J. Cole – Born Sinner Review

J Cole Born Sinner

Released June 10, 2013

Track Listing

  1. Villuminati
  2. Kerny Sermon (Skit)
  3. LAnd of the Snakes
  4. Power Trip feat. Miguel
  5. Mo Money (Interlude)
  6. Trouble
  7. Runaway
  8. She Knows feat. Amber Coffman
  9. Rich Niggaz
  10. Where’s Jermaine (Skit)
  11. Forbidden Fruit feat. Kendrick Lamar
  12. Chaining Day
  13. Ain’t That Some Shit (Interlude)
  14. Crooked Smile feat. TLC
  15. Let Nas Down
  16. Born Sinner feat. James Fauntleroy


The knocks I had for Cole’s first album were his beat selection and subject matter. Despite that, I believed Cole would evolve and fix those problems on his next release. Now we get Born Sinner. The album starts with, “It’s way darker this time.” He goes back to what made Sideline Story worth a listen, being introspective. But he delves deeper down that path.

It ultimately was the right call. Songs like Chaining Day and Rich Niggaz have Cole thinking about what it means to have money and success. Chaining Day, especially, is a highlight of the album. He combines what it means to have all that jewelry, but his song’s production makes it pop.

Cole handles the production on his album as he did previously and has diversified his sound here. Increased instrumentation and choir vocals gave Born Sinner a much-needed textured journey. The songs don’t bleed into each other as Sideline Story did.

Flow is another category where Cole has progressed. In the opening track, Villuminati quickly introduces this improvement. The lead single Power Trip has Cole riding a beat on another level that he didn’t quite hit on his debut album. On the Kendrick Lamar-assisted Forbidden Fruit, he bounces around with the Mystic Brew sample, the same song Tribe Called Quest sampled for Electric Relaxation.

The album goes up a notch near the end with the TLC feature on Crooked Smile and Let Nas Down. The two songs are what fans of his from the mixtape years wished Cole sounded like when he began making albums. It sounds like Warm-Up Cole 2.0 in a lot of ways. While not the most lyrical of songs, they jump up to being some of the best of his career.

Let Nas Down is the highlight of highlights on the album. The song is about how Cole felt when he heard that Nas didn’t like where he went when he made Work Out. It’s simultaneously an ode to one of the best to ever grab a microphone but also another example of the introspective nature this album has taken. The song also lead to one of the best moments in hip-hop in 2013, with Nas responding with Made Nas Proud.

Born Sinner is a better album than The Sideline Story. His rhyming and production skills have gotten better. But Crooked Smile and Let Nas Down end up being bittersweet. The album from front to back works well, but the synergy between Crooked Smile and Let Nas Down had me thinking, “What if the entire album was like this?” There is a synergy between Crooked Smile and Let Nas Down going back-to-back. He’s scratching the surface of his potential. Again, it doesn’t mean what came before was bad, but Born Sinner lacks the complete cohesiveness that Cole’s peers have on their releases. Born Sinner is a huge step in the right direction.

He’s showing signs of elevating his game. The parts are there. I would like to see him fully bring it together. There isn’t a reason why he won’t do it. When he does, we will look at Born Sinner as one of his last lessons before he reaches that rarefied air.

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