#10. J. Cole, Cole World: The Sideline Story
Label: Roc Nation/Columbia
Released: September 27
With a co-sign from Jay-Z on one hand and a loyal fanbase on the other, J. Cole was under tremendous pressure to deliver a strong debut album that would please everybody. We all knew Jermaine was a nimble storyteller, capable of weaving complicated rhyme-patterns and unafraid of being both vulnerable and metaphorical. Still we couldn't help but wonder if he could keep it all up throughout a full-length album without dumbing shit down. But that was before we heard Cole World for ourselves. Every broad-based record like "Workout" was balanced by a "Sideline Story," a "Lost Ones," or a "Breakdown."
The album included records that his fans had heard years ago ("Lights Please") as well as sequels to mixtape cuts ("Dollar and A Dream Pt. III") that highlighted his evolution as a lyricist. Through it all Cole pulled off the neat trick of satisfying his core fans while also silencing the critics who questioned his commercial appeal.