J. Cole, "Born Sinner" (Roc Nation/Columbia)
J. Cole continues to live up to the hype he initially got from rap great Jay-Z, delivering an assortment of quality songs on his sophomore album, "Born Sinner."
Like his 2011 debut album, the 28-year-old primarily produces his new offering with some help from No I.D. and Elite. Cole shows improvement as a producer and lyricist, spitting rhymes with honesty and clarity throughout the 16 tracks, which include two entertaining skits and two interludes.
The North Carolina native raps about temptation and commitment struggles on several songs such as "Trouble," "Runaway" and "She Knows," which effectively co-stars Amber Coffman of the Dirty Projectors.
Cole raps about the stronghold of lust on the Kendrick Lamar-assisted "Forbidden Fruit," which samples jazz organist Ronnie Foster's "Mystic Brew." It could be the album's best track if Lamar had been featured on more than just the hook.
On the title track, featuring singer-producer James Fauntleroy, Cole talks about the brutal music industry and trying to be the best person possible despite his flaws. "Let Nas Down" carries a jazzy tune with Cole recalling how he fell short of pleasing idolized rapper Nas, who hated his first hit single, "Work Out," which samples part of Paula Abdul's "Straight Up" and Kanye West's "The New Workout Plan." Cole is also enjoyable with Miguel on the single "Power Trip."
Overall, "Born Sinner" is a treasure: Cole paints pictures with his superb rhymes and sets the mood nicely with his solid production.