Grading J. Cole: The Blow Up

Is my breakdown of this mixtape late? Absolutely. But is it necessary? Absolutely. The North Carolina product comes hard on this one as he explains to us how it’s his time to make himself known. But let’s not just prematurely discuss it without any form of in depth analysis; instead I’m breaking down the work  and giving it The SBG Grade…What’s that you ask? It’s the standard by which I grade an album/mixtape. Have a look below.

Grades
Walk: Way too basic
Bicycle: It takes you places, but not far enough
Public Transport: Good overall but could use some improvement
James Bond Car: You keep finding something new every time you check
G4 Flies like a classic

And now let’s break down the songs.

I Really Mean It
The mixtape opens up with this track (the beat is from the Diplomats song I Really Mean It) as our featured artist drops a few outlandish statements that we might view as him posturing, when in essence he wants us to understand that he really does mean them all. The song also serves as an introduction to J. Cole’s two favorite things: women and rhyming.

I’m Comin
Cole explains the contrast between him and some of the people with whom he went to school with. While the guys that he used to hang out with when he was younger are trying to be on the next Maury show thanks in large part to their indiscretions and countless kids with different women, our Carolina rapper is trying to be Hip Hop’s King.

I Got It
He takes us back to 1998 and 1999 when he used to tear guys down in rap cyphers courtesy of the inspiration provided by Canibus. Cole then takes us down a stroll through memory lane in order for us to understand how he got to the point where he was destroying people in rap battles in the late 90’s. He explains that back in ’96 he had Michael Jordan posters in his room and read Slam magazine religiously; thinking he would follow in MJ’s footsteps and go to UNC. But then two years later, his aspirations changed as he put basketball aside to start rhyming. Gone were the posters of MJ, and in were the posters of Tupac, courtesy of The Source magazine. That’s when it all started.

Premeditated Murder
J. Cole goes to explain that his success had led to the assassination of his former self. He proceeds to inform us about how some people from his inner circle have caught on to tcertain changes and aren’t necessarily enamored with them. Cole then offers a strong rebuttal in saying that there once was a time when he couldn’t even afford to go to McDonald’s whereas now he offers to cover the fees when going out. Although not exactly same type of track, it reminds me of Jay-Z and R. Kelly’s It Ain't Personal.

In The Morning
For the most part, all men tend to behave in the same manner when attempting to hook up with a new woman. We pull out all the stops and do what we have to do to impress and charm the pants off this new lady. Well Cole gives us his play by play on this track.

Need You Bad (Remix)
After getting dumped by a long time girlfriend, Cole goes on a string of encounters based purely on sex. The multiple sexual partners help Cole get away from the pain he felt from being played. That is however until she comes back in the form of Jazmine Sullivan’s vocals, which beg Cole to take her back because she now realizes that she needs him more than anything. He is clearly still emotionally attached to her but he makes it clear that there is no going back after her betrayal; also his pride gets in the way given that all of his friends know the story between him and her. By the second verse, Cole loses the emotion and thus becomes a rational and surgical thinker as he provides reasons why they will never once again be.

Knock On Wood (freestyle)
We are once again treated to our southern rapper’s favorite past times (rhyming and women). Although the message is the same, the delivery is different this time around as he does display a slight sense of doubt but nonetheless demonstrates he has utmost confidence is his game.

Serenade
We all deal with hardships in our lives and Cole is no different. He takes us through a few of them and then flips the script as he explains with bravado how he dealt with them. He makes it quite clear that they were not failures, but rather minor setbacks that helped set up his success.

Show Me Something
After trying several different things in his life, Cole needs some direction and he asks the Lord for it. He thinks out loud about his father’s absence, his brother’s legal troubles as well as friends that he has lost along the way. Although his pride will not allow him to get teary eyed, it’s clear that these issues have affected him. Nonetheless, he tries as best he can to remain strong to take care of those that are closest to him. The mixtape displays that Cole has a strong bond with his family and despises those who won’t take care of theirs. With that said, his ramblings make it quite clear that he is lost and wishes that God could show him something.

Unabomber
Times can be tough at times when your family is part of the less fortunate. The Carolina born rapper takes us through his own history and explains that although several bill collectors used to call his household when he was younger, he now sees the irony involved considering he is now making phone calls to cash in some deals. He then moves on to speak about the importance of family and vents about the shortcomings of men that fail to take care of their own. He speaks more specifically about a man that has allegedly fathered several children but refuses to recognize them as his own (as mentioned previously, this is a touchy subject for him because of his absent father).  After rambling about a few topics, Cole concludes the track by explaining this song is a sample of his train of thought late at night and that he plans to blow up overnight.

Who Dat
This song is simplistic in its premise: it’s all about just how far above the rest he is. Between getting a piece of your girl or outperforming those with more fame than he; J. Cole makes it clear that that he is far better than most rappers.

Back To The Topic
It seems that every Hip Hop artist feels the need to tells us on wax just how real they are and J. Cole is a victim of this on this song. Indeed, he tells us that most rappers essentially plagiarize the lives of certain gangsters to sell themselves (MC Gusto from CB4 anyone?) while he on the other hand tells us how things are and never fabricates anything when sharing his stories with us. Like most rappers do, Cole then goes to tell us how he is no stranger to the art of courting multiple women; however he does this by exhibiting some clever word play as he compares these said women to the sport of football. We are then brought back to the topic at hand which is that no one else should ever be considered to lyrically be a problem for him.

Sky Boy
Dreams ultimately lead to goals which in turn lead to success, and our Carolina product shares a few of his (one of them is to have 16 kids with Christina Milian) before then bringing things back to reality through his eyes. The premise of the song is essentially for us to understand that he is on another level when compared to others as he uses a combination of words (ceiling, getting high, fly, cape, etc..) to illustrate that he literally aims for the sky.

Shook Ones (freestyle)
Cole hops on the famous Mobb Deep beat Shook Ones and spits about how he is now murdering classics and at the same time paying his homage to the greats. Despite his ascent in the game mind you, he does not forget who he is and where he came from. For instance, he looks back to when he would verify his mother’s purse in the quest to figure out how much money she had to see how he could help. Things have since changed and he now turns his attention to slaying competing artists.

Top Of The World
A. L. starts out the joint by telling us that he is the next greatest and that his rhyme writing is without peer. That’s perfectly fine and what not except for two things:
1. Who is this dude? Perhaps this is through my own fault but I have no idea who he is.
2. I rarely call people out like this, but I think I could write better verses than him (click here if you don't believe me).

By the second verse mind you, we’re back to J. Cole who speaks about an individual with an absent father (probably describing himself) that has a few brushes with the law and that his mother constantly keeps checking up on for fear that he’s inherited more than just his father’s looks. The underlying message that he sends us revolves around the idea that although the father was never a presence in the person’s life, the baggage that he gave his son (no matter how small it may be) helped him get to the top of world.

Good Game
Unless you have actually lived it, It’s tough for to fathom what it’s like to be a dominant figure that slips in a professional sports draft (think NBA, NFL, MLB or NHL), and yet without using this very same analogy, Cole takes us through the mindset. He explains that after getting endorsed by Jay-Z, record labels suddenly displayed some interest in his talents only to find out that he no longer had much time for them and that they would regret not signing him. He then brings things to level closer to home for us as he explains that he is not rapping for the rich dudes but rather the people that have lived like he has. He then goes to sympathize with the people that hustle to survive by any means necessary because ultimately that’s what our first instinct is.

Higher
Talking about one’s ability to conquer a plethora of women has become a standard in Hip Hop and Cole respects the norm.  He drops a line in the chorus that clearly explains that he has no interest in finding Mrs. Right:  “You might not be the one, but you the one that I desire.” Indeed, each verse (there are three in the song) speaks about a different woman with a different set of issues:
1. Gold Digger
2. Woman he used to like in 12th grade
3. A lady with an unfaithful man

Cole takes you through each of their issues on his way to hooking up with all three.

We On
Our rapper from the Tar Heel state uses his lyrical skills to illustrate where he thinks he stands in the game in comparison to others in the rap game. Example:
“Even with my eyes closed
I’m something like a visionary
Paint you a perfect picture
N*gga this is Pictionary
Man they gonna have to put my picture in the dictionary
Right next to real,
Man they gonna have to put your picture next to fictionary

After attempting to convince you of his superior skills, Cole then proceeds to tell us that he is here to revive Hip Hop.

Who’s World Is This
The theme of following your dreams surfaces again in his song as J. Cole tells us that he left the city of dreams to try to make his dream come true. The idea has a bit of an afterschool special vibe to it but is still a clear message that all should follow: from the moment you set a plan up, you lay the foundation for your dream to become an achievable goal. Ultimately, that’s how he made the world his.

Playground
We all have particular set of skills that allow us to excel in certain domains. Our feature rapper is no exception.  He takes us into his playground so that we can grasp his ability to hustle and avoid getting hustled. On the first verse, Cole raps about a gold digging diva that plays tricks on men and gets them to do whatever she wants whereas she is unable to use her charm and wit on our artist. Instead, it is he that gets what he wants and then moves on.

On the second verse, he sheds some light on how record labels have constantly low balled him with offers that he never accepted. He instead played the waiting game in order to get these companies bidding for his services. He uses some clever metaphors to convey his story (comparing his craft to writing the constitution and stating that these record executives have failed to earn a masters in the game) and explains to us that this form of hustling is indeed his playground.

Song For The Ville
J. Cole take the road less traveled by LeBron James as he sends a message to all those from his hometown when he explains the obstacles that he faced and why it was necessary for him to leave his city in order to make his dreams come true. Also, he makes a point to tell his family, friends and fans that he will be making it back once he has put the city on the map.

The Last Stretch
J. Cole ties in a multitude of metaphors with some witty word play to brag about just how good he is. The song itself is a bit redundant given the content of the mixtape mind you. Although he diversifies his catch phrases and rhyme delivery, he’s still trying to sell himself to his listeners as he concludes the song by saying his “this is the last stretch before legendary”.

In conclusion, the mixtape has some solid content on it as well as great rhyme delivery to accompany it.. I however have two gripes with it:
1. Lack of guest appearances.
2. Redundancy of some songs.

J. Cole sells us the idea that he’s on track to blow up and it’s clear that he is on his way there; mind you I would have liked to have been able to judge a wider variety of topics. All in all though, The Blow Up gets a grade of Public Transport.



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