Jermaine Lamar Cole, better known by his stage name J. Cole, is an American rapper and record producer. In 2009, he was the first rap artist signed to the rap legend Jay-Z’s label Roc Nation. He received a nomination for Best New Artist at the 54th Grammy Awards, however, lost to Bon Iver.
Cole was born in Frankfurt, Germany, on January 28, 1985. As his family moved to the United States, his childhood revolved around his love for both basketball and rap music. He also decided that he had a better chance of getting signed in New York City, so he chose to attend St. John’s University on an academic scholarship where he majored in communication and minored in business, graduating magna cum laude. A good kid, indeed.
J. Cole started rapping at the age of 13, soon after his younger sister was born when his cousin showed him the basics of rhyming and word play. Inspired mostly by rappers Canibus and Tupac Shakur, he developed a love for telling stories in his lyrics. Two years after, he had notebooks filled with rhymes, but no beats of his own to record them with. His mother then bought him an 808 beat machine so he could produce music himself. And after another two years, he was posting songs on various internet forums under the moniker “Therapist.” He stood outside of Jay-Z’s Roc the Mic Studio for three hours in order to give him a beat called “On Top of the World” he sampled by Idris Muhammad, so that his mentor-to-be could use it. However, when Jay-Z came out of his building he shunned the up-and-coming rapper. Cole has described himself as the “First German rapper” signed to Roc Nation.
Cole World: The Sideline Story album was one of the most anticipated releases of 2011 due to the sharp rise in J. Cole’s popularity and mainstream fan base, which is actually surprising because I don’t know about him before this album (or is it because I’m not really into this genre?). It debuted at number one on the US Billboard 200 chart, with 218,000 copies in its first-week of sales. Upon its release, the album was generally well received by critics, who praised the wholesomeness of the album.
I can describe Cole World as an album full of “rap ballads,” matched with an orchestra, and violins on Rise and Shine, Lost Ones, and Breakdown. There is contemplation after what happened in his life affected by bad influences, love, lust and vices. It is like the aftermath of the usual rappers’ songs. His lyrics perhaps most strikingly deal with issues like abortion and the consequences of growing up in a fatherless household. However, these themes are incorporated alongside more introspective issues such as relationships, family problems, fame and attempting to be successful, which is an area which very much links in with the subtitle of the album “The Sideline Story.” He really “change[d] the game.”
Brad Wete of Entertainment Weekly praised the album, saying that it “is a well-rounded effort, and deeper than most…” while Kazeem Famuyide of The Source gave the album a positive review, stating that “All in all, Cole World: The Sideline Story has more bright spots than lowlights and serves as a solid debut…”
However, there are also some mixed review. Mikael Wood of Los Angeles Times gave the album a mixed review, commenting that “J. Cole’s early-onset veteran status also saps some of the energy you’d hope to hear on a debut,” but also commended J. Cole on the “satisfying confidence with which J. Cole delivers his rhymes.” David Jeffries of Allmusic stated, “Take a couple listens, let it sink in, and then discover that Cole World is one hell of a debut.” Rolling Stone’s Jody Rosen commented that the album “Cole is brainier than most mainstream MCs but too flashy for the underground” adding that “the melodrama feels rote.” Fleishcer of XXL Magazine mentioned Cole’s high expectations, stating that “But it’s these same factors that have positioned J. Cole’s major label debut, Cole World: The Sideline Story, in an uphill battle against expectations,” and praising J. Cole, stating “Cole’s DIY methods—producing the bulk of the album, enlisting limited guests—are admirable if, at times, restrictive.”
J. Cole said that the reason for the subtitle “The Sideline Story” is because he feels like someone being on the sidelines for their favorite basketball team, and they’re just waiting until the coach puts them in since being signed to Jay-Z.