J. Cole: 2014 Forest Hills Drive

I don’t normally do a lot of album or mixtape reviews, but J. Cole is an artist that has truly been very special to me. So without any further ado, here’s my take on 2014 Forest Hills Drive.

From an unknown artist early in the 2000’s, J. Cole (then the Therapist) has come to be a household name in the hip-hop industry today and his rise from albeit cliché, rags to riches, is a journey laden with clever wordplay, a storytelling technique capable of painting Picasso-esque pictures in one’s mind, and most importantly a deeply rooted aura of loyalty and homage to family and friends who made said journey possible. He has remained humble to this day (evidenced in Cole’s “Note To Self”) and has always gone out of his way to show his appreciation for the dedicated fans supporting him.

At this point in Cole’s career, simply put, we’ve seen Cole make it. That in itself creates a sense of pride in those of us who’ve been listening to him since the days of Friday Night Lights, The Warm Up, and even the Come Up. In a nutshell, here we have a boy from a fatherless home in little known Fayetteville, NC make it to NYC and land a record deal with mogul Jay-Z and Roc Nation Records – Unreal. But for the listeners who have been listening for some time now, this is no new story. It’s one that’s become engrained in us and has engineered a bond between listener and musician – to the extent that we, the listener, have made that journey with Cole. His successes became our successes. His failures became our failures. We are one. And the most recent success that J. Cole has had is his 3rd studio album, 2014 Forest Hills Drive.

If I had to describe Forest Hills Drive in a single word, it would be “homecoming”. I believe Cole to some level envisioned his move to NYC as one that would lead him to the success that every up and comer wants – the money, the fortune, the fame…Hollywood. Obviously his songs aren’t as materialistic as some of the hip-hop/rap you hear on Power 98/102 Jamz, etc., but I think it’s only natural for one who doesn’t have much to associate success with those things. Take a look at the intro video for FHD. This is almost a flashback to Cole after just arriving in NYC and looking at all the nice things he can’t have, yearning for them, desiring them.

With the success of Cole World: The Sideline Story and more recently Born Sinner, Cole got those things. But those items and possessions didn’t fill the void that he had inside. And that’s where I come back to this homecoming theme. Cole left Fayetteville to land a deal and chase a dream – to get all of the things that he wanted, that he had ever dreamed of getting. What he came to discover was that what he really wanted but just didn’t realize it at the time (and I don’t mean to be corny), was love – something that he came to know back in Fayetteville, NC. This whole album is really a journey where we see Cole telling us how he has matured artistically from a hungry dreamer to someone who has realized what’s really important in life – the people that surround you in it. Cole uses this album as a way to invite us into his own life and share experiences with us that are very personal to him. He makes himself vulnerable to the audience by doing so and I think that makes us gravitate to him. Whether you like or dislike Cole, I think you have to respect that.

I think one of the songs that illustrates this idea is “Apparently”. Not only does Cole get into real life issues that any one of us could have – home foreclosure, lack of emotion, selfishness – but he manages to include some of the clever wordplay that grabbed our attention from the get go with the “Cole is your phone on 0%. Going off. Now a n*gga showing off…..” There’s a video for this one as well.

However, the track that really brought it home for me was “Love Yourz”. I won’t go into great detail on it because I feel that listening to is has more of an impact, but the line “Always gon’ be a bigger house somewhere, but n*gga feel me, long as the people in that motherf*cker love you dearly.” Cole has realized what really is important in life, which is something all of us need to see.

Reading this, it’s probably not too hard to tell that I’m a supporter of J. Cole. I think the way that he can put his words together, cleverly align them, is unparalleled in the industry. The way he can be so genuine, so real, is something that I think listeners immensely appreciate. However, my opinion is simply that, my opinion. But numbers don’t lie. And selling 375,000 copies of his album in one week, with NO SINGLES, is something that will be raising eyebrows across the hip-hop industry this week. He’s a force to be reckoned with and will be dominating the charts for the forseeable future. I sincerely hope that you take a few minutes to listen to what Cole has to say, he won’t disappoint. #ColeWorld.