J. Cole shocked a lot of industry heads and rap fans with the release of "Cole World: The Sideline Story," the debut LP he mostly produced himself. It hit No. 1 on Billboard its first week, and since hitting shelves Sept. 27, the album has sold more than 300,000 copies. He has no major singles or high-profile cameos; Cole merely built a following from the ground-up, with strong mixtapes and opening tour slots.
Consider his show Thursday night at Baltimore Soundstage part of the earned victory lap. Cole is the type of rapper capable of writing radio-friendly hits ("Can't Get Enough" feat. Trey Songz sounds at home on the dial) but he works best when writing about relationships, both familial ("Breakdown" is about his absent father) and romantic.
His best song, "Lost Ones," combines both. Cole gives three perspectives of an unwanted pregnancy — an unready man, a betrayed woman and an outsider. Each verse is full of nuances (for example, the second verse's woman reminds the man of all of their old conversations about his "coward" father), and they prove Cole has the potential to have staying power. His album is far from perfect, but a moment such as "Lost Ones" makes it worth combing through.
Watch J. Cole perform "Lost Ones" on Hip Hop Nation below. This is rap, so obviously some of the language might not be safe for work.