J.Cole: This album is about going through hell, trying to get to heaven; through depression, trying to find happiness #bornsinnerlistening
— Nadia Neophytou (@NadiaNeophytou) June 7, 2013
It was a cool concept on paper – as J.Cole explained, he wanted people, mostly fans, to be able to enjoy his second album, without the pressure of talking to others or having them talk over his new tracks, as is the case at most listening session parties. So walking into the SVA Theatre, we were handed rental Beats by Dre headphones, took our seats, and waited for others to download the LISNR app, through which to hear the live stream of Born Sinner. Other cities like Chicago and LA would be joining in too – in this truly digital-yet-physical-event.
Only it wasn’t as simple as that.
The execution was a little problematic, and it took much longer to make sure everyone had the app and it worked on their cellphones. After an hour and 45 minutes, J.Cole himself appears to tell one “long story cut short” that he said was important to talk about – the genesis of the much-anticipated song Let Nas Down.
He takes some time to tell the story, but it’s worth it because he’s so animated and his impersonations of Jay -Z reacting to the songs he’d bring him in the search for a single to lead his debut album Cole World: The Sideline Story are uncannily on point.
“I’m a rapper’s rapper,” he says, after an intro that sums up the Cole basics, which includes a reminder of how he hustled his way to become the first artist to sign to Jay-Z’s Roc Nation label in 2009. “You all gotta understand I watch them all…Every night Jay was performing on tour I would watch. When I’d see him do Big Pimpin’ I’d think, I need me one of those! A single like that.”
Cole, aka Jermaine, talks about his quest to create a single that would get the Jay-Z stamp of approval, and the pressure he felt to come out with something new after all the hype of his first album: “I’d been talking to the press about a new album since 2011!” he exclaims. But the lead-up is to the excitement he felt about creating Work Out, the song that earned Nas’ disappointment.
“You never seen a n****** so happy,” he says, about how he felt upon making the top-selling single. “I beat the game. I knew it. I learnt everything through the game and beat it. I knew it was going to be a slow-burner. But I knew once Work Out caught on, it would be big.” He says it broke his heart to hear Nas speak lowly of the song, telling producer No ID he expected better from the rising rapper. “I was hurt,” says Cole. “Why he gonna say that? He’s not going to box me in like they box him in!” he continues, before softening to explain: “My heart sunk and I got defensive. I idolize that dude. I had his raps written on my wall.”
When he finishes talking there’s only a small amount of time left to hear the actual album before I have to leave for another engagement. Luckily, I brought my own headphones and, returning the Beats, I walk out of the theatre onto the street just as Let Nas Down plays on the app…
Love live the idols / may they never be your rivals