Speaking to J. Cole before the release of Born Sinner, the rapper made it clear to us that he wanted to showcase his abilities as a producer and capital-A Artist. The result is an album that he called a “journey through Hell” and that, through songs like “Crooked Smile,” aimed to plant its flag on its own section of hip-hop territory. In our own review of Born Sinner, we felt the rapper’s sophomore effort was “less about beating his chest over his lyrical dexterity and more about highlighting the various angles to his style[...] While his debut Cole World: The Sideline Story was his moment to prove his talent, this follow-up is the celebration of it.”
But how did the rest of the critics feel about the ambitious album? Well, the reactions were all over the place. Head below to see a roundup of what other music publications had to say about Born Sinner.
:: Entertainment Weekly gave the album a lukewarm review, calling Cole “a talented, nimble rapper, but diatribes like ‘Trouble’ and ‘Land of the Snakes’ are more exhausting than impressive; too often he comes off like a strident high school jock with a word-a-day calendar.”
:: Vibe calls the album hip-hop’s new saving grace: “Born Sinner serves as J. Cole’s rite of passage into being rap’s potentially lethal contender. There are no filler tracks trying too hard to be radio singles or records made for the club; the curse of the sophomore slump eludes him. It’s a pensive piece straight through, preaching to the undergrads who could barely afford college or the cheaters trying to fight temptations but most importantly, the individual trying to save him from himself.”
:: Rolling Stone gives the album three and a half stars, writing “His riffs on racism, homophobia and misogyny have more lyrical cunning than insight. But when it comes to twisting himself into Kanye-size pretzels of career-oriented real talk, he’s a champ.”
:: HitFix gives Cole a glowing comparison to one of the hip hop’s finest, Kanye West: “Cole, like West, masterminds his own records from constructing most of the beats to writing the songs and there’s genuine talent there. There are germs of innovation that show he has plenty of room to grow as his inchoate talent continues to develop.”
:: HipHopDX handed out a 4/5, but had some harsh words, saying, “Though commendable as it is largely self-produced without a solitary emcee cameo, Cole’s semi-autobiographical one man show settles for being average where a more vibrant character would bring life to his music.”
: Slant Magazine has raves for the album, noting “Cole’s conspicuous confidence in his art is likewise arresting, especially among other dues-paying rappers of his generation. At times it almost feels like he’s playing with one hand behind his back, just because he can.”
:: And as for MTV Hive’s trippy review, it went way down the rabbit hole, presenting J. Cole as Alice in Wonderland, with Beyonce in the role of Queen of Hearts, Nas as the Cheshire Cat and appearances from Kanye, Outkast and more. It just has to be read to be understood.