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J. Cole finds balance between critical success, mainstream fans

If you’re a music fan and you’re not listening to, or haven’t at least heard of, J. Cole, then you ought to start.

Then again, judging by the line I waited in, which stretched around to the front of the Union Monday afternoon to get tickets to his April 30 concert, there aren’t many students who need my advice.

The gap between what appeals to the mainstream masses on the radio and what appeals to hip-hop purists has never been larger. The simplistic, club-oriented music that sells records often fails to garner critical acclaim. Those that perhaps had the potential to bridge the gap between the two factions have allowed their music to stray toward what they know will sell. Big Sean, Wiz Khalifa and Nicki Minaj in particular have all released recent albums, which have charted well, but failed to earn the universal respect from the hip-hop community that helped generate their buzz in the first place. To put it simply, many rap artists make the decision to abandon much of their hip-hop roots in order to produce chart-topping pop hits. A song like “Dance (A$$),” by Big Sean, as catchy as it is, was not what had critics and fans excited for his debut album in the first place.

All that said, I understand the temptation and the difficulty this presents to rappers. How long can you go on making pure hip-hop music that appeals to rap blogs and critics, but fails to produce the mainstream success that leads to big paydays? As Jay-Z once said, “Would you rather be underpaid or overrated?”

It’s Jay Z’s young apprentice J. Cole who is seeking to make that question irrelevant. Mixtapes such as “The Warm Up” and “Friday Night Lights” were released to critical acclaim as the anticipation toward his debut album built. Combined with an XXL Magazine Freshmen Cover and a contract with Jay-Z’s Roc Nation record label, Cole seemed to be an artist with the lyrical and storytelling ability to appeal to hip-hop purists, with the personality and mainstream appeal to be a commercial success as well.

His debut album “Cole World: The Sideline Story” fulfilled all of those hopes as it was met with positive reviews and placed No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart. If the reception for the ticket release for his concert is any indication, the buzz surrounding Cole has not died down at all. And it’s only the beginning for him.

Not since Kanye West changed the landscape with his debut has hip-hop had a rising star like this to lead the genre into the next generation. Make every effort to see his concert with Big K.R.I.T. (a rising star in his own right) here at Ohio State on April 30. The next generation is here and it sounds good. 

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