When J.Cole announced late last year that his sophomore album Born Sinner was going to be released on January 28, fans eagerly waited in anticipation but were disappointed when it was pushed back. So J.Cole decided to grace them with this gift of a soulful EP to appease their frustrations.
A five track un-mastered offering, it is its very rawness that makes it so beautiful. The sonic starkness complements Cole’s passionate delivery and stirring imagery in his narratives. These few songs are a reminder as to why J.Cole blew up in the first place.
The first track “Can I Holla at Ya?” makes a very gallant opening statement and sets the tone for the rest of the EP. Rhyming over Lauryn Hill’s “To Zion”; an ode to her son, Cole raps about his stepfather who left him and his mom. The irony in the beat choice and subject matter is not to be overlooked. The rest of the verses speak about a girl whom he once loved that got married, and an estranged friend.
The next two tracks reflect Cole’s amazing ability to rap from various perspectives of different people. “Crunch Time” is a song made up of a story of two young men who are trying to make a better life for themselves and the struggles that they go through to attain it “cause shit is real and a n*gga got bills”. The verses explore how one hustles cocaine whilst others hustle music, but both are met with setbacks and challenges irrespective of their different ways to gain ‘the life’. Cole is one of the very few rappers who can really empathise and express with sensitivity and grace women’s perspectives, and in “Rise Above” he describes the lives of two very different women. One woman who is fed up with the man she love’s infidelity and another is a young teacher who has become jaded because of her pupils’ apathy and the incompetent education system “cause ain’t no hope for the youth/well ain’t that the truth/when all your role models either rappin’ or they hoop/damn”.
“Tears for ODB” sees J.Cole rapping through the eyes of the deceased Wu-Tang Clan member ODB who died of a drug overdose in 2004. The song explores the issues facing black men in America. “Stay(2009)” is the same No I.D beat that Nas spits over in his album Life is Good but No I.D gave it to J.Cole first in 2009. The first verse of the song is about a criminal running away from his court appearance telling his girl he can’t stay, and the second verse is about Cole himself who says he can’t stay in his hometown and has to go out into the world to follow his dreams.
Each verse of every song in this five-track gem is like reading a page of each person’s diary that Cole is rapping about, which speaks volumes about his storytelling skills. The sultry beat selection is just as soul-bearing as the bars Cole spits on them. Hopefully his sophomore album will be just as brilliant as this EP.
Here’s the letter J.Cole wrote to his fans when he released this free EP:
I appreciate you giving me the time I needed to grow, experiment, and find the direction for my 2nd album.. And I have.
Along the way I’ve recorded at least 4 albums worth of material, lots of it being unfinished demo versions waiting to be polished up, some of them are great songs and important stories that just won’t make the album (either they don’t fit Sonically, don’t fit Theme, or there’s just not enough space) .
Tonight, I want to give you a few of these songs because you deserve them. It’s hard as fuck for me to keep all this music from you for so long, so I know it’s been hard for you to wait. Thank you for your patience. Vibe out to these songs in their raw form, no polish.. just a lot of my soul..
The wait is over.
Written By: Nomusa Mthethwa (@NomusaMT)