J. Cole-Crooked Smile ft. TLC

Today’s mainstream hip-hop game is one based heavily on getting a fashionable rapper on your album for a guest verse, or to roll out a catchy chorus. However, it’s those who pick their assists cleverly that are proving the real winners (Kanye’s choices on MBDTF, for example), and after the unexpected Missy Elliot feature on his debut album comes this effort, with the legendary TLC (now a duo, of course) coming through with a much-welcomed appearance on the official second single from Cole’s Born Sinner.

The production is fantastically feelgood, combining upbeat piano melodies with another solid percussion line from Cole, who once again proves he’s not to be overlooked for his intricate board work. Synth and vocal samples fly in and out too, adding final touches to what is a bright, summery beat, and one that works well for all involved. Cole’s raps are initially centred around female empowerment, aligning with the positive production to attempt a motivational approach, before the 3rd steps away to focus on a wider, more social view. Those first two verses won’t be for everyone, but the last is certainly enjoyable, and all three come built around a wonderfully-soulful hook from T-Boz and Chilli, capturing the production’s uplifting quality and amplifying it with a memorable performance. A good slice of summer hip-hop.

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