For months one of our students has proselytized on behalf of J. Cole — “the best rapper in the game,” he claims. Jermaine Lamarr Cole, whose name reminds me of a late nineteenth century, aggressively bearded Supreme Court justice’s, is observant and introspective when duty calls. On tracks like “Lost Ones,” he has the empathy to play the part of the woman sick to death of guys running out on her — that is, he doesn’t subcontract it to Keyshia Cole or some other soul sister. He produces and arranges most of his own beats, sometimes with a flair for symphonics (the swelling brass on “Breakdown”). So why does Cole World – The Sideline Story sound tentative? The only verse I can remember after playing the thing four times is the one about “brains blown like Cobain,” whose tastelessness is the point. He includes bluster like “Rise and Shine.” He’s either too dumb to hear how the grossness of “God’s Gift” undercuts “Lost Ones” or I’m not giving him enough credit for shrewdness; this leaden misogyny represents what Cole thinks the game demands. Is that why he buried the crypto-apology “Never Told” in the last third? Stay tuned.