J. Cole releases his most personal and poignant album.
J. Cole has come a long way from rapping about how to get up off the sideline. Three albums in, with 2014 Forest Hills Drive, the “God” is home. The Fayetteville, North Carolina native composed an honest, nostalgic album without any apologies. Cole typically plays it safe, straddling the fence of a conscious rapper who can still create commercial hits and enjoy a good romp in the bed. “For the past four-five years of my career, I’ve always been very politically correct, riding that line. But at the end of the day, I realize I’m doing myself a disservice and I’m doing people a disservice because I could say one thing. If I’m speaking my mind and saying how I truly feel, I might say one thing that connects the dots for somebody, that might have been the right connection that was needed,” he directly admits during a recent interview with Angie Martinez.
The 13-track, featureless album opens up with “Intro,” an inquisitive song about liberation. A raspy-sounding Cole sings, “Do you wanna, do you wanna be, happy?” over a melancholy piano beat. His voice escalates as the track progresses and Cole begins to rap about getting free. When Cole asks, “Do you wanna be free?”, it’s as if he’s not only speaking to his listeners but speaking to himself, conscious of the fact that 2014 Forest Hills Drive is his most personal and poignant release.
“What’s the price for a black man life?/I check the toe tag/Not one zero in sight/I turned the TV on/Not one hero in sight/Unless he dribble or he fiddle with mics,” hespits on “January 28th” before paying homage to his predecessors like Rakim, Big Daddy Kane and Slick Rick (only to follow up the recognition with a proclamation that he’s the rap God and they’re not). The Grammy-nominated artist then moves on to a "dear diary"-type revelation of losing his virginity on “Wet Dreamz.” Cole continues to showcase the growth of his vulnerability and storytelling skills on “03 Adolescence,” an apologetic reference to admiring a drug-dealing friend, who looked up to a college-bound Cole. “He just laughed when he seen I was sure/17 years breathing, his demeanor said more/He told me/Nigga you know how you sound right now/You are my mans/I would think you that you a clown right now/Listen, you’re everything I wanna be that’s why I fucks with you/So how you looking up to me? When I look up to you/You bout to go get a degree I’mma be stuck with two choices,” he raps.
After scolding himself, the self-proclaimed "king" specifically calls out a myriad of white artists (Eminem, Justin Timberlake, Macklemore and Iggy Azalea) for appropriating and co-opting black culture on “Fire Squad.” Some have deemed it a diss track, but it’s nothing of the sort. Before pointing fingers at his counterparts, he makes historical references to black music being stolen. Veering away from serious and controversial issues, Cole samples Project Pat on “No Role Modelz,” a comical ode to depthless women and hip-hop loveables like Trina, Aaliyah, dark skin Aunt Vivian (of "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air"), Sade and Nia Long.
The Southern rapper closes out the album with reflections. Due to being fatherless, Cole deems himself unqualified to play step-dad on “Hello,” displaying a mixture of singing and fast rapping about a “sad” lost love. On “Apparently,” one of many tracks that Cole produces on his own, he references purchasing his childhood home (2014 Forest Hills Drive), which his mother previously lost to foreclosure. A regretful Cole unveils that he was too busy chasing women to comfort his mother during the traumatizing ordeal. By the end of the album, two things are certain: Jermaine Cole is cocky enough to claim the thrown and humble enough to request unity amongst fellow rappers, including those he took shots at. Cole may not be the king of rap, but at least this time he didn’t let Nas down.