After releasing three exceptional mixtapes, J. Cole is clearly conscious of both his lauded past and the high expectations set for his future. Jay-Z’s prot??g?? attempts to balance both by opening his debut with “Dollar and a Dream III”, a nod to the mixtape cuts that endeared him to the hearts of listeners. Twice more he delves into mixtape material on “Lights Please” and “In the Morning”, the latter of which features a tired Drake verse. “Lights Please” is revered for earning him the record deal with Jay-Z and as old as it may be, it still sounds as spectacular as it first did two-years ago. It is rather ironic then, that the new, Trey Songz-assisted “Can”t Get Enough” feels outdated amongst the stellar mixtape tracks. The album”s two title tracks vary in quality with “Sideline Story” stealing the spotlight from the catchy-yet-uninspired “Cole World”. This establishes a worrying trend in the otherwise, excellent album ?? Cole”s inability to produce great, upbeat music without the aid of others. Further evidence of this presents itself in the contrived-form of the Kanye West and Paula Abdul-sampling Work Out. Consequently, Cole is outshone by Jay-Z and Missy Elliot respectively on “Mr. Nice Watch” and “Nobody”s Perfect”, the only songs which possess the potential to become genuine hit-singles. While Cole is unconvincing on the more upbeat songs, he does find his rhythm on the slower and more introspective tracks. After all, his true appeal has always been his remarkable storytelling ability, something he uses to great effect here. First he delivers the enthralling “Lost Ones”, a song where his astonishingly honest lyrics find him arguing with his girlfriend over their decision to terminate a pregnancy. Once he captures the listener’s attention there, he never lets go, thoughtfully dissecting the causes and effects of infidelity on “Never Told” before unashamedly baring his vulnerabilities on “Breakdown”. The latter is an emotional opus that finds Cole addressing his estranged father and his mother”s struggle with drug addiction. The bulk of “Cole World: The Sideline Story” is largely self-produced, both a gift and a curse for the rapper as he crafts a cohesive although sonically restricted album. Aside from the dubstep-influenced Mr. Nice Watch the production is timid and repetitive. The album is nevertheless a welcome introduction to Cole’s sincere and attentive lyricism, and listening to it is a fulfilling experience that leaves you anticipating his next release.