Cole World: The Sideline Story is the debut studio album by American rapper J. Cole. The album was released on September 27, 2011 under Roc Nation with distribution from Sony Music. The album is his first studio release, following three successful mixtapes. Production was handled mainly by Cole himself, with some production from high-profile producer No I.D. It includes features from Trey Songz, Drake, Jay-Z, and Missy Elliott. The album debuted at number one on the US Billboard 200 chart, with 218,000 units sold in the first week following its release.
The album was one of the most anticipated releases of 2011 due to the sharp rise in Cole's popularity and mainstream fan base. Cole's lyrics perhaps most strikingly deal with issues such as abortion and the consequences of growing up in a fatherless household. However, these themes are incorporated alongside more introspective issues such as relationships, family problems, fame and attempting to be successful - an area which very much links in with the subtitle of the album 'The Sideline Story'. Upon its release, the album was generally well received by critics, who praised the wholesomeness of the album.
On April 25, 2011, Vibe listed him at number five on their Vibe's list of Greatest Rappers Alive 30 Under 30. Cole was nominated for Best New Artist at the 2011 BET Awards. On May 3, 2011 J. Cole stated on Twitter, "All singles done. Album ridiculous. Title Perfect. Music incredible. Thank you for your patience. Let's change the game." On June 21, 2011 Cole tweeted, "Cole World: The Sideline Story", the album's title. He then tweeted "9/27," the release date. In June 2011 he announced that the recording of the album was finished, and that the release date is set for September later that year.
J. Cole said several of the tracks are songs he held onto before he was signed. He said they were too good to give away on mix tapes. J. Cole stated that he had 16 tracks on the album, 12 of which he has produced himself. He also revealed that he would not release a pre-album mixtape like he previously stated. Instead, every Sunday until the album he released songs that did not make the album. The bundles of songs released are called Any Given Sundays. J. Cole has said that the reason for the subtitle "The Sideline Story" is because he feels since being signed to Jay-Z it has been like someone being on the sidelines for their favorite basketball team, and they're just waiting until the coach puts them in.
The album includes production from J. Cole himself, Brian Kidd, No I.D. and L&X MusicJ. Cole wants his fans to expect a different sound, while he speaks about topics that have never been included in mainstream hip hop music before.The Source magazine said that Cole's "evolution as a producer solely enhances the product" and that "Outside of co-production from No I.D., this album is all Cole at his rawest. J Cole said the production on the song "Lost Ones" was influenced by New Zealand music artist Alex Gilbert. This album also features live Orchestra and Musical Sections arranged and produced by Larrance Dopson of 1500 or nothin, with violin recorded by Ginny Luke on "Rise and Shine", "Lost Ones", and "Breakdown". During the final moments of working on his album, when Cole had lost hope for his dream collaboration with Jay-Z, he explained to Vibe how the collaboration came to fruition, "He was in L.A. and I got [there] that day around the VMAs or whatever. He actually pushed back the mastering, we went to mastering with no Jay-Z verse. I was like 'oh okay cool, I guess he can’t do it.' They were mastering the last song, and this is such a Jay-Z move, he called in and stopped the mastering and pushed it back like a week. Only he can do that."
The album's first intended single was "Who Dat". Released on June 8, 2010, it was produced by Cole and Elite. The song failed to garner J. Cole the attention needed to drop a major label debut, the song was thought not to have made the final cut due to the song being released sixteen months prior to the album's release and its lackluster performance on the charts: however, the song appears as a bonus track on the iTunes edition as well as Daddy's Little Girl. J. Cole explained he kept the song on the album and included it as a bonus track because "[it] connects the past two years to everything." In honor of the second anniversary of his highly acclaimed mixtape The Warm Up, Cole released "Work Out" on June 15, 2011. The song, produced by Cole himself, samples "The New Workout Plan" by Kanye West and interpolates "Straight Up" by Paula Abdul. The second single, "Can't Get Enough" originally leaked on the internet on July 26, 2011. Produced by Brian Kidd and featuring Trey Songz, the song was officially released on August 30, 2011. The song samples "Paulette" as performed by Balla et ses Balladins, the original music being "Boma l'heure" from the Congolese artists TP OK Jazz. "Mr. Nice Watch", which features Jay-Z, was solicited to urban radio as the album's third single on October 4, 2011. On October 24, 2011, J. Cole confirmed that the album's next single would be "Nobody's Perfect", which features Missy Elliott. It officially impacted Urban radio on February 7, 2012.
At a listening session in New York City, J. Cole previewed the album to a select few, including Insanul Ahmed of Complex. At the listening session it was revealed the song "In the Morning" featuring Drake off his Friday Night Lights mixtape would appear on the album. Cole defended this decision saying, he felt the song never got the push it deserved, and he wanted it to reach more people. Another song that was previously released on another project The Warm Up, was "Lights Please". Cole explained this song was the track that won over his manager Mark Pitt and Jay-Z. The interlude, was revealed to be a quick skit where Cole talks about the day he found out Jay-Z wanted to sign him. As soon as Cole got the good news he was pulled over and ended up spending the night in jail for parking violations. Even so, he explains that it was “the easiest time ever” because he knew success was coming around the corner. The track "Rise and Shine" opens with a sample from the documentary, Backstage where Jay-Z is talking about finding that one great artist that he’ll sign. "Dollar and a Dream III" was revealed, the third in the "Dollar and a Dream series" following the two from his first two mixtapes. In an interview with VIBE Cole admitted that he originally wanted Jay-Z to appear on the song "God's Gift" rather than "Mr. Nice Watch." He continued saying, "Everything worked out, I’m a true believer that everything happens for a reason. Like, when he did that, it made way more sense than my song. It’s a bigger record, a more universal record. Being the hip-hop nerd that I am, I would have loved to hear Jay-Z on that ["God's Gift"] beat. But really, I’m fine on that song alone." J. Cole released "Mr. Nice Watch" himself through the internet, for promotional purposes, on September 14, 2011. The song contains elements of Dubstep and Electronica. Despite not being released as a single, "Mr. Nice Watch" debuted on the U.S. BillboardR&B/Hip-Hop Songs at number eighty-seven on the week of October 1, 2011. Two days before the album's release, J. Cole released a music video for the bonus track, "Daddy's Little Girl". On October 25, J. Cole released a three-year old never-before seen music video for the track, "Lost Ones".
Cole World: The Sideline Story received generally positive reviews from music critics. At Metacritic, which assigns a weighted mean rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the album received an average score of 75, based on 20 reviews, which indicates "generally favorable reviews". Brad Wete of Entertainment Weekly praised the album and wrote that it "is a well-rounded effort, and deeper than most..". Mikael Wood of Los Angeles Times gave the album a mixed review, commenting that "J. Cole’s early-onset veteran status also saps some of the energy you’d hope to hear on a debut.", but also commended J. Cole on the "satisfying confidence with which J. Cole delivers his rhymes." David Jeffries of Allmusic stated, "Take a couple listens, let it sink in, and then discover that Cole World is one hell of a debut."Rolling Stone's Jody Rosen commented that the album "Cole is brainier than most mainstream MCs but too flashy for the underground" adding that "the melodrama feels rote; the rhymes hit the mark but the stories leave you cold." Matthew Cole of Slant Magazine complimented the album, saying that "the only thing Cole World really wants for is the kind of out-of-the-park highlight that would pull the whole album together." Adam Fleishcer of XXL Magazine mentioned Cole's high expectations, stating that "But it’s these same factors that have positioned J. Cole’s major label debut, Cole World: The Sideline Story, in an uphill battle against expectations.", and praising J. Cole, stating "Cole’s DIY methods—producing the bulk of the album, enlisting limited guests—are admirable if, at times, restrictive."  Kazeem Famuyide of The Source gave the album a positive review, stating that "All in all, Cole World: The Sideline Story has more bright spots than lowlights and serves as a solid debut..".