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J. Cole has been sitting on the proverbial sidelines for what seems like several seasons. I’d equate it to a popular freshman being placed on a Varsity roster solely based off of potential. He was really good, but he wasn’t ready for the big show. While biding his time, he’s been studying the game, perfecting his craft, and learning the right plays to take his career to the highest of heights. We’ve all been posted on the bleachers hoping that the coach would put him in the game, with cheers, and the occasional (deserved) heckle. It’s time out for that though.

Guess who just checked in at the scorer’s table? Cole’s finally been cleared to step on the court and have the game of his life. The screams were deafening, and he didn’t disappoint. The long awaited debut album Cole World: The Sideline Story is what fans have been longing for: the North Carolina rapper at his finest. Boasting features from Trey Songz, Drake, Missy Elliot and Coach Carter (b.k.a. Jay-Z,) the album is an extremely strong effort out of the gate. What should you expect when you push play? Well first off if you’ve been following his career up until now, there will be several pieces you’ve heard before; namely the Drake-assisted “In The Morning” and the anthemic “Lights Please”. You could also place the third installment of his Dollar And A Dream series on that list as well. “Dollar And A Dream III” boasts the same hook as the first two in the series, but a more introspective rework on the verses and a flip production make this one of the standout tracks on the album.

One of the tracks that garnered the most buzz when the track listing was released was the Jay-Z assisted “Mr. Nice Watch”… which features a slightly European feel with grunge elements in the production. And it’s good…for the pure fact that Cole got the co-sign from his boss on wax. You’ll probably come back to it a few times. However, the sleeper hit on the album comes with an assist from Missy Elliot. “Nobody’s Perfect” is, for lack of a better description, a banger. It’s a feel good, riding with the windows down track that deserves single treatment…ASAP.

Thankfully, what attracted me to J. Cole in the beginning, his lyrical depth, is on full display. On tracks like “Never Told” (which discusses men’s deep rooted issues with infidelity) “Daddy’s Little Girl” (a tribute to the girls who use sex to fill the void their absentee fathers left) and “Breakdown” (in which Cole discusses reuniting with his estranged father and his mother’s struggle with substance abuse) J. Cole keeps it all the way real. Perhaps the realest of them all is “Lost Ones” discusses abortion from the perspective of both the mom and dad to be. It’s definitely a powerful track that’s sure to raise a few eyebrows…actually, it already has. Hopefully it will spark good discourse in our community.

Is this album classic? That’s yet to be determined. However, I will say that it is really, really good. It’s an excellent body of work, and the perfect pad to launch what should be a long and prosperous career for Jermaine Cole. The spotlight is on, and he’s definitely deserving of the shine.

Final Verdict: Buy it… and you can do that here.

Bonus: Check out the viral video for “Daddy’s Little Girl”