Cole World: A Sideline Story Review
Written by Todd Shimamoto
When people think of Hip Hop, the first thing that comes to their mind is what made it popular in the first place. What initially made them put their ear buds into their ears and jam to it. For most, the artists that tend to come to mind are the ones that have achieved considerable fame over the years, such as Tupac, Biggie, Eminem, Lil Wayne, Jay Z, and so on. Some of them are considered phenomenal, while others aren’t. Some are known for their inspiring lyrics, while others are known for their party anthems. It’s how business in the music world works, really. However, we all know these artists’ fame to be something that is slowly growing old, so the new listeners are looking for someone to represent their generation. They are looking for somebody that they may look back in many years’ time, somebody that they can consider as part of them. Fortunately for them, it seems like the artist behind Cole World: A Sideline Story may be just that.
To avid listeners of Hip Hop, Jermaine Cole is not a new name. He has developed mild popularity through the internet and his signing into the Roc Nation label under Jay Z as his apprentice. He’s released mixtapes here and there that were very well-received and has even made a guest appearance on The Blueprint 3, his mentor’s own album. However, now that he’s gotten himself off the ground, he wants to make an effort to establish his own name in the industry. He no longer wants to be utilizing Jay’s success as his image, so he uses this album to become one of the better storytellers I’ve heard in a long while.
Cole kicks off the CD in a typical fashion with an Intro, setting up the low mood he wants to communicate with his music. It starts with him making casual talk with his buddies before closing into a rap that displays his style. It’s clear from here that he likes working with melodrama due to the piano playing in the background, and it works in this case. Dollar And a Dream III continues this by documenting who he was and how he felt. He describes his harsh childhood and how he wanted to become more, but his friends made things troublesome. Can’t Get Enough switches up the feel by going for something more catchy and discussing a tale we have heard countless times: he encounters a girl that he finds attractive and mentions why he finds her appealing. Trey Songz makes a good guest appearance here as the voice in the background and as the hook, and really helps sell the casual tone of the song. The next track, Lights Please, depicts the end of this short story with the girl and really sells itself with vivid lyricism (“It’s all that wet shit I’m currently lost in/and while that sweat drip/I am reminded of all the times my brother that told me pussy is blinded”).
After these tracks finished, I was given a really good impression from him. His flow emphasizes his words in a way that isn’t exaggerated, but also isn’t boring. For many artists, finding that right balance is a challenge, but Cole seems to have it in spades at this point. His story continues over the next few songs and highlights his growing confidence as he begins to develop his rap career. Jay Z gets himself featured as well as Drake, and both of them deliver solid verses in Mr. Nice Watch and In the Morning to help add variety while helping Cole get his point across. However, one of the albums hallmarks doesn’t come until after they have finished their performances.
Lost Ones is the type of work that Hip Hop (and music in general) could really use more of. In some ways, I like to compare it to Eminem’s Stan, in that it takes place in real-time and tells one of Cole’s more personal stories. To the listener, it raises concerns over those who do not take precautions regarding sex and relationships, and its message is powerful, with a hook that is chilling with the cry for plea in Cole’s voice . The rest of the album continues this same feeling as he continues to confront himself and who he is. He shows self-doubt in Never Told and displays him trying to pick himself back up again to an upbeat sound in Rise And Shine. It sends a good vibe that I’m sure will also be looked at again by fans of his as time passes by.
He hits his last two strides with Breakdown and Work Out, the latter being a tune many will be familiar with upon hearing it, as it samples Kanye West’s The Workout Plan and incorporates some of Paula Abdul’s Straight Up. It’s another catchy song as well, but Breakdown is another track that, just like Lost Ones, will leave an impression that will last on many listeners’ minds (“And I ain’t too proud to tell you/that I cry sometime, I cry sometimes about it/and girl I know it hurt, but if this world was perfect/then we can make it work, but I doubt it”). Without saying much about it, it really gives you a sense of what his family life was like while he was growing up, and it serves as a satisfying conclusion to Cole World: A Sideline Story.
Overall, if Jermaine Cole was looking for a strong debut with his first album, he definitely found it. If his success continues, Jay Z will have one of the more lyrically-commanding protégés I’m sure he’s looking for. Cole’s future looks bright from here on out, so let’s give him the applause he deserves after having gone through his sideline story.