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J. Cole’s debut is time well spent

(Jim Wilson/The New York Times)
By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / September 27, 2011

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Being handpicked as Jay-Z’s first Roc Nation signee has been a blessing and a burden for J. Cole. He got all the hype that came with it, but he also got all the pressure. That’s why, two years after his mixtape “The Warm Up’’ made him the buzz of the blogs, his debut album feels overdue.

Rappers like Drake and Wiz Khalifa became the genre’s fresh faces while time ticked on Cole, still scribbling the last words on his essay question. With “Cole World: The Sideline Story,’’ he came up with a deeply personal introduction, producing 15 of the 18 songs himself and crafting beats that complement nimble and inventive rhymes.

The storytelling is at times crushingly heartfelt. He tells his boys the one about his time in jail the night he got the text from Jay-Z (“Interlude’’), about keeping the secret that his dad cheated on his mom (“Never Told’’), about rolling his eyes at crack-rappers because his mother was addicted to the drug (“Breakdown’’).

It’s rare - and good - that you hear any voice on the album besides Cole’s. He’s tried to duck the Drake comparisons, but the two work well together on “In the Morning.’’ Jay-Z drops in on “Mr. Nice Watch,’’ an accidental experiment in dubstep, and Trey Songz adds the hook to the frantic Afropop sampling “Can’t Get Enough.’’

The story goes that Jay-Z told Cole he had his whole life to make his debut album. Cole may have taken that literally, but it was worth it. (Out today)

ESSENTIAL “Dollar and a Dream III’’

J. Cole performs at the Palladium in Worcester on Oct. 22.