J. Cole – Born Sinner

written by: July 12, 2013
Album-art-for-Born-Sinner-by-J-Cole Release Date: June 18, 2013


“It’s way darker this time,” says J. Cole before one of the several self-produced beats kicks in. This album, Born Sinner, is indeed darker than his previous work; J. Cole addresses his own music career and ascent in the rap community through a religious framework, touching most explicitly upon womanizing and money.

In the opening track, “Villuminati,”J. Cole says that he is concerned for the future of his career, but Born Sinner indicates that he’ll be around for a long time.

The title of the album has Biggie Smalls connotations (J. Cole samples “I’m a born sinner, the opposite of a winner,” from “Juicy,” at the beginning of the album) but religious allusions also come into play throughout the album. J. Cole also raps often about money, drawing a connection between the two. Take “Kerney Sermon (Skit),” for example: “I want you quickly, to place that order right now/for the Personal Prayer Package,” says Rev. Kerney.

The idea that one can buy salvation makes an interesting point in combination with tracks such as “Rich Niggaz,” where J. Cole addresses his financial struggles growing up, and “Mo Money,” a critique on his own wealth in contrast to that of others, especially fellow rappers, and wealthy, white “old money.”

“Chaining Day” is another exploration of money; J. Cole says his desire for chains is “enslaving” him. His “chaining day,” when he receives a chain with a diamond-encrusted Jesus pendant, is essentially his baptism into this material aspect of hip hop culture.

J. Cole intelligently addresses the wealth and temptations that come with increased fame and have plagued fellow hip hop greats—a refreshing turn from the cliché of rappers bragging about wealth.

To further explore the idea of temptation, the songs “Forbidden Fruit (feat. Kendrick Lamar)” and “LAnd of the Snakes” directly reference the Garden of Eden story from the Bible. Throughout the album, J. Cole  focuses on morality and the act or idea of sinning, but these two tracks contextualize the religious element in a different way.

The hook on “Forbidden Fruit” is J. Cole’s rendition of the Adam and Eve story: “Me and my bitch, took a little trip/Down to the garden, took a little dip/Apple juice falling from her lips, took a little sip.”

Born Sinner’s religious aspect comes through with sound as well as lyrics. Gospel singing and piano are used on a few songs to replicate the atmosphere of a church and enrich the beats.

J. Cole’s appreciation for those before him is heard on “Let Nas Down.” J. Cole looked up to Nas, who is known for his insightful, conscientious lyrics. Nas openly disapproved of J. Cole’s 2011 single “Work Out” for its booty-shaking triviality, leading J. Cole to become more aware of his work.

His lyric, “Pac was like Jesus, Nas wrote the Bible” from “Let Nas Down” shows J. Cole’s adoration for rappers before him. Nas recently released a remix of “Let Nas Down” titled “Made Nas Proud” with verses about his appreciation for J. Cole’s profound raps.

The creation of the album as a whole is strong because of the insanely smooth transitions between tracks. Lyrics, themes, and beats all stitch Born Sinner together seamlessly. Each one sounds different than the next, but nothing is ever jarring or out of place.

Born Sinner has a very particular sound. J. Cole often samples the greats from the 1980s and ’90s, acknowledging his influences, yet he crafts each track into a distinct, J. Cole-produced beat.

The standout sample is on the track “She Knows” from the Cults song “Bad Things;” it comes a little out of left field, but the production is rich.

Born Sinner is easily one of the strongest hip hop albums out yet this year. From start to finish, J. Cole is not only articulate, but honest, too.

The track “Crooked Smile (feat. TLC)” utilizes the rapper’s crooked teeth as a metaphor for his insecurities about himself. In the machismo world of hip hop, J. Cole’s strikingly self-aware lyrics stand out.

His craftsmanship on Born Sinner is indeed noteworthy. It’s clear that he figured out a sound for himself, and he has used his second album as a way to establish himself as a more intellectual rapper. J. Cole was afraid that Born Sinner would not meet expectations, but he actually exceeded them.

J. Cole – Born Sinner tracklist:

  1. “Villuminati”
  2. “Kerney Sermon (Skit)”
  3. “LAnd of the Snakes”
  4. “Mo Money (Interlude)”
  5. “Trouble”
  6. “Runaway”
  7. “She Knows (feat. Amber Coffman)”
  8. “Rich Niggaz”
  9. “Where’s Jermaine? (Skit)”
  10. “Forbidden Fruit (feat. Kendrick Lamar)”
  11. “Chaining Day”
  12. “Ain’t That Some Shit (Interlude)”
  13. “Crooked Smile (feat. TLC)”
  14. “Let Nas Down”
  15. “Born Sinner (feat. Fauntleroy)”
  16. “New York Times (feat. 50 Cent & Bas)”*
  17. “Is She Gon Pop”*
  18. “Niggaz Know”*
  19. “Sparks Will Fly (feat. Jhene Aiko)”*

*Included on Deluxe Version of Born Sinner