Writer: Austin Prim
J. Cole is a mainstay in most of our top 10 rappers list right now, maybe in the top 5 for some. While he’s had some good albums and some not-so-good albums, he’s an undeniably talented lyricist. He has some FIRE songs such as: Premeditated Murder, Nobody’s Perfect, Power Trip & Kenny Lofton. Those will forever jam. Although the opinions of Cole being trash or wack are untrue, they are not completely invalid. There’s a specific angle you’ll just have to view it from.
From the outside looking in, there’s nothing that jumps out as being a problem for J. Cole. He can rap, he’s a lyricist and the bars are above average. His style is…fine, for this era. He’s kind of like a cool hip-hop hipster. That’s what’s in right now in different pockets of the culture. He has a LOYAL fan base. It’s a Cole World out here. He pretty much checks off every box you could think of that should make him the #2 or even the #1 guy in rap right now. However, the one box that he doesn’t have checked, and it’s probably the most important, is music. The music that he puts out is his Achilles heel. It’s the one thing that he just can’t get all the way right.
You’ve probably heard the joke (the truth) about Cole’s music putting people to sleep. Look, he has some dope songs. BUT, most of those songs are…for lack of a more sophisticated term…boring! They all feel so monotone and melancholy. Although the content of the songs themselves aren’t always as tiring, they can still be heavy. I love meaningful songs because I’m not a huge fan of mindless mumbles motioning from mouths. But there’s a line; a balance. Let’s say you have 10 songs on an album. 8 out of the 10 songs are going to be deep, thought provoking, relevant content while the other 2 are just fun fillers. Cool. But at least 3-4 of those 8 darker toned songs NEED elements of lighter production to balance them out. The pallet can only take so much without being overwhelmed. Cole hasn’t been successful at this. Yes, production should fit the mood of the song, but there’s a way to mix it up and blend the two. There are a lot of artists that can hit you with consequential material while simultaneously keeping the mood light.
Example one, “i” by Kendrick Lamar. Perfect instance of meaningful and quality content balanced out with upbeat, lively production. J. Cole’s “Crooked Smile” has a similar message, but the mid-tempo, subtly calming beat creates a different feeling. Words like “emotional” or “inspiring” would fit better in describing Crooked Smile as opposed to “uplifting”. Sure, the meanings and feelings are similar. But there’s a nuance there. A slightly different feeling exists. Look at songs like Kanye’s “Touch the Sky”, or even “The Story of OJ” by Jay-Z. All these songs have real meaning and aren’t to be taken lightly. None of them come off as boring or preachy though. There can be a message in your song, but it doesn’t have to feel like a lecture. Not every Cole song comes off this way, it’s the overall vibe that his albums give off.
Speaking of albums, homie doesn’t have a classic. This is less of a knock only because out of his peer group, (Drake, Sean, K. Dot, KRIT, Wale) Kendrick is the only one with at least one classic. (TAKE CARE IS NOT A CLASSIC ALBUM!) But Cole is way too talented to not have a classic by now. 2014 Forest Hills Drive is easily his best album, but not a classic. Some may say it’s “great” but ehh. It’s good though. Sideline Story doesn’t have as much replay value as I thought it would . But the production on that album had a lot more variety than his latter albums. Born Sinner was…ok. His most recent album, 4 Your Eyez Only…hard pass. Technically, none of these are bad albums. The same way Yeezus wasn’t a bad album but due to the fact that it wasn’t up to par with our bar for Kanye, is the same way we can look at J. Cole’s subpar album track record. His albums haven’t matched his potential.
Bottom line, J. Cole’s not wack, or trash; He just hasn’t reached the levels of greatness that we as fans believed he should’ve and could’ve reached. Maybe it’s our fault. Maybe those mixtapes he put out gave us false hopes. I don’t believe that though. He’s not a fluke, and he’s capable of making better albums and better songs. He’s just stagnant, or maybe too comfortable. I think he enjoys his music and what he brings to the Hip-Hop landscape. If he feels good about the music and art he puts out, then cool.
However, if he wants to really be considered and mentioned how he should be mentioned among his peers as well as among the greatest artists of All-Time, there’s some things he must change. He should
relax more. He has to…smile. Have fun with his music. Break up the monotonous tones of his albums. Throw a wrench or a curveball. Do something unexpected! I really wish Cole & Kendrick made that joint album. It would’ve helped Cole branch out, and it might have even created a nastier Kendrick too. All in all, J. Cole can be one of the best, should be one of the best, but I understand why people say he’s overrated. How you feel though?