Recruiting R&B and hip hop luminaries of today (50 Cent, TLC, Miguel, Kendrick Lamar, James Fauntleroy) with creative, old school sampling of Fela Kuti, The Whispers, Télépopmusik, OutKast and R. Kelly, J. Cole has put out an eclectic, highly referential album that holds its own for the whole 60 minutes.

J. Cole’sBorn Sinner is a wild mesh of styles with a warm, old school aesthetic that lends itself to his flow. Where a lot of contemporary rap nods towards the crystallised, synthetic beat music popularised by Drake’s downtempo sounds and Clams Casino x A$AP Rocky, Cole has made a point of alluding instead to the legends of yesteryear not only lyrically, but sonically. With constant references to hip hop royalty, both through samples (Notorious B.I.G.’s ‘Juicy’ in ‘Villuminati’) and lyrics (name drops of Jay-Z, A Tribe Called Quest, Kanye, Nas, Eminem, Biggie, etc.) we can see a rapper growing into his own shoes as his idols slowly become his contemporaries.

‘Forbidden Fruit’ is a smooth track with Kendrick Lamar on chorus duties, sampling a Ronnie Foster song popularised by A Tribe Called Quest’s ‘Electric Relaxation’. The jazzy beat and mellow guitar lick gives Cole’s speedy flow a nice bed to sit back on, as he spits his own praises: “Cole is the king, most definite / My little black book thicker than the Old Testament.”

Cole stressed that this was a mainly self-produced album, and some tracks on here are as gorgeously sampled and as catchy as some of Kanye West’s best work on Late Registration or Graduation. ‘Crooked Smile’ features TLC and has a euphoric, soulful beat akin to Kanye’s ‘Big Brother’. And like Kanye’s track, Cole is also talking about Jay, this time kicking aside rumours of discontent between the two of them: “And fuck all of that beef shit nigga / Let’s make a mil”.

4/5 stars


Born Sinner is out now through Columbia.

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