Saturday, October 19th, 2013 at 2:02 pm
we had high hopes for jermaine. his mixtape “the warm up” was a needed shot of vigor in a slumping independent scene, wanting for a sellable, sobering presence. his college kid pluckiness and tupac-nas derivative flows were respectful without mimicking. his collegiality was light-hearted, but not obnoxious. then, he got signed to a record deal, and it all unraveled.
maybe because drake trampled all over the Beige Heartthrob Lane or maybe because the public wasn’t especially poised to hear lyric nimbleness at the time when that was his best skill, j. cole started reaching. he reached for the mainstream so hard that we could hear his shoulder sockets pop and his elbows snap. it was all sandy beach videos and bromance novels from then on. this was his ignoble attempt to compete with pretty-boy rap dolls like big sean and wale, or to steal the hearts of 8th grade prom queens everywhere.
his best chance at crossover success, he thought, was to drop the mic, pick up the varsity jacket with the leather sleeves and the letterman patch, and Drake It Til He Made It. if drake is the Rap Game Selfie, then j. cole is its emoticon.
and the two will pout it out like rival soap opera stars until there’s only one Sad Man Standing. so far, cole is keeping pace by giving the world some of the best glum faces since joe, keith sweat and gerald levert were crying their way through a decade of bended knee “Girl, I’m Sorry”s. rap may be missing the emotional sincerity of those cloying crybabies, but it lacks none of the performance glam.
as j. cole sings himself off a wile e. coyote cliff of respectability into a canyon of shoebox love letters, let us admire his array of grimaces, frowns and winces, hoping that there is a backstage Emmy catfight at the end of this saga.