CD Reviews

Cole World: The Sideline Story, Cats & Dogs and Charity Starts At Home

Rise-To-Stardom Rap

J. Cole Cole World: The Sideline Story (Roc Nation)

Ever since capturing the attention of Jay-Z with “Lights Please” several years ago and subsequently being the first artist signed to Roc Nation, expectations have been unrealistically high for J. Cole. But after setting the Internet ablaze with his guest appearances and mixtapes, it’s finally time for Cole to show and prove. Unfortunately, Cole cannot handle his newfound stardom, and as a result, his debut suffers. In some senses, Cole World: The Sideline Story feels like another mixtape. The unplanned pregnancy narrative “Lost Ones” and the Missy Elliot-assisted “Nobody’s Perfect” find Cole hitting the mark. But on one too many occasions Cole feels like a guest on his own album as Drake and Jay-Z push him to the background on “In The Morning” and “Mr. Nice Watch,” respectively. Nevertheless, Cole’s debut shows a ton of potential and is a learning experience for the North Carolina MC. ★★★☆☆

Personalized, Moody Hip-Hop

Evidence Cats & Dogs (Rhymesayers)

After dropping the critically acclaimed The Weatherman a few years back, Evidence releases the slightly personal and certainly darker Cats & Dogs; which serves as a departure from his efforts in Dilated Peoples. Everything on Cats & Dogs feels like it’s cloudy with a chance of storms as Ev dives into murkier subject matter. The brilliantly produced “The Red Carpet” finds Ev alongside Raekwon and Ras Kass lamenting about exchanging their dark pasts for a brighter future. “Late for the Sky” finds Ev trading moody rhymes with Aesop Rock and Slug while “It Wasn’t Me” sees the Californian recounting various rap crimes over a well-placed rock sample. No, it’s not like a Dilated Peoples album. But that’s what makes Cats & Dogs special. It’s far more sinister but a perfect departure from his previous efforts. ★★★★☆

True Reality Rap

Phonte Charity Starts At Home (+FE)

Over the past few years, hip-hop artists have offered more personalized rhymes that find rich rappers lamenting their personal issues that plague their everyday lives. The problem is that their swollen pockets make them hard to relate to. That’s where Phonte Coleman and his long-awaited solo album Charity Starts at Home comes in. Whether it be martial issues (“Ball & Chain”) or realizing that the American dream is unattainable and making do with what you have (“The Good Fight”), Phonte encapsulates what reality rap should be. He can also kick a wicked rhyme when necessary, as exemplified on the Fatin 10 Horton-produced “We Go Off” where he and rhyme animal Pharoahe Monch trade lines like heavyweight combatants. Charity Starts at Home has no camera tricks, no clubs filled with beautiful women and no endless supplies of liquor. This is life, and Phonte knows how to project it in a manner we should all appreciate. ★★★★☆

Suggested Next Read

Izzy the Unlikely Ingénue


Izzy the Unlikely Ingénue

Shannan Calcutt is a clown who spends night after night around perfect-bodied hotties while performing in Zumanity. Her character, Izzy, defuses all that sexual tension by offering jokes about such delicate topics as sex toys and breast implants. A native of Canada, Calcutt worked in regional theater and had a trilogy of shows playing Izzy. After being solo for so long, Calcutt was eager to join the ensemble at Zumanity, when she was invited in 2005.