On J. Cole’s Debut & Mainstream Success

10.06.11 6 years ago 38 Comments

J. Cole released his Roc Nation debut last week and the disgruntled fan masses awoke with a myriad of opinions. Critical reception has been lukewarm, but welcome to the new age of Hip-Hop criticism where popular mixtape artists get on with a label and drop turds, since anything less than an effort resembling Reasonable Doubt meets acrimony.

In recent memory Wale, Wiz Khalifa and Big Sean have all faced this hammer. But let’s be honest with ourselves when we dissect these crossover appeals: they aren’t the flameouts we trick ourselves into believing. On a purely personal level, Wiz’ latest album has been deleted from my iTunes library; however, Attention Deficit, Thank Me Later and even Finally Famous have remained in constant rotation since their releases.

But why on God’s green earth do I still listen? Pitchfork and Spin have told me to stop listening. Even my fellow Smoking Section comrades have expressed their own distaste for some of these efforts.

These albums aren’t game-changers, but I never allowed myself to be naïve enough to believe they would be. Yet, all three of the aforementioned LPs have (at the least) 1:2 ratios of listenable to unlistenable cuts—not to mention a large handful of absolute bangers. No matter your opinion Finally Famous includes an even more inspiring “Memories,” along with upbeat tracks such as “High,” “Celebrity” and “I Do It,” among others. Attention Deficit packs a gym-ready caliber listing of “Triumph,” “Pretty Girls,” “Chillin’” and “TV In the Radio.” And Thank Me Later has the rare appeal of solid songs that resonate with guys and girls—not to mention one of Jigga’s best verses in the past five years.

These albums, though, were never meant to be anything more than their personas. Excluding Cole (who many have some times improperly termed to be Jay’s successor), they are what they are—and their debuts reflected that. Drake’s J. Alfred Prufrock impression is too polarizing to warrant consensus acclaim, while Wale and Big Sean shouldn’t be considered anything other than the dudes in the lunchroom who crack punch lines with shit-eating smirks. This isn’t a knock on their abilities. They were just never going to be Illmatic-esque philosophers.

Let’s judge them as such. Put away the pitchforks (no pun intended) and enjoy the good and, some times, great. There will be unnecessary filler, but very few current albums can properly avoid it altogether. Lose the righteousness and just listen.

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