J. Cole, ‘Friday Night Lights’ (Roc Nation)
J. Cole is a live-wire rapper like Nas, who feels conflicted about everything like Kanye, yet drops chintzy punch lines like Drake. His third official mixtape is nearly 80 minutes of minor victories (“Before I’m Gone,” an anthemic ode to small-town hustling) and major tragedies (“See World,” about a child’s murder) rapped with sensitivity and something-to-prove intensity. Still, this Jay-Z signee’s sincerity can lapse into smarminess (“Too Deep For The Intro”) and his underdog pose is often too pained (“The Autograph”). Ultimately, it’s Cole’s wearily soulful, self-produced beats (and freestyles over Kanye and Timbaland hits) that keep this compelling, occasionally cloying set shining brightly.