"Cole World: The Sideline Story," the debut album from North Carolina MC J. Cole, arrives today (Sept. 27) after years of slow-growing hype and a handful of mixtapes that allowed the young rapper to polish his delivery. Since releasing debut mixtape "The Come Up" and signing with Sony/Jive in 2007, Cole has released acclaimed mixtures like "The Warm Up" and "Friday Night Lights," collaborated with artists like Drake and Trey Songz, played arenas in support of Rihanna, and received coaching (and a guest verse) from Roc Nation label head Jay-Z. Aside from a few high-profile guest spots, however, "Cole World: The Sideline Story" is Cole's hard-earned personal tale, a declarative statement that weaves together hard-knocking beats, soulful emotion and a fresh, hungry persona.
"'Cole World: The Sideline Story,' to me it's a culmination of a lot of work, lifelong work," Cole tells Billboard.com. "To me it represents all the songs that actually aren't even on this album, whether it be mixtape stuff, stuff i'm saving for the next album. When I think of this, I think of all the stuff that I've done and all the things that I've been through just to get to this point."
The rapper recently stopped by Billboard.com's New York studio to break down each song on his debut album. Check out what he had to say about each track below.
"In 'The Warm Up' I had one and on 'Friday Night Lights' I have these real personal intros when I'm talking and setting the scene. I think it's important to set the mood and the tone of an album."
2. "Dollar and a Dream III"
"Just to be able to start the album, to be the third in a series...it's an instant connection with the fans who have been there for a while. They know how important it is just to see that title."
3. "Can't Get Enough" feat. Trey Songz
"I went [to the Drake show at Radio City Music Hall] and I came out on stage and Trey Songz was there. And I instantly was like, 'Oh what if I put Trey on the song I just did?' He was with it, he was down, so that's how that happened."
4. "Lights Please"
"I had a show over 2 years ago -- I opened up for Wale in New York -- and I told the crowd, 'Even if my album drops in 2011 or 2012,' something that seemed so far away, 'this is still gonna be on my album.' I always felt like that because it really represents my style."
"I had so many bench warrants for the dumbest things you can have in New York: hopping turnstiles, drinking in public, all the little stupid stuff you can get tickets for... and my license was bad, because I had traffic things or whatever. So the minute I found out I was getting signed...I literally got pulled over right after that."
6. "Sideline Story"
"That skit leads into 'Sideline Story,' which to me is one of the best songs on the album. It just sounds classic, just such a mood to it. The raps, each verse to me, it's different stories but they're all potent things that I'm talking about."
7. "Mr. Nice Watch" feat. Jay-Z
"I did this in the last minute -- like, the last week of recording. That's how I work. I'll be working on a project, like a mixtape or something, and as we get to the end, I'll look at what I have and what's missing."
8. "Cole World"
"['Mr. Nice Watch'] flows perfectly into the first lines, 'I think it's gonna be a hell of a night,' and then after that you get this super high energy track."
9. "In The Morning" feat. Drake
"With 'Cole World'… to 'In The Morning,' it transitions to this super female J. Cole record, but done in my way."
10. "Lost Ones"
"A song with dealing with young pregnancy, when you're around that age of either late teens or early 20s or whatever age you are, it explores all of that from both sides… That's one of my favorites, and I've been holding on to that song for like four years, just waiting for this album to come out."
11. "Nobody's Perfect" feat. Missy Elliott
"I felt like the album needed something that you could just ride to. I ended up doing the beat and writing the raps and I'm like 'This really does sound like an old Aaliyah song,' so I was like 'Ahh, Missy!'"
12. "Never Told"
"Every studio session with No I.D. is always great conversation followed by work, and that's what was happening. 'Never Told' was the last song that we did on that first time I was there, and it was a culmination of all these conversations that we were having about life and relationships. So when we did 'Never Told,' all of that came out in that song."
13. "Rise and Shine"
"The ill part of "Rise and Shine" -- other than that third verse, which is just a standout -- is the beginning. It's a Jay-Z sample. It's [from] the movie 'Backstage,' where he's like, 'Somebody right now's eating a bowl of Apple Jacks.' He was speaking while he was out there on tour, becoming the hottest rapper in the game. There was somebody right now that was just working on their raps, eating Apple Jacks and coming for his spot. And he was like, 'I'm gonna find 'em though, I'm gonna sign 'em, I don't want no problems.'"
14. "God's Gift"
"I originally did this song in my crib and I was thinking I was going to throw something out to my fans...but as soon as I did it, took it the studio and laid it I said 'Nah, I can't put this out, I gotta wait for the album.'"
"'Breakdown' is a song I made a long time ago too, after 'Lost Ones,' but still around the 2008 time frame. I started with these drums, and I was like, 'Man, what if I did these upbeat drums… it can almost be a party. What if I put this real emotional sample on it,' and that's what I did, I chopped up this sample… It's actually probably the most personal song on the album."