J. Cole skips the sophomore jinx, Amel Larrieux is back at it, Kelly Rowland is on her grown woman ish and Prince preps for his return

J. Cole, Born Sinner

The fact that J. Cole isn’t scurred to drop Born Sinner on the same day as Kanye’s Yeezus says a lot about the his cojones. But guess what? Cole’s sophomore album backs up the bold move with an effort that reflects growth and progress from his previous work.

“Villuminati” samples Notorious B.I.G.’s vocals in “Juicy” (“Now I'm in the limelight ’cause I rhyme tight”) and features a live choir over strings. J. Cole ad libs to the tune of “It’s way darker this time,” and he’s right. “Villuminati” sets the tone for the rest of the album, which represents Cole as a more evolved and cockier rapper (to be expected given that his mentor is Jay-Z).

One thing I don’t cosign is Cole’s gratuitous use of a homophobic slur (the F word) in that particular song. It’s high time rappers learn better ways to insult each other. That aside, Born Sinner is a good effort. You won’t waste your money here if you’re about that genuine hip-hop life. We’re only about halfway into the year but it’s looking like Born Sinner will be a top contender for one of the best hip-hop albums of the year.

Available where music is sold.

Amel Larrieux, “Afraid”

Rejoice! Amel Larrieux is back! Larrieux is easily one of the most underrated singers of our time, but you gon’ learn today… hopefully. Anyway, the Groove Theory alumna is gearing up to release her next album, Ice Cream Every Day, on June 27. But in the meantime, she teases our audio senses with the first single, “Afraid.” It’s a feel-good ode to love, just in time for the summer, where Larrieux sings about the overwhelming feelings that flow when it comes to attraction. “Got me afraid of the rapture stirring inside of me/Got me afraid of what I’m gonna do if I get you to see/Got me afraid of you’re so damn fine sometimes I forget to breathe/Got me afraid of wherever you are is where I have to be,” she sings on the breathy hook. The midtempo beat induces feel-good endorphins that are much needed as a remedy for all the hate and grumpiness in the world.

Listen here.

Kelly Rowland, Talk a Good Game

Gone is the demure Kelly Rowland who was painfully boring and goody-goody in interviews. In her place is a more publically forthright woman who isn’t afraid to wave her grownup flag. If you’re already familiar with “Kisses Down Low” and “Dirty Laundry” (which you should be), then just know that those songs set the tone for the rest of the album. And for once, I think Rowland really has a winner.

Not that her past solo work hasn’t been good, but it seems that something was missing. But here she taps more into her R&B roots in addition to letting it all hang out. Speaking of her roots, she enlisted her Destiny’s Child sistren Beyoncé and Michelle Williams for “You Changed”—which basically sounds like it could have been on Destiny Fulfilled—but it’s a nice shot at a reunion. The trio sings soulfully about being different from who they used to be (in the context of make-ups to break-ups, getting over exes and all that good stuff).

Then there’s “Freak,” an electro-pop ode to getting it on—whips and chains style. Rowland’s other collabos include Pusha-T, Whiz Khalifa and The-Dream, and let’s not forget that she’s also another underrated singer. Yet those who know and love her really appreciate her voice, which doesn’t get lost in this album that marks her evolution as a woman really well. It just dropped yesterday and you, like, need it. K?

Available where music is sold.

Prince ft. Ledisi, “Ain’t Gonna Miss U When U’re Gone”

The Purple One tapped Ledisi for this funky anthem representing for all the people scorned by a former lover. The title is self-explanatory, and Prince’s hook goes something like, “Ain’t gonna miss you when you’re gone/The only thing I’m leaving is you alone,” while Ledisi’s adlibs complement the sassy track. Sonically it’s like new millennium Prince meets throwback Prince—something along the lines of if “Black Sweat” had a baby with Vanity 6’s “Nasty Girl.” Apologies if that doesn't make sense, but it’s Prince—so don’t question, just cop it. And in related good news, Prince’s forthcoming album, Plectrum Electrum, is coming out later this year.

Get it here

Starrene Rhett Rocque is a pop culture junky who often fantasizes about becoming a shotgun toting b-movie heroine, and aspires to save the world from the impending #ZombieApocolypse… In reality she’s a freelance entertainment journalist/blogger who muses about music, TV, movies and love. Follow her on Twitter@GangStarrGirl.