Kanye West may be earning rave reviews for Yeezus, but don’t count out J. Cole. Jay-Z’s protégé is back for another round with his sophomore album Born Sinner. Cole enlists TLC, Kendrick Lamar, 50 Cent, and Jhené Aiko on the follow-up to his 2011 debut, while handling the bulk of production himself.
Did he win over the critics with his beats and rhymes? The reviews are in.
Rolling Stone: 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. 3.5/5
Los Angeles Times: J. Cole’s Born Sinner is at the other end of the universe from Kanye West’s latest—a quieter, self-examining rap record that’s short on audacity but long on workman-like singles. 2.5/4
USA Today: His themes of lust and temptation are soulfully and artfully realized on this sophomore effort. 3.5/4
Entertainment Weekly: He’s 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. B-
The Boston Globe: Cole continues to flash terrific storytelling technique with a rich gift for language and a deepened worldview. His concerns are antithetical to booty-clap rap as he weaves complex rhymes about race, the contradictions of fame, and cultural stereotypes.
AP: Overall, Born Sinner is a treasure: Cole paints pictures with his superb rhymes and sets the mood nicely with his solid production.
Rap-Up’s Favorite Tracks: “Forbidden Fruit,” “Crooked Smile,” “Let Nas Down,” “Born Sinner”