J. Cole and Dreamville Records - Revenge of the Dreamers (Mixtape)

What a few days Cole has had. His Dreamville imprint (featuring Bas and Omen, both OTU alumni) has been picked up by Interscope, an announcement made on his 29th birthday. With a relatively solid track record with rapper’s imprint labels, it’s a great home for him to develop the brand, and to cap it all off, Jay-Z was kind enough to gift young Cole with an original Rocafella chain at a recent NYC show.

And amidst it all, this new mixtape was released to celebrate the Dreamville signing. It’s a mixture of tracks from Cole and the two aforementioned signees, with previously-unheard music from Cole including an alternate version of Born Sinner single Crooked Smile. It’ll be interesting to hear Bas and Omen hold up their end of the deal here – whilst they’ve proven their talents on occassion in the past, this is about as lofty a pedestal as they’ve been put on thus far, and to avoid wilting under Cole’s shadow, you’d hope the material they’ve selected is amongst the best they’ve offered to date. Nonetheless, I’d expect to see plenty of development from both in their new partnership, and keep your eyes peeled for any more additions to the roster – not to do anyone’s job for them, but someone like ANTHM has always seemed a great fit for a team such as Dreamville, and it’ll be interesting to see if they pick up anyone of his ilk. For now, grab the 3-man, 11-track tape below.

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Elijah Blake-Vendetta ft. J. Cole

elijah blake j cole
Being associated with No I.D. is really opening doors for this guy, as upcomer Elijah Blake scores another big feature, this time grabbing one of hip-hop’s artists of the moment in Cole.

The lead single from his upcoming debut album, Songs About Melody, it’s admittedly not quite as instantly grabbing as some of his previous work, but it’ll grow with each listen. It’s a bit of a slow opening, throwing a bassy, relatively minimal production underneath a brief Cole cameo, before switching into Elijah’s vocals, a transition that perks the track up slightly. His vocal work begins to expand as the track evolves, switching out of his rap-esque delivery and into a more emotive singing style; though those expressive moments are brief, they anchor the song excellently, and their sporadic appearance recovers any drabness found elsewhere. Cole enters the fray once again towards the final third with a much better offering, injecting some intensity into the track with a slick, strong verse that’s brimming with a comfortable confidence. Worth a listen for the pop and R&B heads, and with the right accompanying video, it’s potentially got a shot at decent mainstream success.

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Drake-Jodeci Freestyle ft. J. Cole

jodeci freestyle
Remember when these two supposedly didn’t get along? Hip-hop gossip columns seemed to pull back on that pretty quickly, and certainly recent events show that they’ve got a pretty good friendship. Not that anyone actually cares.

It’s unknown whether this will feature on Drake’s upcoming LP, but I expect he could do a lot worse than include this, a good all-rounder with a vibrant, opulent production reminiscent of the type you’ll usually find on a Rick Ross album. From the laidback, pillowy percussion through to the smooth frontend melodies, there’s definitely a summer vibe running through this one, above which Drake moves through arrogant raps and barbed lines at his rap peers, before Cole closes with a more easygoing performance that opts to ride along with the beat rather than contrast it. Of course, it’s hardly a lyrical masterpiece, and I suspect nor is it intended to be, but it’s a welcome bit of summer hip-hop given the relative darkness that the ‘the big three’ rap albums had vast amounts of, on their release earlier this week.

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J. Cole-Born Sinner (Full Album Stream)

Cole set up a bunch of listening sessions a few days ago, each at a specific bunch of co-ordinates across various locations for those unable/uninvited to the main NYC album premiere, and now provides the full LP for stream a full 11 days before its release.

A mixture of reasons make up that decision; it’s surely as motivated by the recent leak of his album as it is by the confidence he has in the material, and hence it might not have been Cole’s preferred time for this stream release. Nonetheless, he’s backing himself, and I thoroughly hope the material stands up to scrutiny- given the generally negative response amongst the hip-hop community to his debut album, there’s no denying Cole needs this one to come off, and all of the early signs are that he’s definitely surpassed that disappointing first take. Features are as expected from the tracklist release some time ago, with Kendrick Lamar, TLC, James Fauntleroy, Amber Coffman and Miguel all appearing, whilst the deluxe edition of the album will also include Truly Yours 3, which features 50 Cent and Jhene Aiko. Stream the project (without Truly Yours 3) here

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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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J. Cole-Niggaz Know

j cole
It’s going to be a controversial opinion, but I think I’m looking forward to Cole’s album more than I am Kanye’s. Maybe it’s because we’ve heard more music from Cole in the last 6 months (and it’s gone a little underappreciated, but he’s been very good in that period), but he’s just more fascinating for me as an artist; there’s no marketing ploy or attempt to court press coverage, and instead he seems back in the mindset of having something to prove, and that always makes for his best work.

The production here is a good blend between soulful and speaker-rattling, with a smooth vocal sample sitting above a chunky, deep percussion line with huge helpings of bass, and it’s a combination that rather aptly feels like an old-school Kanye West production. It’s one that works as both an introspective piece and a ‘typical hip-hop’ joint, both facets which Cole tackles with a lyrical output that veers between celebratory confidence and frank reflective moments, all delivered with a passion and hunger that suggests a return to pre-Sideline Story form. For longtime fans, it’ll conjure up memories of The Warm Up, and hopefully Born Sinner is packed with a few more of these.

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J. Cole-Truly Yours 2 (EP)

j cole
As Promised. Another Thank You for your patience.

That promotional run for Born Sinner, landing June 25th, is really in high gear now. After throwing this EP’s opening track out, Cole liberates an additional 5 tracks to complete the set and provide more free listening ahead of that LP release. Features include Young Jeezy and 2 Chainz, whilst productions from Canei Finch and Jake One make the cut alongside several self-produced Cole efforts, which themselves will naturally raise the interest of many given the quality of his previous works. There isn’t a great deal more to add here, and I’m sure you need little convincing; 5 more free Cole tracks, and you can stream or download them below.

J. Cole-Truly Yours 2

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J. Cole-Cole Summer

cole summer
That title could be rather prophetic. Cole’s recent single is getting all kinds of praise and airplay (helped by this fantastic behind-the-scenes look at the production work), and with the Truly Yours project released just a couple of months ago, his run continues with the announcement that its sequel is due later tonight. Oh, and that’s not to mention his upcoming sophomore album, Born Sinner.

This smooth effort is another great piece of production. He’s clearly a big Lauryn Hill fan having sampled her previously, and he calls on her works again with parts of the beat lifted from Nothing Even Matters. That sped up sample makes for a very easygoing backdrop, and one which allows Cole to come on a more laidback style; his delivery blends well with the production, rolling along with its gentle highs and pillowy lows, and it makes for easy listeing throughout. His mellow style provides the grounded, brutally honest lyricism come with much more relatability and realism too, ending up as a near-conversational style, and whilst it’s not the lyrical or technical classic some constantly demand, it’s smooth rap that works perfectly as a laidback summer track.

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Funkmaster Flex-Who You Mad At? Me or Yourself? (Mixtape)

56 tracks. Seriously.

Fair play to Funk Flex for this though, as the lineup is unbelievable and essentially a snapshot of mainstream hip-hop at this moment in time. Appearances include A$AP Rocky, Joey Bada$$, Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, Childish Gambino, Fabolous, Action Bronson, Slaughterhouse, Young Jeezy and many, many more; for a full list, check out the back artwork over at Funk’s place. Many of the tracks from this tape have leaked out individually in the last 24 hours too, and thankfully they’re tagless versions, with one notable example being the Joey Bada$$ effort on the mixtape. If you’re after any of the other individual tracks, I’m sure a quick Google search can help you there, otherwise grab the bumper project for free below.

Funkmaster Flex-Who You Mad At? Me or Yourself?

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J. Cole-Power Trip ft. Miguel (Video)

There are reasons why I shouldn’t (and many don’t) like this song, but it’s been an absolute fixture in my playlists since its release. As written in the audio review, it’s a laidback piece that smoothly incorporates plenty of soul elements, and from top to bottom its a well-executed slice of mainstream hip-hop.

The accompanying visual takes an easy lyrical subject matter, and adds a very watchable additional layer of storytelling. Rather than focus solely on Cole’s pining, the video takes a much darker route from the offset; the lighting almost makes it difficult to properly view, whilst the intentionally obscured early scenes create a general sense of unease and distortion that clearly helps you get into Cole’s mindset. Soon after, it becomes clear why: his targeted female is already in a relationship (with Miguel, the ‘steady, 9-5 guy’ apparently), and he literally gets rid of his competition. Rather than focusing on that action though, the video opts to spotlight Cole’s regret and guilt over what he’s done, and that helps to bring out the reflective production and some of the introspection in Cole’s raps, whilst the using the end of Miguel’s vocal sections as visual transitions makes for a striking effect. Gradually, the video gains clarity in terms of lighting and lack of camera obstruction, possibly a sign of Cole’s improving mental state, before heading back to the darkness of the opening to close. Engrossing watch throughout, and another strong Nabil-directed clip. Song available on iTunes now, the Born Sinner album on 25th June.

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J. Cole-Power Trip ft. Miguel

j cole miguel
As he promised earlier this week, Cole comes through with the (latest) first single from Born Sinner. Having worked together to launch Miguel’s solo career close to 3 years ago, it’s good to see them come together once more, especially with Miguel’s status rightfully skyrocketing in the last 12 months or so.

Most hip-hop heads will probably deem this one a little too mainstream for their tastes and that’s perfectly understandable, but I’m a fan of this. The production’s a good blend between a laidback soul anthem and a crunching hip-hop jam, and whilst they may sound diametrically opposed, the combination of powerful percussion and soft melodies does indeed work quite well. The same blend is semi-present in the vocal work too, with Miguel’s work being of the soulful variety, as expected, whilst Cole’s verses are blunt and sharply delivered, though Cole’s movement to vocals on the hook does soften his performance. Credit to both for bridging that soul and hip-hop blend in a unique way here, and I’ll give this one some play time for sure.

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J. Cole-Truly Yours EP

I appreciate you giving me the time I needed to grow, experiment, and find the direction for my 2nd album. And I have. Tonight, I want to give you a few of these songs because you deserve them. Thank you for your patience. Vibe out to these songs in their raw form, no polish.. just a lot of my soul..PS- 1st single coming this week. The album is hands down my best work yet. Can’t wait to share.

Hugely unexpected, but a welcome treat. Cole’s releases towards the end of last year were a definite return to form for a man rather heavily criticised for his debut album, and it appears we’re now shifting gears towards that sophomore album. This EP should set things off nicely and rejuvenate the J. Cole buzz, a pack of five tracks that will hopefully give some clues as to the direction of that album, and if not, it’s probably going to be a solid addition to your library regardless. Free grab below.

J. Cole-Truly Yours EP

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Big Sean-24k of Gold Remix ft. Raekwon and J. Cole

Raekwon’s not shy when it comes to collaborating with G.O.O.D. Music’s roster, and here he laces Big Sean’s cut from his Detroit mixtape, one which already benefitted from the J. Cole assist.

The laidback, positive nature of the original made it a very easy listen on the mixtape’s release, and whilst its been one of the project’s more enduring tracks as a result, this refresh helps bring it back to regular rotation for sure. As unlikely as it seems, Rae’s rough, gritty voice seems to work quite well with this sprightly production, adding a layer of hushed aggressiveness and intensity that seems to humanise the otherwise-hopeful, ‘head in the clouds’ nature of the track, and it’s a good contribution that improves the track. Annoying that there are DJ tags on this, but as it’s from producer Key Wane’s most recent mixtape, that’s to be expected.

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J. Cole-2012

If the world ends tomorrow, damn. I would be mad as shit for 2 reasons. First, I’m not with my family. That would suck. What would also be wack is if I never got to drop this song. Summer of 08′. A few special songs I made that summer haven’t dropped yet. This is one of them. Some of the most fun I ever had making a record. Alone in my room, making the beat, writing the raps, Jammin to this. Here we are, Years Later, and right on time. Enjoy

Superb release from J. Cole last night, taken from arguably the highlight period of his career so far, the time around The Warm Up. The production is lightning fast and almost unlike anything we’ve caught Cole on, with a rapid fire percussion driving this track through at a blistering pace, whilst the light synth in the verses adds a touch of depth. The horn work in the hook is an excellent addition, taking a bit of the sting out of that drum line and adding in a bright, uplifting quality. Cole’s raps keep pace excellently throughout, with watertight flows and a generally positive angle that capitalises nicely on the production’s vibe. Good all-rounder that’ll inject some energy into any playlist.

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J. Cole-Miss America

Cole’s Born Sinner album is due for a 28th January release, and the recently-released trailer suggested we were in for something with more depth and seriousness. This track, the first single, pretty much confirms that.

The lyricism is about as meaningful as Cole’s gotten in the last year or so, and oozes the rebellious angst that was once associated with Lupe Fiasco. The opening verse moves gently into that style, starting with reflective thoughts on his rise and ending with couple of social commentaries, both packing into a delivery with plenty of emotion. The second verse flips that slightly and opens with observations, but ends with a passionate Cole offering his own view on America, and it’s arguably one of his most memorable verses to date for the sheer frustration of those closing lines. The hook is an enjoyable one too, as Cole reflects on whether the things he now owns are as important as they seemed, whilst the pounding percussion and introspective melodies combine well throughout for an intense supplement to the raps. Huge fan of this, and hopefully the album’s packed with more of this ilk. Available on iTunes US for now, look for it to hit iTunes UK tonight.

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J. Cole-Born Sinner Trailer

There’s been a unanimously positive feeling regarding Cole’s sporadic work over the last 6 months, and it appears he’s gearing up for a new project to be released on 28th January. Whilst it’s not confirmed whether that’s an album or mixtape, this odd teaser is an interesting watch.

There’s little to be heard in terms of content from the project, or indeed its general musical direction, but the messaging within the clip could offer some glimpses. From the start, both the innocence of youth and that of religion (I know what you’re thinking, and it’s a debate for another time) are seemingly in contrast with the Born Sinner title, and that’s something which the child clearly demonstrates awareness of with his rhetorical cue card questions, suggesting we may see a little duality from Cole as he attempts to answer and express both sides. Note also how the light slightly dims on the boy as he holds up the Born Sinner card, and how the light disappears entirely after he returns to the altar, a possible metaphor for Cole’s desire to do the right thing, but having the lights turned out on him. There’s more symbolism here, and after a few watches you’ll find something new to discuss. And if you’re talking, it’s mission accomplished.

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Kendrick Lamar-The Jig Is Up (Dump'n)

The week is up… Yall did it… Appreciation day is TODAY. Me and COLE was in the stu lastnight…

The support for Kendrick’s debut LP has been nothing short of magnificent, both critically and commercially, and in his typically generous fashion he lets this one fly. Cole and Kendrick’s previous work in this format spawned HiiiPower, one of the highlight’s from Lamar’s Section.80, and they’ve most certainly come up with the goods again. Cole (and Canei Finch) serve up a powerful production that blends slow-rolling percussion with melodies that seem somewhere between vintage horror movie and gospel (seriously), and it’s a versatile one that allows Kendrick to try out several deliveries that all work excellently. Another great release from an MC that’s arguably sitting at the top of the pile right now.

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J. Cole-I'm A Fool

Brilliant story behind this one. A fan Tweeted Cole, pushing for this particular track to get released, assumedly based on Cole performing it live a few weeks back. Cole took it upon himself to email the fan the track, stating ‘You got the juice now. hahaaa‘, with the song attached.

He’s been dripping material out slowly in recent months, and there’s talk this one is from his upcoming album, as is the snippet at the end. If that’s the case the signs are good for the album, with Cole bringing a soulful sound akin to his work on The Warm Up, but with a heavy dose of added maturity to the raps, lacing the track with plenty of confidence and comfort in his status. The production’s the big winner for me, with the vocal samples adding depth to the verses and bolstering the hook immeasurably, whilst the positivity of the rest of the beat ties everything together in a nice, upbeat package. More of this ilk and Cole’s got a project to be proud of.

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Big Sean-Detroit (Mixtape)

One of the most anticipated releases in recent weeks, Big Sean drops off his first project since his mainstream breakout debut LP, Finally Famous.

We’ve caught three tracks from this so far, each with their own very different charms, displaying that Sean’s newly-gained popularity hasn’t affected his versatility or desire for hip-hop. The tracklist honestly reads like an album, with huge features in the shape of Kendrick Lamar, close friend Mike Posner, Chris Brown and fellow Detroit native Royce Da 5’9″ amongst several others, whilst Snoop Lion (Dogg), Common and Young Jeezy feature on their own interlude sections, each titled Story. That sort of detail is always appreciated on an album, let alone a mixtape, and I’m sure it’ll all contribute to what’s set up to be an excellent all-round project. Free grab available below.

Big Sean-Detroit

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Lil' Wayne-Dedication 4 (Mixtape)

With zero knowledge that this was due today, I’ve coincidentally been listening to some old school Wayne recently, reliving the glory days when he was unquestionably the hottest (whatever that means) in the game. Da Drought 3, for those of you interested.

Fail after fail means I’m far removed from this guy’s career nowadays though. His releases have been generally disappointing (everyone played Tha Carter 4 for about a week before pretty much never touching it again), but if there’s one medium that will always provide a glimmer of hope for Wayne fans, it’s the mixtape scene. If he can rediscover the hunger and fury he once had, I’ve got no doubts this will be a great project, however his recently-professed love and preference for skateboarding doesn’t bode well. A handful of big features on this as you’d expect, and you can grab the 15-track for free below.

Lil’ Wayne-Dedication 4

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Trae Tha Truth-Tha Blackprint (Mixtape)

Talk about label craziness. ABN representative and Grand Hustle-affiliated Trae Tha Truth drops a brand new tape for the hip-hop heads, hosted by Maybach Music Group’s DJ Scream. Any other labels want in here?

Clearly, everyone wants to be associated with Trae. It’s easy to spot why as his very unique delivery makes him instantly stand out from the crowd, and clearly Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, T.I., Young Jeezy, R. Kelly and many more agree given that they all makes appearances on the tape. Almost every track has a big name attached to it, and here’s to hoping Trae can hold his own and prove he belongs up with those names. Grab the enormous 20-track mixtape for free below.

Trae Tha Truth-Tha Blackprint

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J. Cole-The Cure

We haven’t had any solo material from Cole since the two isolated drops in late Feb/early March of this year, and he’s back on the scene with some raps over a remixed (and frankly, improved) version of The Throne’s Lift Off.

There’s a little hunger back in Cole’s voice here, with his raps opening on the arrogant, ‘I’ve made it’ tip before transitioning into some retrospective ‘come-up’ rhymes, and going back and forth for the rest of the track. The key here is his work on the production, which slows down and dilutes the overly-positive style of the original Lift Off and makes it significantly more tolerable as a result. A solid comeback for Cole, and let’s see if he can keep up some momentum for the rest of the summer.

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J. Cole-Visionz of Home

Having recently performed in his hometown in a show that he appeared to be extremely excited about, J. Cole let loose of yet another brand new track, with this one being centric around his then-pending homecoming.

Cole’s running mate Elite is on production duty here, serving up a driving, powerful beat that’s anchored by a speaker-rattling percussion, offering a real punch to accompany Cole’s raps, whilst the soft vocal samples used throughout provide a nice contrast to that percussion, and occasional bursts of guitar add a little depth to the production throughout. Cole comes through with a good set of raps, mixing together a laidback vibe with a focus and intensity in his lyricism that has a couple of good introspective moments. Another good one from Cole, and equally Elite deserves credit for his work on this.

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J. Cole-Grew Up Fast

Armed with a sample fresh out of the 60′s (David Ruffin’s The Double Cross, for those interested), J. Cole celebrates reaching 2 million Twitter followers by dropping off his first solo effort since the release of his debut album.

It’s an enjoyable one too, as the soulful nature of the sample adds the depth and personal touch that was either missing or poorly executed on the aforementioned album, whilst Cole’s raps span a range of topics that include some interesting tidbits. It’s clear Cole’s having fun here, and his relaxed, easygoing demeanour is allowed to shine throughout the track, making it a very comfortable listen.

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R&B Fridays: Episode 132

After a brief hiatus due to the busy festive period, we’re back to open the new year with a brand new edition of the internet’s R&B cornerstone.

The Weeknd and Frank Ocean feature in the recap, with the former’s releasing his latest mixtape just under a fortnight ago, and the latter letting loose of a new track last week, whilst the impact of both on R&B has been discussed as part of our 2011′s defining moment’s list. Don’t miss out on Lloyd’s latest visuals either, for his excellent Be The One single, and after that you’re cleared to click below for this week’s episode.
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Tinie Tempah - Like It Or Love It ft. Wretch 32 & J. Cole

A few days late on this one, apologies! But on the upside: if you haven’t heard this yet then you can rectify that by grabbing it now.

Big look for the UK here with Tinie recruiting J. Cole for a track that will feature on his upcoming mixtape, Happy Birthday. Also enlisting one of my favourite emcees about in Wretch 32, he instantly makes this a track that will feature in my rotation for the foreseeable future. Download link below.

Tinie Tempah – Like It Or Love It ft. Wretch 32 & J. Cole

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Wale - Bad Girls Club ft. J. Cole [Video]

A track that heavily featured in my various playlists when it first dropped, on the day of the release of his album, Wale brings us visuals for his rather addictive collabo with J. Cole.

As Ajay said way back when, the beat on this is superbly done, and complimented by a very infectious hook by Cole. The verses from both parties aren’t particularly great in my opinion, but they don’t need to be for this mainstream-friendly track. The video reflects the not so serious vibe of the track, showing much enjoyment for all. Oddly, this doesn’t feature on Wale’s Ambition album, but may be found as a bonus track on some version of the album.

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J. Cole-Lost Ones Video

According to the intro, this video was actually shot in 2008 (of course, meaning the song itself is from around that time), and it’s certainly held up well as it makes its way to the public 3 years later.

Whilst the hook is a little too light for me (leave those sort of admissions to ‘the kitten whisperer’ Drake), the verses boast some great storytelling and credit is due for Cole’s ability to effectively switch ‘characters’ from verse-to-verse, in a manner many will compare to Eminem’s incredible Stan (though of course, it’s nowhere near the level of that all-time great).

The video enhances the lyrical tale effectively, with the Antoinette Lenae putting in a very impressive performance that adds plenty of powerful emotion to Cole’s 2nd verse, whilst the cliffhanger of an ending makes for a thought-provoking finishing touch. Definitely worth a watch, and the track can be grabbed on Cole’s debut album.

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J. Cole-Daddy’s Little Girl Video

New visuals from Cole’s debut album (released yesterday), and a set that may reel in fans previously put off by his ‘lightweight’ single, Work Out.

Lyrically, Cole provides some very enjoyable bittersweet raps, telling the tale of a ‘Daddy’s Little Girl‘ gone wrong, spending her time in the wrong places and living a life of misdemeanour. This is the sort of lyricism from J. Cole that most hip-hop fans were parading 2 years ago, and I’m sure it’ll encourage those fans to head out and grab that album. The production has atmosphere tied with an electronic-style sample, representing both the gravity of Cole’s lyrics and adding a little accompanying energy.

The video is a great portrayal of the lyrics and enhances that story fantastically, displaying the dichotomy between the ballet steps of an innocent child and the sleaze of a somewhat less angelic stripper. A superb device employed is the interspersion of scenes with the stripper ballet dancing, which initially appear to be possibly something she’s doing in her spare time to recapture her youth, but instead ends as an ‘alternate reality’, showing the path she may have ended up on. Superb audio-visual, be sure to grab the album on iTunes now.

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