On Friday Kanye West debuted a soul-spun slow burner entitled “Devil In A New Dress,” proving he's not forgotten his production roots and that 808s & Heartbreak was truly a one-off departure. As usual, rappers-seeking-hype proved their dedication to industry-hustling by putting in work over the instrumental on Labor Day weekend.
There's no looking back for Mr. West and he couldn't be more aware of it as he raps “hood phenomenon / the LeBron of rhyme / hard to be humble when you stuntin' on a Jumbo-tron.” I'm still not ready to be sympin' for Kanyeezy, but “Devil In A New Dresss” hints of the possibility that he's not lost to his ego entirely. It hints that perhaps there's some detritus of awareness from the rapper that once promised he's so self-conscious. He is charming old fans by resorting back to Bad Boy heyday references to explain his plight with “why you standing there with your face screwed up / don't leave while you're hot / that's how Mase screwed up / throwing shit around the whole place screwed up / maybe I should call Mase so he can pray for us,” but does this erase his blasphemous Puffy-like collaboration with Justin Bieber? We think not.
So when I hate Kanye, I turn to the hungry wolves that feed from the skeletal cadavers that trickle down from Kanye's wake. Kendrick Lamar nullified the possibility of any other rapper touching the “Monster” beat by picking the bone clean and then chewing on it like a toothpick during his three-minute slaughter session. J. Cole sensed blood in the water first and made sure he was the last to feed with “Villematic”.
On “Villematic” J. Cole addresses the grounded path of enjoying your scholarly years before the greater tests begin. Kanye once asked if he could talk his shit again, but J. Cole humbly inquires “can I spill out my stress?” There in lies why J. Cole is my new favorite rapper and should be yours. He's still on our level.
His awareness is frank without coming off as hyper-sensitive. He lambastes internet critics with “while ya'll was browsing I was taking out them student loans / trying to do this shit better than the niggas we grew up on.” It could be off-putting that Cole adapted the Illmatic album art for his “Villematic” single, but he's got a line for that as well: “there's a feeling in the air you about to drop a real classic / he said Cole / 'a little birdy told me on the low you about to drop an Illmatic' / Nobody touching Nas, nigga / it's more like Villematic.” With artists like Fashawn and Elzhi dropping dedication mixtapes to the Nas classic, Cole might be the only one who's referenced the record without encroaching on its legacy.
Indeed, “Villematic” is a raw three-minute freestyle, in which Cole encourages, then attacks with stinging venom without a trace of bitterness and leaves us with a profound closing statement of “you want change this is that between the seats of your couch shit.” As a proud owner of a shitty new second-hand couch, I'm rooting for J. Cole as the underdog on Roc Nation.