It’s 2011 and the game has changed. 2010 was a huge year for the “Mixtape Movement”. Mixtape superstars, Drake and Nicki Minaj, cemented their place in the rap community with their first albums debuting at #1 and #2 in June an November, respectively. Underground mixtape legends, Wiz Khalifa and Wale, used the hype they’ve built through their mixtapes to ensure the success of their 2010 singles, which are now on endless repeat on KISS FM. It's now quite fair to say the new path to success has been created, but 2010 didn’t just blaze a trail for hip-hop artists in 2011; it built a dam. And, ladies and gentlemen, the floodgates are open.
Critics have complained that such an open market will be detrimental to the quality of rap music. They believe that the industry will be flooded with amateurs willingly sacrificing complexity for cash as a storm of new artists scrap for a hit single. However, the other side of the argument that finds this to be an excellent opportunity for quality of rap to skyrocket alongside the massive influx of talent. J. Cole makes me believe the latter.
Last November up-n’-comer J. Cole released his third official mixtape Friday Night Lights and my concerns for the future of rap were completely blown away Tron-style. Cole went to college on academic scholarship and graduated magna cum laude. After listening to this mixtape you understand he's also a phenomenal student of the artists and style that built the foundation of rap. Unintimidated by the materialistic style in the industry which sees so much success, Cole shows his ability to keep up with the pop genre of rap while simultaneously showing his true rap roots by exposing and criticizing the environments he’s witnessed and grown up in. Hands down, he's got the makings of one of the best. It’s no wonder why Cole was the first artist to get signed by Jay-Z’s label, Roc Nation.
From the start, you understand that Friday Night Lights has something to say and J. Cole knows it. Speaking over soulful piano playing, Cole’s confidence comes across as he acknowledges the task ahead of him to prove himself as an artist with this tape. Mid-way into the following track, you realize he will. “Too Deep for the Intro” matches the soulful feel of the intro and segways into phenomenally worded observations and insights as Cole criticizes not only the world he grew up in but himself for occasionally getting caught up in it. This type of vulnerability is rarely offered up by an artist, but Cole does it well with confidence and style. This kid is something special.
Just because he’s college educated, doesn’t mean J. can’t go just as hard as other rappers with hood origins. His “Back the Topic” freestyle is undeniably hard. This mixtape wasn’t the premiere of this song but I’m glad he included it to show his versatility. Cole’s words sound like a percussion of punches. Each line is saturated in passion and it leaks right through the speakers. By this point in the mixtape I was already stunned. When I realized I was only three tracks in I nearly blacked out.
The raw emotionality of the tape doesn’t let up. Even on a love song collaboration with Drake titled “In the Morning” neither Cole nor Drake take this track lightly. Afterwards, the tape finishes strong as a showcase of Cole’s variety. “2Face” is another great, autobiographical track where Cole unflinchingly makes himself vulnerable but further qualifies himself as an artist. “Cost Me A Lot” has the theme we expect from rap songs, but Cole does it skillfully like a true artist. In the chorus he states how materials can be as dangerous as drugs when you're an artist like him suddenly making money; because even though he doesn’t love the clothes, accessories, etc… he buys, he aknowledges he's, “in love with the feelings they bring". A few tracks later, “Home For the Holidays” marks the lightest point in the mixtape, but that doesn’t keep J. Cole from laying out his verses in the most honest and insightful fashion. Basically, what I'm trying to say is this kid absolutely kills it and never lets up. Don’t be shocked if by the end of the tape you have to play it again to make sure it wasn’t all a dream. I had to do it three or four times and I’m not even sure if that’s accurate because I’m pretty sure I must’ve passed out from disbelief at least a handful of times.
Check this mixtape out if you haven’t already. Download Friday Night Lights for free off J. Cole's official site http://www.jcolemusic.com/news/download-friday-night-lights and prepare yourself as 2011 continues to foster talent like Cole’s.