To tide fans over until the release of his highly-anticipated new album, J. Cole put out “Truly Yours” last week, an honest, soul-baring mixtape. “Born Sinner,” J. Cole’s next full-length album, was originally slotted for release Jan. 28. But after pushing the deadline back in early January, there has been no word from J. Cole as to when fans can expect “Born Sinner.”
However, with an almost bluesy, Spanish guitar-led intro into the first track of “Truly Yours,” J. Cole indicates he’s sharing something to savor with this soulful, contemplative release. Though the mixtape lacks catchy dance tracks like his well-known “Work Out,” it is full of personal narrative and jazz-influenced instrumentals that will keep you listening.
The second track, “Crunch Time” features the playful, well-controlled flow J. Cole excels at. He knows when to spit it fast, when to hold it back and when to let it suspend, challenging his audience to think about the words. Nominated for Best New Artist at the 2011 Grammys, J. Cole is likely not living the life of poverty and drug slinging featured in his lyrics. However, it is clear his tales of the street come from a very real place — whether inspired by his own past or the experiences of friends. “Crunch Time” expertly describes the struggles of catching a break: “Look, scavenge these records of these days MP3s / Looking for the samples to put a n***a on MTVs / This is for n****s with empty dreams and empty jeans / Still holding on to the word maybe.”
J. Cole addresses the raw realities of dealing drugs and struggling to get by in “Tears for ODB.” His lyrics often lack the overplayed cockiness that usually accompany lyrics addressing these subjects; he has the right amount of swagger, the kind he doesn’t need to throw in your face because it’s clear he’s got it. In the track, he raps, “Straight up-ay, any chance I’mma take it / Rather die before I fake it / They say life is what you make it, bitch, but I’m just try’na make it,” perfectly depicting this philosophy. Despite the unashamed boldness he seems to deliver his lyrics with, there is also a sense of hopelessness echoed in this song, a sort of anthem for those resigned to their fate.
The mixtape, though only five tracks long, flows like an album should. It is not the smattering of unfinished songs some artists release out of boredom — it is a polished, thoughtful, completely free collection. No track is overproduced — the beats complement the vocals in a way that allows the listener to focus on the realistic narratives featured in each song. The romantic guitar featured in “Can I Holla At Ya” and the jazzy brass wailing in “Stay” are additions rarely used in the genre. Details like this serve the theme and tone of the mixtape well and add to the complexity of the musical flavors to savor. Though moody at times and full of heavy subjects, “Truly Yours” is a repeat-worthy release you will truly want for your own.
4.5 out of 5 stars