Born Sinner

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Born Sinner
J Cole Born Sinner1.jpg
Studio album by J. Cole
Released June 18, 2013
Recorded 2011–13
Genre Hip hop
Length 59:28
J. Cole chronology
Cole World: The Sideline Story
Born Sinner
2014 Forest Hills Drive
Deluxe edition cover
Singles from Born Sinner
  1. "Power Trip"
    Released: February 14, 2013
  2. "Crooked Smile"
    Released: June 4, 2013
  3. "Forbidden Fruit"
    Released: August 1, 2013
  4. "She Knows"
    Released: October 29, 2013

Born Sinner is the second studio album by American hip hop recording artist J. Cole. It was released on June 18, 2013, by Dreamville, Roc Nation and Columbia Records. The album serves as the follow-up to his debut album, Cole World: The Sideline Story (2011). The album features guest appearances from Miguel, Amber Coffman, Jhené Aiko, James Fauntleroy, Bas, TLC, Kendrick Lamar and 50 Cent. The album was also primarily produced by Cole himself, along with others such as Jake One, Syience, Christian Rich and Elite.

The album was supported by four official singles; "Power Trip", "Crooked Smile", "Forbidden Fruit" and "She Knows", along with the promotional single "Miss America". Upon its release, Born Sinner received generally positive reviews from music critics. The album debuted at number 2 on the Billboard 200, selling 297,000 copies in its first week of release. After two weeks of being at number 2, Born Sinner climbed to number one in its third week. As of September 2015, the album has sold over 747,000 copies in the United States.


J. Cole provided the vast majority of songwriting and production for the album.

Only a week, after the release his gold certified-debut album Cole World: The Sideline Story, Cole began working on his second album with the title of Born Sinner. He said that it allowed him to, "reinvigorate himself both mentally and creatively."[2] On October 24, 2011, during his interview with Hot 106’s Rise & Grind morning show, Cole revealed that he had began working on his second studio album, with hopes of releasing it in June 2012. He had also stated that the album would consist of songs that failed to make his debut: "I don’t know how many, but I got songs that didn’t make the last album that are automatically going to make this one."[3] On February 24, 2012 J. Cole reached two million followers on Twitter, he celebrated by releasing the song "Grew up Fast."[4] On March 1, 2012, J. Cole returned to his hometown of Fayetteville North Carolina. To celebrate his return, he released the song "Visionz of Home" (which launched an event, titled "Dreamville weekend") to inspire the youth of his hometown to achieve great things.[5] On July 26, he returned to Twitter after a 100-day absence and went on to reveal and release his new song "The Cure" in where he hints at a new album. On October 20, he announced at a live show that his second album is complete and he's waiting until after Lamar releases good kid, m.A.A.d city to reveal it and previewed two new songs; "Maine On Fire" and "Crooked Smile." However they were not tied to any project.[6][7] "Maine on Fire" would end up appearing on a Funkmaster Flex mixtape.

On November 5, Cole revealed the title of his second album, and an album teaser for it, Born Sinner and the release date of January 28, 2013, via Ustream.[8][9] With the title he ended his basketball-themed series of projects. He would say,

"It was just time for something new. I wouldn't have minded doing it again but I felt that I closed that story. "That metaphor and that storyline had really ended. Metaphorically I was just a kid working to get on this basketball team, got cut — that was The Come Up, then The Warm Up was like, alright I made the team, I'm on the team, now what? I'm not in the game, I'll just ride the end of the bench. Then Friday Night Lights was like 'come on man, you're still not gonna put me in the game? What I gotta do? Here, I'm gonna kill it in practice.Sideline Story was like, Wow, I really am starting now, and I feel like I ended that chapter when it's all said and done. Plus, this new theme is really more reflective of where I'm at and where I've been at for the past two years, so it was just perfect to move on."[10]

Recording and production[edit]

On November 30, 2012, Cole said he feels the album will be better than his debut due to him being more free in creating this one. Most of the production will come from himself and most guest producers and features will be kept under wraps until the album release comes closer. He went onto say the features will be minor and key to the album.[11][12] The album's production was primarily handled by J. Cole himself.[2] Also in November 2012, Cole stated that the album is 90% completed including the writing and recording.[13] Cole said he recorded four albums worth of material during the recording process for the album.[14]

Release and promotion[edit]

J. Cole announced a release date of January 28, 2013 (his birthday) along with the album name on November 9, 2012.[15] In early January the album was included on multiple "Most Anticipated Albums of 2013" such as MTV[16] and XXL ranked Born Sinner the sixth most anticipated album of 2013.[17] After describing the January release date as ambitious, he would announce on New Years Day 2013 that the album would be coming out at a later date.[18] On February 22, 2013 J. Cole said that the album should arrive around June 2013.[19] He later would confirm a release month for June, and then on April 8, 2013 J. Cole announced via Twitter that the album would be released on June 25, 2013.[20] Interesting enough, that date would have been the seventeenth year anniversary of the release of Jay Z's debut album Reasonable Doubt.[21] However, he announced on May 20, 2013 via his Twitter account that he would move the release up one week to June 18, 2013.[22] He later revealed that he moved up the release date to coincide with the release of Kanye West's album Yeezus, saying "Instantly the lightbulb [turned on]… it got real. I was like, ‘Yo…’ The idea hit me instantly: ‘You got to go to that date. I’m not going to sit [here]… I worked too hard to come a week later after Kanye West drops an amazing album. It’d be like, ‘Oh and J.Cole dropped too, a week later.’ Nah. I’m going to go see him on that date. He’s the greatest. So it’s like, I’m a competitor by nature so it was instant, it wasn’t even a thought.”[23]

On February 12, 2013 Cole released a free EP titled Truly Yours in promotion of the album. The EP consists of five songs in their "raw form" that he knew would not make the cutlist for Born Sinner.[14] Later on April 29, he announced that he would be releasing Truly Yours 2 the following day.[24] The EP featured guest appearances by 2 Chainz, Young Jeezy and Bas, with production from Canei Finch, Jake One and J. Cole himself.[25] Cole announced the deluxe version of the album will include an extra CD which will double as Truly Yours 3 and featuring 5 new songs.[26] The track "New York Times" is the only song that features a rapper besides Cole, rapping on the entire album. The track features 50 Cent and Bas, which Cole originally wanted to have 50 and Nas on the song.[27]

J. Cole said there is a lot he wants to do that he didn't get to do on his last album because the label didn't know that he was gonna come out and have the number-one album in the country so this time he hopes the promotion effort is way bigger. He plans to shoot a short film to accompany the album as well as multiple music videos.[13] In promotion of the album Cole released several Born Sinner vlogs, the first video spotlighted Cole's mother and her former job of working at the post office, and her retirement. The second video spotlighted friend and frequent collaborator Kendrick Lamar. In the video he discusses his earliest musical influences and his work ethic.[28] On June 6, 2013 J. Cole held one time listen sessions for the album in various places throughout North America.[29] The following day the album leaked in full online via various peer-to-peer file sharing websites. Rather than go into crisis mode and attempt to remove it from online, Cole put the album up for a limited time free stream.[30]


The first promotional single from Born Sinner was "Miss America" and which released on November 13, 2012.[31] Cole said he pushed away pop-accessibility in order to put out a single that provides social commentary.[32] The song has been described by multiple outlets and Cole himself as not an ordinary first single and in no way directed towards radio.[33][34] The song has peaked at number 34 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs.[35]

On February 12, 2013, J. Cole announced that the first official single from the album would be released in the next week.[14] Two days later on February 14, he released the lead single, "Power Trip", a collaboration with Miguel.[36] The song was sent to Urban contemporary radio on February 19, 2013.[37] The song has since peaked at number 19 on the US Billboard Hot 100.[38] On April 9, 2013, the music video was released for "Power Trip" featuring Miguel.[39] "Power Trip" was also certified Platinum in the United States by the RIAA.[40]

Rapper Kendrick Lamar made an appearance on the album's third single "Forbidden Fruit".

The second official single, "Crooked Smile" featuring R&B group TLC premiered on June 3, 2013. The song was made available on iTunes the following day.[41] The song was sent to Rhythmic contemporary radio on June 18.[42] It has since peaked at number 27 on the Billboard Hot 100.[38] On September 18, 2013, the music video was released for "Crooked Smile" featuring TLC.[43]

"Forbidden Fruit" featuring rapper Kendrick Lamar was the last song recorded for the album, as it contained a reference to him dropping his album the same day as Kanye West, who also released Yeezus on June 18, 2013.[44] It was reported by MTV in June 2013 that it would be the album's third single.[45] Then on August 1, 2013 it was sent to urban contemporary radio as Born Sinner's third single.[46] The song has peaked at number 46 on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs.[35]

On October 29, 2013, "She Knows" featuring Amber Coffman, was serviced to urban contemporary radio as the album's fourth official single.[47] It officially impacted Rhythmic contemporary radio on November 19, 2013.[48] The song has since peaked at number 90 on the Billboard Hot 100[49] On February 14, 2014, the music video was released for "She Knows" featuring Amber Coffman.[50]

Commercial performance[edit]

Born Sinner sold 297,000 copies in the United States in its first week of release, debuting at number 2 on the Billboard 200, finishing approximately 30,000 copies short of Kanye West's Yeezus.[51] In its second week, the album sold 84,000 more copies.[52] After two weeks of being at number 2, Born Sinner climbed to number one in its third week with 58,000 more copies sold.[53] In its fourth week, the album sold 39,000 more copies.[54] On August 14, 2013, approximately two months after its release, Born Sinner was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for shipments exceeding 500,000 copies.[55] As of September 2015, the album has sold 747,000 copies domestically.[56]

Critical response[edit]

Professional ratings
Aggregate scores
Source Rating
Metacritic 71/100[57]
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 4/5 stars[58]
The Boston Globe 7/10[59]
Entertainment Weekly B–[60]
Exclaim! 9/10[61]
Los Angeles Times 2.5/4 stars[62]
Now 4/5 stars[63]
Rolling Stone 3.5/5 stars[64]
Pitchfork Media 6.0/10[65]
Spin 6/10[66]
XXL XL (4/5)[67]

Upon its release, Born Sinner received generally positive reviews from music critics. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the album received an average score of 71, which indicates "generally favorable reviews", based on 21 reviews.[57] Kyle Anderson of Entertainment Weekly gave the album a B–, saying "He's a talented, nimble rapper, but diatribes like "Trouble" and "Land of the Snakes" are more exhausting than impressive... The jazz-kissed "Let Nas Down," a deeply personal tale about hearing that one of his rap idols hated his early single "Work Out", delivers far greater impact without all the high-minded posturing about love and death."[60] Erin Lowers of Exclaim! gave the album a nine out of ten, saying "With the exception of two numbers, the self-produced 16-track project revels in Timbaland drumlines ("Born Sinner") and soulful Kanye symphonies ("Chaining Day"). However, the standout cut samples A Tribe Called Quest's "Electric Relaxation," featuring the only other rapper on the album: Kendrick Lamar. "Forbidden Fruit" embodies a silent confidence, paying homage to a legendary group while speaking on releasing an album the same day as Kanye West, bringing Born Sinner full-circle."[61] Julia LeConte of Now gave the album four out of five stars, saying "Born Sinner's production, Cole's own, is nuanced and varied on the whole – looped harp, careful piano, electronic elements, boom bap drums, choirs everywhere – but all impeccably orchestrated."[63] August Brown of the Los Angeles Times gave the album two and a half stars out of four, saying "If the self-mythologizing of Yeezus is a little much for you, how about a rap album where the MC is bummed that he disappointed his hero? J. Cole's Born Sinner is at the other end of the universe from Kanye West's latest — a quieter, self-examining rap record that's short on audacity but long on workman-like singles."[62]

Ben Simms of XXL gave the album an XL, saying "Born Sinner's best moments are when he embraces the persona that initially garnered him praise. "Power Trip", "Crooked Smile" and "Let Nas Down" are the album’s strongest tracks, and they feel like the rapper who created The Warm Up, which only becomes problematic at times because of Cole's insistence to produce almost all of his work. But while BS may not exhibit the growth sonically or conceptually that fans may have anticipated after hearing Cole's early work, he remains too gifted lyrically, too keen of a storyteller, and too emotionally open for his sophomore LP to be anything less than impressive, but not overly so."[67] Corban Goble of Pitchfork Media gave the album 6.0 out of ten, saying "At its best, Born Sinner, showcases J. Cole's overall musicality, pairing his ability as a lyricist with a more broadly developed production palette. In a heat, he can rattle off some fierce rejoinders (See: "Niggaz Know"). But several releases deep into Cole's growing catalogue, we haven't been delivered the savior that Jay-Z's "A Star is Born" seemed to anoint. (The latter's current indifference to Cole has become so pronounced that Cole has to keep squashing beef rumors.)"[65] David Jeffries of AllMusic gave the album four out of five stars, saying "It's snide, smart-ass stuff and when it comes to sublime/ridiculous balancing act that his heroes Jay-Z and Nas have mastered, Cole is a little short on the sublime side here to be considered classic. Still, "Crooked Smile" with special guests TLC is a genuine, mature step in the right direction and will have no trouble reaching vintage age. A handful of other numbers carry that same weight, making Born Sinner a daring step forward for Cole and an exciting attempt at mastering Jay's Blueprint style."[58]

Ted Scheinman of Slant Magazine gave the album four out of five stars, saying "Here's the only real problem with Born Sinner: Cole's production work is elegant, but he's first and foremost a words guy, and when you're competing with the lushness of Kendrick Lamar (who makes a spooky appearance on "Forbidden Fruit") or the preening, infectious weirdness of Kanye, playing it straight is probably not sexy enough. Born Sinner doesn't match the cohesive satisfactions of Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, though it boasts better writing.[68] Francesca D'Arcy-Orga of PopMatters gave the album a seven out of ten, saying "For many, lyrically, he’s better on a higher percentage of Born Sinner than Kendrick was on Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, but the album lacks the superb production and cohesiveness that makes GKMC standout. Still, no one can say that J. Cole has failed to deliver on this album. He’s certainly impressed with his flow, delivery and production, and while he hasn’t released the next golden hip hop album he’s coming close."[69] Jon Dolan of Rolling Stone gave the album three and half stars out of five, saying "Sometimes I brag like Hov/ Sometimes I'm real like Pac," J. Cole raps on his second LP. Sometimes he's both – a verbal powerhouse and a self-emptying truth-sayer. The flagship signee to Jay-Z's record label spins dervish rhymes over dazzling self-produced tracks (see the Outkast-sampling "Land of the Snakes"). His riffs on racism, homophobia and misogyny have more lyrical cunning than insight." Have fun at the next company picnic, homey."[64]


Closing out the year, Born Sinner was met with many accolades and was named to multiple "Albums of the Year" lists by major publications. It was nominated for Album of the Year at the 2013 BET Hip Hop Awards.[70] Complex positioned it at number 13 on their list of the 50 best albums of 2013. They commented saying, "This year's Born Sinner was a shot at redemption for the 28-year-old rapper, and he came through in the clutch with a convincing balance of beats, rhymes, and life. He impressively shifts between impassioned storytelling ("Runaway"), and sex-fiend fantasy ("Power Trip"), and a spiritual wisdom ("Born Sinner"), all the while laying down a solid foundation for his mainstream exploits."[71] Slant Magazine ranked it at number 14 on their list of the best 25 albums of the year. They elaborated saying, "At the mic, he's a better raconteur than ever, complicating his stories with bits of misdirection that hit as hard as any of the disc's bass drops." and "The second half of the album is in part a tribute to Cole's two main models, Nas and 2Pac, down to conspicuous mid-'90s-sounding hooks from TLC and James Fauntleroy. Craft and community storytelling aside, the only other album of 2013 that boasts as many internal rhymes-per-minute is Eminem's."[72] Associated Press ranked Born Sinner number four on their list of top 10 albums of 2013. They elaborated saying, "This year featured anticipated albums from Jay Z, Kanye West and Drake, but J. Cole has the rap album of the year. "Born Sinner," his sophomore release, is full of smart rhymes that forces the listener to think. He's a born winner."[73]

PopMatters ranked it number seven on their list of the best hip hop albums of the year. They commented saying, "It’s easy to mistake J. Cole‘s unflashiness for dullness, and to see his reverence for past hip-hop legends, expressed throughout Born Sinner, for coattail-riding. He doesn’t make big, dramatic moves or carry a larger-than-life persona. Yet that’s exactly the charm of Born Sinner, an understated but thoughtful album from someone with a clear love for, and knowledge of, hip-hop.[74] Rolling Stone ranked it number seven on their list of 20 best hip hop albums of 2013. They commented saying, "Releasing your major-label rap record the same day as Kanye took balls. So did staying true to hip-hop's vaunted edutaining tradition with a set of hypersmart, excellently self-produced tracks that recall, well, vintage Kanye in their ability to dramatize the tension between Hov-size career ambition and post-Pac truth saying."[75] XXL named it the sixth best album of 2013. They commented saying, "Cole’s second studio album should be at the top of everyone’s year-end list."[76] HipHopDX named Born Sinner amongst their top 25 albums of 2013.[77] The Source ranked it number 11 on their list of best 25 albums of year saying, "Sometimes J. Cole brags like hov, sometimes he’s real like pac, sometimes he focuses on the flow to show the skills he’s got. Whatever he does, he does it very well; and lets not forget his much improved production either. Cole cemented his spot as one of the new top dogs in the game by serving up his incredibly solid sophomore offering."[78] Born Sinner earned Cole a Grammy Award nomination at the 56th Grammy Awards, for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration for Power Trip with Miguel.[79]

Year Ceremony Category Result
2014 Billboard Music Awards[80] Top Rap Album Nominated

Track listing[edit]

No. Title Writer(s) Producer(s) Length
1. "Villuminati"   J. Cole 5:07
2. "Kerney Sermon (Skit)"       0:46
3. "LAnd of the Snakes"  
  • J. Cole
  • Ron Gilmore (add.)
4. "Power Trip" (featuring Miguel) J. Cole 4:01
5. "Mo Money (Interlude)"   Jake One 1:17
6. "Trouble"   Cole
  • J. Cole
  • Ken Lewis (add.)
7. "Runaway"  
  • J. Cole
  • Elite (add.)
  • Ron Gilmore (add.)
8. "She Knows" (featuring Amber Coffman and Cults)
  • Cole
  • Ryan Mattos
  • Madeline Follin
  • J. Cole
  • DJ Dummy (add.)
  • Ken Lewis (add.)
9. "Rich Niggaz"   J. Cole 4:36
10. "Where's Jermaine? (Skit)"   Cole J. Cole 0:36
11. "Forbidden Fruit" (featuring Kendrick Lamar)
  • J. Cole
  • Ron Gilmore (add.)
12. "Chaining Day"  
  • J. Cole
  • Ron Gilmore (add.)
13. "Ain't That Some Shit (Interlude)"  
  • Cole
  • Reggie Perry
Syience 2:27
14. "Crooked Smile" (featuring TLC)
  • J. Cole
  • Elite (co.)
15. "Let Nas Down"  
  • J. Cole
  • Nate Jones (add.)
16. "Born Sinner" (featuring @Fauntleroy)
  • J. Cole
  • Elite (co.)
Total length:
Sample credits


Credits for Born Sinner adapted from AllMusic.[82]

  • James Fauntleroy II – featured artist
  • Jessica Antonetty – choir/chorus
  • Kyle Armbrust – viola
  • Ronnie Artis – choir/chorus
  • Jamal Kris Ashby – choir/chorus
  • Chris Athens – mastering
  • Wayne Barrow – management
  • Jay Bratten – bass
  • Cedric Brown – sampling
  • Canei Finch – keyboards
  • Al Carty – bass
  • Christine Kim – cello
  • Amber Coffman – featured artist, vocals (background)
  • Jermaine Cole – executive producer
  • Juro "Mez" Davis – engineer, mixing
  • Stephanie De Los Santos – choir/chorus
  • Yolanda DeBerry – vocals (background)
  • DJ Dummy – scratching
  • Sean Drew – choir/chorus
  • Nabil Elderkin – photography
  • Elite – producer
  • Desiree Elsevier – viola
  • Chris Feldmann – art direction
  • Ari Feliciano – choir/dhorus
  • Alvin Fields – choir director
  • Julius Garcia – A&R, management
  • Sam Giannelli – assistant engineer
  • Ron Gilmore – keyboards, string arrangements
  • Jerry Grossman – cello
  • Ibrahim Hamad – A&R
  • Michael Harris – choir/chorus
  • Rose Hart – choir/chorus
  • Tyler Hartman – string engineer
  • Serena Hernandez – choir/chorus
  • Mario Hugo – art direction, design, illustrations
  • J. Cole – engineer, primary artist, producer
  • Erika Johnson – choir/chorus
  • Nate Jones – bass
  • Shmuel Katz – viola
  • Brent Kolatalo – engineer
  • Kendrick Lamar – featured artist
  • Ann Lehmann – violin
  • Ken Lewis – choir arrangement, choir production, producer, string contractor, string engineer
  • David Linaburg – guitar
  • Alyse Maree – choir/chorus
  • Roman Marshall – choir/chorus
  • Joanna Maurer – concert master, violin
  • Maureen McDermott – cello
  • Miguel – featured artist
  • John Morgan – choir/chorus
  • Tanika Myers – vocals (background)
  • Tavon Nelson – choir/chorus
  • K Nita – choir/chorus
  • Suzanne Ornstein – violin
  • Sandra Park – string contractor
  • Jessenia Peña – choir/chorus
  • Mark Pitts – executive producer, management
  • Annaliesa Place – violin
  • Isaiah Raheem – choir/chorus
  • Felix Ramos – choir/chorus
  • Daniel Recinos – assistant engineer
  • Adam Rodney – creative director
  • Tiffany Rodriguez – choir/chorus
  • Carmen Roman – choir contractor
  • Courtnee Rose – percussion
  • Natalis Ruby Rubero – choir/chorus
  • Hanan Rubinstein – engineer, vocal engineer
  • Timothy Saccenti – photography
  • Fred Sladkey – engineer
  • Gerald Smith – choir/chorus
  • Meleni Smith – vocals
  • David Southhorn – violin
  • Milena Pajro-Van De Stadt – viola
  • Brett Sturgis – choir/chorus
  • TLC – featured artist
  • Marcos Tovar – engineer
  • Pete Whitfield – orchestration
  • Mary Wooten – cello
  • William World – choir/chorus
  • Jung Sun Yoo – violin
  • Elite – producer



Region Certification Sales/shipments
Canada (Music Canada)[95] Gold 40,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[96] Silver 60,000^
United States (RIAA)[97] Gold 500,000^

*sales figures based on certification alone
^shipments figures based on certification alone
xunspecified figures based on certification alone

Release history[edit]

Region Date Format Label Edition
Australia[98] June 14, 2013
  • Standard
  • deluxe
Germany[100] June 17, 2013
United Kingdom[102]
  • Standard
  • deluxe
United States[103] June 18, 2013
New Zealand[104] June 23, 2013
Japan[105] June 29, 2013 Standard


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