Cover art for J. Cole's album "Cole World: The Sideline Story" (Courtesy of Roc Nation/Columbia)
J. Cole
Cole World: The Sideline Story

Although North Carolina MC J. Cole signed to Jay-Z’s Roc Nation label more than two years ago, he is only now releasing his official debut, “Cole World: The Sideline Story.”

In the interim, Cole (who is 26 in human years, meaning he’s 80 in hip-hop time) dropped several mix tapes’ worth of material from which several tracks have been recycled, including the sleepy “In the Morning,” which features an even sleepier Drake.

Cole is a deft rapper, clever but not obsessed with his own cleverness, interested in au courant beats but not fixated on them. There’s nothing particularly dramatic about his debut — it’s simply a better version of albums that get made all the time. Cole makes good songs almost great, and makes filler (of which there isn’t much, although the oppressively well-meaning baby-daddy dirge “Lost Ones” comes to mind) tolerable.

No Highly Anticipated Debut would be complete without at least one I’m-famous-now-and-you’re-still-not track, and “Cole World” has two, both of them pretty great. Jay-Z guests on, but does not own, the slinky dub-n’-bass-fest “Mr. Nice Watch,” on which Cole, who raps “like it’s Christmas Eve,” scoffs at those who would tweet negatively about him (talk about a first-world problem).

On “Nobody’s Perfect,” Cole, assisted by a crooning Missy Elliott, discusses partying with Hova and explains his decision to pursue only girls who look like Rihanna (“I’m talking tens and better”), all made possible by his career, which is “heating up like that leftover lasagna.” It almost doesn’t sound like a boast. But it is.

— Allison Stewart

Recommended Tracks

“Nobody’s Perfect,” “Mr. Nice Watch,” “Lights Please”