Released September 27, 2011

Track Listing:

1. Intro
2. Dollar & A Dream III
3. Can’t Get Enough feat. Trey Songz
4. Lights Please
5. Interlude
6. Sideline Story
7. Mr. Nice Watch feat. Jay-Z
8. Cole World
9. In the Morning feat. Drake
10. Lost Ones
11. Nobody’s Perfect feat. Missy Elliott
12. Never Told
13. Rise & Shine
14. God’s Gift
15. Breakdown
16. Work Out
17. Who Dat (iTunes Bonus)
18. Daddy’s Little Girl (iTunes Bonus)

J. Cole has come a long way. Since being signed to Roc Nation by Jay-Z in 2009, people expected rather big things from the North Carolina native. While having some flaws, this debut of the St. Johns graduate should not be slept on. If there were any doubts about J. Cole, (even after three mixtapes and various guest verses) they should be eliminated. Take that co-sign from Hova seriously.

To be fair, the majority of songs off the album are about females. Songs like the lead single Work Out, In The Morning and Can’t Get Enough has Cole waxing poetic about making love. One major knock for me toward this album was the sheer number of songs lead by his libido. But where this album shines is when Cole delves deeper into thought. Take Lost Ones for example; a song about when a young couple have an unexpected pregnancy. Another song that shows the true quality of the album is Breakdown. He gets introspective about his family, providing the album much needed balance with him being at his most vulnerable.

Lyrically, J. Cole is solid. Dollar and a Dream III and Sideline Story demonstrates his dexterity with the word. Who Dat shows Cole at his most incendiary while Mr. Nice Watch has his most frantic flow.

In song selection, beyond subject matter there is an issue with a few of the tracks. Lights Please, In The Morning and Who Dat have appeared before. Who Dat came out as a single last year while Lights Please and In The Morning were both released free on his mixtapes. If those songs were taken off the album, it would have made the album more succinct.

Speaking of the album as a whole, the last flaw I see is the beat selection. All but three songs (Can’t Get Enough, In The Morning and Never Told) has J. Cole on the boards. A plus certainly with how he flips a Kingdom Hearts II sample and the dubstep influence on Mr. Nice Watch provides Jay-Z a song-stealing verse. But after awhile, the beats of the album start to blend together making it a bit tough to discern which song is which. I would love to see Cole continue to handle the bulk of his music for the rest of his career but with the resources at his disposal, he can afford to bring in a few more producers.

The highlights of the album do enough to outweigh the flaws it has. There is workman-like quality to it all. Limiting the guest appearances and producing the majority of the songs plus adding all the music he has put out previously, I get the impression that J. Cole has worked extremely hard. A guy who graduated St. Johns magna cum laude has to have some sort of above-average work ethic and drive right? I recommend this album, flaws and all because the project as a whole is a good debut album. Don’t be surprised if J. Cole becomes one of hip-hop’s darlings in the future. The groundwork is laid out here.

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