J. Cole,

When you let “Tears for ODB” go, I questioned your voice and virtue as always and debated the merits of your title. I heard you again approximating Tupac — and missing Tupac — with your roughly earnest form, already attentive to the “latest and greatest” and “hip-hop prestige” that could come back soon with Born Sinner (and did). But to be honest, the song didn’t do much more than compel me to dig back into Russell Jones for the first time with old ears.

Ol’ Dirty Monster of Twisting Persona and Hysteria would have suited Russell better, but Jack Kennedy and M.L.K. and I can see the clout in three initials. When you have a chance, note the ruckus he followed with on track two of Enter the Wu-Tang. Then note that you can’t resurrect ruckus from a fabricated grave, so don’t try. Your first week sales are proof enough that it’s okay to be Jermaine.

Wu-Tang is for the children, and do you also judge people by their favorite Clan member? Personally, I’d rather my son or daughter be a GZA, though I could learn to enjoy the rabid singularity of an O.D.B. sans drugs. Then again, what O.D.B. would there be without drugs? And what would art be without the drug of confidence? Maybe true artists must die young with their vigor burning in a downward-spiraling flame.

Now, show me an album opener that tops one of Ason Unique’s and I’ll show you a recent Wayne song that doesn’t mention beating up a pussy. Return To The 36 Chambers begins with an Oscar-worthy soliloquy — a nearly-five-minute act that gave him and his crackling intonations of mayhem their proper introduction. On “Recognize,” the Bastard’s enthusiasm manages to eclipse that of guest Chris Rock, turning The Neptunes’ production into a podium for his everlasting schizo shouts.

Look at the manic face on the food coupon ID cover of his debut album. Here Jones began the shortened process of documenting his troubled fury and mastering his profane and comic art — stimulating minds on “Raw Hide” and acting as the doped tour-guide of the “Brooklyn Zoo” in his mind. Then look at how he stands on the front of Nigga Please like a potbellied Rick James returned from a wilderness trip with no razor, staring stoically at the sky as if awaiting a tractor beam to take him back to his planet.

I bet he’s back there now, joining Van Gogh and Hendrix and Kerouac to chase fleeting, spontaneous visions in a boundless arena. Meanwhile, I sit here writing to you about your tears. “Good Morning, Heartache” is the one that really gets to me. There may never be a purer incarnation of tortured soul.

A Lamenting Critic

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