J. Cole has kept everything close to the chest with this album and after revealing the artwork last week, he tweeted the final track list for his Roc Nation debut Cole World: The Sideline Story tonight for #AnyGivenSunday.
2. Dollar and a Dream III
3. Can’t Get Enough ft. Trey Songz
4. Lights Please
6. Sideline Story
7. Mr. Nice Watch ft. Jay-Z
8. Cole World
9. In The Morning ft. Drake
10. Lost Ones
11. Nobody’s Perfect ft. Missy Elliot
12. Never Told (Prod. by No I.D.)
13. Rise and Shine
14. God’s Gift
16. Cheer Up
17. Nothing Lasts Forever
18. Work Out
19. Daddy’s Little Girl
A few things about the album after hearing it a week and a half ago:
Except for three songs, J. Cole produced the whole thing (and co-produced one track). More info below, including a track-by-track rundown of the album plus my thoughts:
“Intro”: It wasn’t ready at that point, but he said it would be a true J. Cole intro with him talking on it.
“Dollar and a Dream III”: Same chorus as the first two, but this one was a dark track with a classic Cole flow/subject matter: turning nothing into something. It had a real gloomy feel to it though, like it was made inside a cemetary.
“Can’t Get Enough”: Cole World‘s next single and the video has already been shot. This could have easily been a random album cut, had they not thrown Trey Songz on it.
“Lights Please”: He told a great, unabridged version of the story behind this song and how it went from him to his manager Mark Pitts’ office to Jay-Z’s ears. He said he could have changed the beat but it would have been too cluttered and he prefered the simplicity of the beat, probably also the symbolism of the track.
“Interlude”: Brilliantly samples the “Apple Jacks” skit from Backstage. Nuff said.
“Sideline Story”: One of (two) title tracks on the album. Piano beat, Nas-ish flow, one of the better Cole choruses on the album. After one line about the come up and another about the Roc, I realized J. Cole was probably the best person Jay-Z could sign with all these lines and references (see: track 13).
“Mr. Nice Watch”: Initially not the track he wanted Jay to get on, but it does reference the line from “A Million and One Questions”. Cole said he thought about using the title after reading it as a headline in a “rich person’s magazine”. First off, it’s a Dubstep track. It surprised me but what shocked me even more was that J. Cole actually pulled off the Dubstep. Even better than Watch The Throne‘s “Who Gon’ Stop Me” (Kanye’s chorus on that was horrendous to me… this one is pretty good actually). To me it sounded like the true crossover track for him (as a solely rap artist), moreso than “Work Out” or even the last track on the album, because a “top 40” song can only take a rapper like him so far, this can open him up to a whole new demographic of people and sounds like something kids will listen to on HypeM. Speaking of Kanye, the beat starts sounding like an 808s throwaway towards the end. Ib, Cole’s manager, even told a group of us he had a hunch Jay would wanna get on this song.
“Cole World”: The album’s title track has a hard beat, also 808s if I remember correctly (these two tracks weren’t back-to-back at the listening but might have been switched later on due to their beats). Cole ends off the song by displaying the competitive climate of the rap game and where he stands with other rappers (none by name, obviously). Interesting either way.
“In The Morning”: Listen to it here.
“Lost Ones”: This track is too similar to “Lights Please” for me but you can make up your own mind because it leaked a while ago.
“Nobody’s Perfect” ft. Missy Elliot: J. Cole crafted a cool, almost Timbaland-style beat with a guitar sample and a nice intro which will undoubtedly be a favorite off the album. Missy appears on the hook (and kills it). J. Cole said he wrote the chorus (and a tentative bridge) for her and they sent it back and forth after she became familiar with him through his usage of her song “Best Friend” on his last mixtape. There’s also a reference to an Aaliyah track title on the song’s lyrics which I thought was a nice addition.
“Never Told” (Prod. by No I.D.): Unrelated to these songs, No I.D. might secretly be the best producer in rap these days. Plus J. Cole definitely gets off on other people’s beats (and on features) better than on his own, no doubt about that. (Same way he gave Kendrick one of his best beats ever.) However this beat starts unraveling after the first verse, and almost sounds like it samples “In The Morning” by the end of it.
“Rise & Shine”: Right off the bat, the beat features the signature J. Cole style of drums/production that he’s most notably known for and it’s a true J. Cole track in every way: referencing an old Roc-A-Fella song on the intro, raps about the grind/come-up, takes little shots at his rapping peers… but all-in-all it’s really just a motivational song (explains the title). There’s also a few lines about girls who shat on him, another staple of his music. It’s definitely layered with a few quotables (we were asked not to directly quote anything). First verse had no chorus following it, but afterwards the song features him singing on it. It was also a bit after that point that I realized J. Cole made an “all raps” album. He even dumbed his shit down for a second and borrowed a “Nicki Minaj” flow for a few bars on there. Later on in the song there’s a sample that comes on that’s pretty hard. This and the intro were the best songs I had heard up until that point in the listening session (the sequencing was different at the time).
“God’s Gift”: Originally the song J. Cole wanted Jay-Z to appear on. It had two verses and an empty slot at the end. I thought this was a good track for Jay to get on, even though J. Cole didn’t sound too optimistic at the moment (and rightfully so.) The background drums of this beat also sound like what I was referring to with “Rise & Shine”.
“Break Down”: From what I remember, this was (also) a “multi-layered” J. Cole beat with a nice build-up. Each verse revolves around one subject matter, the first one being about his father leaving him and the second one being either his (or someone else’s) mother’s substance abuse. Although he’s not considered rap’s savior, you can tell years of rap fuckery led to this album and all of these song concepts. This track definitely didn’t have a chorus when I heard it, but the beat carried the track well.
“Cheer Up”: This is my least favorite track on the album because it’s obvious it was made to get radio play. It was produced by Danjahandz, co-produced by Cole.
“Nothing Lasts Forever”: Features a female vocalist that they came across online. Great chorus.
Note: there was also another skit with his first DJ Green Lantern interview (also featured on The Warm Up) that wasn’t mastered. Cole was explaining to Green how he found out Jay-Z wanted to do the deal and got pulled over/had to spend the night behind bars.
My experience with Cole projects have been like this: with The Warm Up, I heard two songs that I liked and didn’t need to listen to the rest. Later on I received a physical copy, played it all the way through and loved it. With Friday Night Lights, there was too much hype and twitter frenzy surrounding the release, so I barely listened to it when it dropped. When I revisited it three weeks later, I found what was 3-4 (album) quality tracks which he admitted were supposed to make Cole World. With the album, I liked every track on there, but I obviously have to sit with it longer than just one play considering the lyrically-inclined nature of the project.
The balance of strong messages on there mixed with the few pop attempts he makes are reminiscent of Tupac’s body of work, who J. Cole often refers to as his favorite artist, although he did mention during the session that he went back and based himself on other classic albums when thinking of what kind of songs he wanted to have on his first album: Kanye’s The College Dropout, The Blueprint and even Drake’s first album.
With that said, people who liked his mixtapes (The Warm Up & Friday Night Lights) will be pleased with this project. It’s pretty much like his mixtapes except with better production, strong song concepts and all the components that are usually missing on mixtapes (singles, outside production, big features, etc.).
There’s been a lot of pressure on J. Cole in the two and a half years that he’s been signed to Roc Nation, but he said after his first album he’s ready to drop the second one right away. Cole World comes out in just under a month but this is still just the beginning for Cole.