Heaven's Afternoon", featuring labelmate Meek Mill. This is the first different song on the album. Wale and Meek talk about how they aren't supposed to be where they are and how other rappers weren't able to make it to where they are. After this we get some more bragging, then we get to "Vanity". Wale basically apologizes for everything I just said about it and it's great. Plus he samples "Mad World" and that's just perfect. He even states that he's a narcissist. Wale knows what he's talking about. Another big part of Wale's style is his love for women (usually strippers with large behinds) and he shows that clearly on "Clappers", "Bad", and the "Bad Remix" with Rihanna. And of course there's the stoner hit "Rotation" with two well-known stoner rappers, Wiz Khalifa and 2 Chainz. Wale loves to make songs that appeal to every group of people that may listen to his music and he does it so well that these songs still sound good to people who aren't part of a specific group. One of my favorite songs on the album and Wale's best song with no feature is "88". He declares himself the leader of the MMG label and he has a very good claim to that title. He compares the rap game to basketball in many clever ways ("Carolina blue kicks/Hottest nigga on your block/I ain't J.R. Rider but them wolves coming for my spot/From the percentage of youngins winning without no college/I'm in my Laneys but nothing JV about this balling/I lost my deal, got with Will he seen a nigga genius/My rapping skills is on Chapel Hill but you ain't see it", "Never Michael Jeffrey in 17s, I'm staying with my team"). MMG is taking over the rap game and none of its members will quit on the others. Wale is never going to stop doing what he does, just like Michael Jordan in '88. On the song's "outro" ("Bad" comes after this), called "Black Heroes/Outro About Nothing", Wale talks about some of the black heroes from today and the past. He specifically mentions Stevie Wonder, Usain Bolt, Barry Sanders and Robert Townsend. According to Wale, there are not enough true black heroes nowadays: "Ain’t no hope for a young nigga/Ain’t no goals for a young nigga/Too short for a sport nigga/That be horrific, we glorifyin them drug dealers". Eventually, Wale tells us why he does what he does. He wants to become an inspiration, to show that someone like him can come this far and there's hope for anybody else who wants it...if they want it enough.
Or maybe this music will inspire a future mountain mover or two
And if I ever rush more music out to you
Then know that I’m overworking myself ‘cause my heart and mind into it
Ain’t been a black hero since Robert Townsend
So for meeting your man I hope you found something profound enough to expand on before the sound falters
And then we get the best piece of news I've heard in a long time to finish up the album. Wale's first two mixtapes were Seinfeld themed ("Mixtape About Nothing" and "More About Nothing")
and on his outro to the album we get a conversation with the one and only JERRY SEINFELD. In a short conversation, we get a small teaser for what's next: the Album About Nothing. A collaboration between Wale and Jerry Seinfeld. Yes please.
Overall, the album is well produced and Wale's lyricism is on point. This is a much better album than "Ambition", not his best work, but still an excellent album. Like J. Cole, it seems like Wale did less for radio here but possibly relied upon his features too much in some places. But in others, features don't even seem necessary because Wale had already done it on his own before the other artists even showed up. I would give this album an 8/10.
Cole and Wale have started off the summer with a bang and if this is a sign of what's to come, it's going to be an amazing season for rap.
Kendrick too!

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