J. Cole, a rapper and songwriter, from Fayetteville, North Carolina. On December 9th he released his 3rd LP, 2014 Forest Hills Drive, much to the surprise of many when he announced it. Although, 2014 Forest Hills Drive, is only his 3rd major release–he is a veteran–of the rap game. With an array of mix-tapes, and a semi-unprolific underground career, he broke out in 2010 with the release of his highly anticipated mix-tape–Friday Night Lights. Well-known among the mix-tape circuit, with features on many notable tracks including: “A Star is Born”, “Beautiful Bliss”, and “All I want is you”, by Jay-Z, Wale and Miguel–respectively. In 2011, after much anticipation and hard work, Cole World: Sideline Story is released to mixed reviews, sparking the burgeoning career of the–blunt, transplanted Southern MC with an insatiable appetite. After 2 more LPs’ and many other mix-tapes we arrive at this current album–2014 Forest Hills Drive.
J. Cole in 13-tracks shows the emotional rawness, and maturity, after almost 6 ‘significant’ years in the game. He begins the album with the “Intro”, a song he released a video before the album came out, which typical of a J. Cole album, lays out the theme of the entire album to come; in this case being love, happiness and freedom. Delving straight into “January 28th” a lyrically verbose track, flexing his muscles and inevitably claiming his throne at the top of the rap game.
Next we have “Wet Dreamz”, the pinnacle of Cole’s refined storytelling, poignancy and conceptual framework within this album, following Cole’s earlier years–his ‘virgin years’–and his sojourn to link up with this cutie in his class. He eloquently shows his bravado and false sense of confidence positing “I wrote back and said “[O]f course I had sex before // Knowing I was frontin’ I said // I was like a pro baby // Knowing I was stuntin”–resonating heavily. Without spoiling the end, this story does not cease to disappoint.
Moreover, following his prototype since days of the Come Up, he opens his album with an evocative, pathos laced, introduction setting the stage for his fieriest lyrics, “January 28th”, “Wet Dreamz”, “03′ Adolescence” and “Fire Squad”, in essence, leaving the middle filled with ’empty’ content and ending with the revival of his introductory themes. This was most evident in his past LP, Born Sinner. However his instrumentals were definitely a step in the right direction, albeit many tracks were tinged with borderline “over-experimentation”–leaving them undesired. Most prevalent on “G.O.M.D”, on the contrary, beats that were spectacular included: “Fire Squad” and “No Role Modelz”, especially for their move away from the over-saturation of ‘boom-bap’ beats and the diversity of sonic appeals. In sum, I wish that J. Cole used more than his, notoriously well-done, piano led beats, I know he shines well on less-aggressive sounds, laced with strings, keys and horns, but it would have been nice to hear him on more sounds like, “Mr. Nice Watch”, or “Chaining Day”, or (a real throwback) “Split You Up.”
His best LP to this day, 2014 Forest Hills Drive, does not disappoint, in comparison. However, as a stand-alone album, I have a few suggestions. First, this CD was clearly his most politically charged in light of–the tragedy continuing in Ferguson, MO–and his public outcry, but why was he so subversive in his lyrically content in regards to that issue? Clearly the themes he outlines from the beginning, love, happiness and freedom, have a alternate meaning but his album was very covert about these references (I am not advocating for ‘more’ or ‘less’ political references, just urging Cole to be more explicit). Second, the abundance of singing was too much for me. He is not a bad singer, but he isn’t that good either, this was his best effort rapping, in terms of lyrics, flow and sincerity, why not continue it? Lastly, as many have stated this was his most personal and powerful album to-date but the layout and flow of the entire album was exactly the same as all his other LPs’, come on Cole I know you can do better than that.
Overall though the ‘pros’ far out weighing the ‘cons’, making for a highly replayable album, far from a classic but clearly showing the artistic and emotional growth of Jermaine Cole.
Overall Rating: 8/10
Replay Value: 8/10
What else I have been listening to: Welcome to Fazoland by G Herbo aka Lil’ Herb; 6 God by Drake; and anticipating the Bobby Schmurda release.