There’s nothing better for a hip-hop fan than a jam packed album release day and June 18th was just that. Mac Miller, Statik Selektah and Quasimoto all released albums but the most anticipated were J. Cole’s Born Sinner and Kanye West’s controversially titled Yeezus. Initially set to be released on June 25th, J. Cole bravely pushed the Born Sinner release forward and set it against West’s new LP in a head-to-head similar to the 50 Cent-Kanye sales battle of 2007, without the ‘beef’, remember that?
What we ended up with was two completely different albums; with J. Cole’s a more standard modern-day hip-hop album, not straying too much from the norm, while Kanye West’s effort did the complete opposite, in typical Yeezy style.
J. COLE – BORN SINNER
Let’s start with Born Sinner. J. Cole’s sophomore release showed many improvements from his debut, most significantly in his production. Practically fully self-produced, Cole shows through beats how his production has developed over time. He doesn’t reach the heights he set with HiiiPower (the Section80 track he produced for Kendrick Lamar), but the beats on the album are strong, soulful and diverse from the infectious sample on standout track Power Trip to the more hard hitting production on Villuminati. J. Cole tells a decent story with his lyrics, but occasionally tries too hard to be relatable and comes off corny (Crooked Smile), but still, there’s no denying the quality of the North Carolina-hailing rapper’s wordplay and flows.
It’s safe to say there’s no wack track on the album, but not every track is necessarily a banger. The opening track Villuminati sets the tone well and hearing Biggie’s voice is always welcome as Cole takes the classic line from Juicy; “Born sinner, opposite of a winner, ‘member when I used to eat sardines for dinner” as part of the song’s hook. Outkast- sampling Land of the Snakes is a laidback tune in contrast while other dope tracks include Runaway with its Mos Def-esque hook, Let Nas Down, Born Sinner featuring James Fauntleroy (dude is everywhere nowadays) and of course, hit single Power Trip featuring Miguel, peep the music video below.
Born Sinner is nothing out of the box, and because of that it is a good album that makes easy listening. J. Cole has played it safe and avoided criticism when he could have tried something new (sampling of Electric Relaxation on Kendrick Lamar-featuring Forbidden Fruit was pretty lazy, c’mon son) but with a high standard of beats and great features, J. Cole has followed up Cole World: The Sideline Story with another respectable record.
KANYE WEST – YEEZUS
Reviewing Yeezus was tough. Talk about experimental. In an attempt to break boundaries, Kanye West brought in the likes of Daft Punk to contribute to the soundbed of his sixth studio album. With their electronic and futuristic sounds, the result is something very different to what we’re used to hearing, from not just Kanye, but hip-hop in general. Constantly trying to bend the rules, Mr. West has taken it a step too far this time with an album that almost seems completely removed from the ‘hip-hop spectrum’ bar a few tracks.
The first song, On Sight, opens with what could be mistaken for a video game soundtrack courtesy of French duo Daft Punk. As soon as I started the track, I knew what I was in for with this album. Four tracks in and my mind was already made, weak. Kanye shows how to waste a Frank Ocean feature with New Slaves, shoving him at the end of the confused song while I Am A God sums up the album, poor lyricism, a meagre beat, random screaming and God comparisons? Plus one of Yeezy’s worst lines of his career:
“I just talked to Jesus
He said, ‘What up Yeezus?'”
– I Am A God (featuring God)
Not only this, but he also clearly failed to do his research when rapping “I keep it 300 like the Romans”, when the 300 Spartans were in fact Greek (oh dear Ye). Looks like Kim K’s dumbness is rubbing off on his music if you ask me. Check out the music video for Black Skinhead here.
The two high points of the album are actually throwback moments to earlier ‘versions’ of the rapper. Blood on the Leaves is a strong track with its Nina Simone sample and features an autotuned West singing before the distinctive sounds of TNGHT (Hudson Mohawke and Lunice) kick in. This would quite effortlessly slot in as a part of 808s & Heartbreak and I’m not complaining.
Similarly, the last track Bound 2 stands out for its use of sampling. Kanye reverts back to his production style of the College Dropout/Late Registration era, and creates this gem which doesn’t fit in with the rest of the album but is by far the best song. This is what fans actually want to hear and is probably the most refreshing track he’s dropped in a while.
It has its merits but Yeezus tries too hard to be revolutionary and isn’t as successful as his previous game-changing albums may have been. It also highlights Kanye West’s transition as an artist which probably began around the period of 808s and has developed over time resulting in a collection of slightly disappointing releases in recent times with Watch the Throne, Cruel Summer and now Yeezus. This isn’t an album that will receive numerous play-throughs like his first three albums, it’s too loud and brash but tracks like Hold My Liquor, On Sight and I’m In It have growth potential and may get some plays yet.
It seems Kanye should’ve listened to his own words on the lead single from MBDTF, no one man should have all that Power… cos then you end up dropping sub-par albums!
Born Sinner is nothing new or innovative, but J. Cole kept it simple and has crafted a brilliant hip-hop album meanwhile Kanye West has gone too far, abandoning all rules and conventions in hip hop with Yeezus. I know who will be getting more spins on my iTunes (clue: monobrow).
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