Discography Check: J. Cole

By @TrueGodImmortal

With the release of his most recent album K.O.D., J. Cole has taken the hip hop world by storm and made himself a headliner once again. You might be asking yourself why Cole would need to make himself a headliner again, but the truth is, after the slightly disappointing 4 Your Eyez Only, it felt as if Cole had been virtually quiet. With the release of his new album KOD and the frenzy around it, I felt it was a perfect time to take a look at his catalog and list all of his solo projects. For an 11 year career, Cole has 10 official projects (5 solo albums, 3 solo mixtapes, and 2 EPs), some well received by the majority, others not so much. With that being said, let's take a look at the J. Cole discography.

*The Come Up (2007)

-The first release from Cole is one of hunger and slight focus, as Cole finds himself spitting his soul out over a mix of popular hip hop instrumentals and some original production done by himself. The result is an interesting listen from start to finish, but there are some flaws with this project for sure. For one,  Cole has moments where he doesn't sound as comfortable in his flow, but lyrically he is solid throughout regardless. My favorites here are "Dollar And A Dream", "Throw It Up", and of course, the standout "Simba". All in all, this was a solid opening effort from the young upstart NC rapper.

*The Warm Up (2009)

-Depending on who you ask, some people consider this to be the best work that Cole has ever had in his career. I can see why, but of course, I don't agree. Still, The Warm Up is one of the better works of his now decade long career, and with Cole handling a majority of the production, it has its own sound and style in many ways. Cole had signed to Roc Nation already by the time this released and his name was beginning to buzz. Tracks like "Get Away", "Dreams", "Can I Live", "Grown Simba", and the popular "Lights Please" are huge standouts here, and while I don't think that this is his best work overall, I think this set the tone for what would be his greatest work next.

*Friday Night Lights (2010)

-I am not a Cole enthusiast by any stretch of the imagination, but I really enjoyed this mixtape/album, which is his best work by far in his career and remains that. He was in a zone that he hasn't been able to find again on this album, with poignant and honest rhymes being delivered over very solid production and beats. For me, my favorite song will always be Cole rapping over the looped sample of Erykah Badu's "Didn't Cha Know" on the most raw song of his career up until that point IMO "Too Deep For The Intro". Other tracks like "In The Morning" with Drake, "Villematic", "Love Me Not", and "See World" are all big highlights on a project that might not he completely classic, but it definitely has a claim to that elusive classic label. Friday Night Lights is Cole at his most honest and his best for sure, a mark in his career that he hasn't been able to duplicate musically YET. Perhaps the standard was set too high? Probably not, but time will tell.

*Cole World: The Sideline Story (2011)

-As things rise, they will fall. Coming off of strong back to back projects, Cole takes a huge dive musically with his official debut album, which is not what he needed to do. With Roc Nation and the machine behind him, Cole got caught up with the nonsense that slows down the momentum of any rapper. While the album had a star studded lineup feature wise as Trey Songz, Drake, Jay-Z, and Missy, the songs mostly just fall flat, leaving listeners feeling slightly disappointed at the execution here. Lyrically Cole doesn't seem hungry at all, and tracks like "Mr. Nice Watch" and "Can't Get Enough" seem to waste the featured artists as well. However, tracks like "Nobody's Perfect", "God's Gift", and "Never Told" gives a glimpse of the Cole that his fans love the best.

*Truly Yours 1 & 2 (2013)

-These two EPs were much needed teasers to prepare fans for what would be his official second album, Born Sinner. The first EP is more straightforward with no features and allows Cole to have the mic for himself over some decent production. Tracks like "Rise Above" and "Can I Holla At Ya" are top notch, and the second edition of this EP series delivered as well, in a different manner. It has a harder feel to it, with features from Young Jeezy, 2 Chainz, and Bas. The highlights on this edition are of course the soulful classic "Kenny Lofton", "Chris Tucker", and "3 Wishes". This was essentially one short album split into two sections, and the overall result was solid music from the start to finish.

*Born Sinner (2013)

-Part of me wanted to like this album more than I did. The other part of me felt that album was a bit of overkill. I was never a huge Cole fan, and still am not, but this album seemed like it was due to be his breakthrough project. As a result, we got to see him branch out a little and utilize some high powered features like 50 Cent, Miguel, TLC, and Kendrick Lamar. The production is handled mostly by Cole as usual, with Jake One and Syience stepping in briefly to hold it down for a second on that end. The standout songs on this album are "Forbidden Fruit", "Rich Niggaz", "Runaway", and "Land Of The Snakes". Born Sinner wasn't a great album, but it definitely had more of what made us like Cole when he arrived than his official debut.

*2014 Forest Hills Drive (2014)

-Changing the way albums are released in hip hop, Cole took a much different strategy than expected to release his third offical studio album and it paid off big time. You've heard the saying time and time again, but let me repeat it just in case you forgot: J. Cole went DOUBLE platinum with no features on his album. A noble feat I'm sure, but could he top himself musically? Yes and no. To many, 2014 FHD was his best album and of the official albums that have dropped, it might have a huge case. While Cole once again handles the production duties  for the most part, he does allow Vinylz, Willie B, and Illmind to contribute and the results are good for the most part. While I'm not the biggest Cole fan personally, I can recognize that this is a good album, even if a few of the songs miss the mark. Still, tracks like "No Role Modelz", "Fire Squad", "Love Yourz", and my favorite "Apparently" all give the album a certain flare that both Cole World and Born Sinner were missing.

*4 Your Eyez Only (2016)

-This album was extremely well received by one sector of fans and then completely disregarded by another sector of fans. Perhaps the fans are so used to slandering Cole that they preemptively prepared themselves to not like this album. Or, maybe the album just wasn't that good? The real answer? Somewhere in the middle. In an ever changing genre mostly for the worse, Cole stuck to his guns with this album, mixing his jazz inspired production and his honest lyricism with topics that are completely hit or miss. Many have tried to say that Cole isn't a lyricist, and that's not accurate at all, but he does teeter the line sometimes with his verses, and that happens here. I personally liked the production on this album for the most part, but this album screamed for a guest feature or two. Cole being the central artist with no break in that is probably the most taxing part of his recent albums, as his style is solid to listen to alone, but it would be nice to hear a contrast. Still, this album had good tracks like "Immortal", "Ville Mentality", and one of the most popular songs on the album "Neighbors". 4 Your Eyez Only is far from the best Cole album, but it isn't the worst, which puts it just above Cole World, but right on par with Born Sinner, maybe a notch lower IMO.

*K.O.D. (2018)

-His most recent album is interesting. If you are a prisoner of the moment listener, you think Cole has switched up his style for the first time and tried something new. You might think he is utilizing the style of Drake or even Migos at times. Perhaps there is some truth to that on this album. Maybe it isn't. What is true is that Cole has taken risks musically prior to this, but it seemed as if they just weren't as well received. With this new album that know very little about in terms of the meaning and true concept, Cole seems more comfortable on the mic and with his flow, and although I hear a heavy Kendrick influence in some songs, a lot of it could be tied into the next album he will release titled The Fall Off. Production wise, this album is solid, like most Cole albums (it's true), it just has a little extra flare than the last two in terms of the drums and melodies. For me, the best songs here are "The Cut Off", "BRACKETS", "Once An Addict", and the much talked about "1985" as well. While I'll have to listen a few more times to really get the full vibe of this album, on the first listen, I like it. Is K.O.D. a turning point in the career of J. Cole, or the start of something special? Time will reveal.



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