On his sophomore effort J.Cole is breaking away from the major-label compromises he made on his debut, and addresses that discomfort from the album’s very first words to the penultimate and most-buzzed-about track, Let Nas Down. But he hasn’t abandoned radio-friendliness altogether – see Power Trip, his broody, base-heavy collab with Miguel. Cole boasts a decent singing voice himself, and his seductive rasp serves him well here.
Like his debut disc, Cole World, Born Sinner displays an astute understanding of the male-female dynamic – or at least his contributions to the demise of his relationships. He’s at times self-conscious about money and looks, while arrogant about his hard-earned achievements.
Forbidden Fruit samples Ronnie Foster’s Mystic Brew (the same jazz tune used in the classic Tribe track Eclectic Relaxation) exceptionally well. Born Sinner’s production, Cole’s own, is nuanced and varied on the whole – looped harp, careful piano, electronic elements, boom bap drums, choirs everywhere – but all impeccably orchestrated. Even on the outstanding opener, Villuminati, featuring ominous strings and a sample of Biggie’s Juicy, there’s a sense that Cole is holding back so his rhymes aren’t overshadowed. He wants to be heard this time.
Top track: Forbidden Fruit