ALBUM REVIEW: 2014 Forest Hills Drive-J.Cole

I've never done too many hip hop reviews for Spotlight or any of the websites I've written for honestly. The last one I remember doing for a mainstream artist was my review of Wale's sophomore album Ambition back in 2011...and that was for a music writing class my senior year at Loyola (*laughs*).

However, I'm trying to do more music and movie reviews, and it starts with the albums that I'm actually buying, which includes J. Cole's junior album, 2014 Forest Hills Drive. Cole did something different this time around by deciding not to collaborate with anyone or drop any singles, just giving his listeners a release date of December 9th, an order link on iTunes, and a video for his Intro as he rides his bike through NYC. Now the album is here, and the reviews are mostly pretty good!

What I respect about Cole is that he is really is about his music. Sure, every artist is somewhat driven by sales, but some artists take it too far releasing terrible content with a catchy hook that the audience is sure to dance to (*insert whoever's name here*). To me, Cole isn't like that. He carefully crafts his lyrics, which, as a listener, I love, because he is one of very few rappers who makes me think (as a blogger, I get annoyed when I can't get it, because I'm trying to write a damn review here!). Throughout the album, Cole literally takes listeners on a journey through his younger years until now, and you really get a feel for who he is as Jermaine and not just J. Cole. 

Check out my song by song review below!

"Do you wanna, do you wanna be...happy? Do you wanna, do you wanna be...free? J. Cole scratchily (yet still sexily...ahhh!) croons on the "Intro," just him and the piano. Though I'm sure the intro pose questions to listeners, it also seems to be his own self-reflection of where he wants to be in his own life. "Do you wanna be...free? Free from pain, free from scars, free to sing, free from bars," he sings, seeming to want to break free from his own box that he may have been put in as an artist. Not that this intro is all that deep, but I liked developing my interpretations. However he meant it, it's a start to the album that shows that it should be a personal, reflective album.

If you believe in God, one thing's for sure. If you ain't aim too high, then you aim too low." "January 28th" is actually Cole's birthday, and here is where his journey begins. The rapper admits that he doesn't have his life figured out completely yet, but he's still confident is his abilities and what he brings to the table as an artist, believing himself to be a "rap god." He also discusses "the value of a black man's life," bringing to mind the recent Ferguson and Eric Garner Grand Jury decisions. The beat is smooth, and Cole's honesty and rap flow kept my interest as I listened.

"I want it bad, and I ain't never been obsessed before... she wrote a note that said "You ever had sex before?" Cole takes us back to his first time in "Wet Dreamz" and I found myself chuckling the entire song. You know guys. They try to act like they got it all together when it comes to scooping a girl, especially when it comes to having sex. Cole's honest that he was the same way, but behind the scenes was practicing and planning for his first time with a girl from his math class. Only to find out that she was a virgin too...plot twist! It's a smooth song, that is a nice walk down memory lane for Cole and probably other guys out there too.

"Listen, you everything I wanna be that's why I f**ks with you. So how you looking up to me, when I look up to you?" "03' Adolescence" takes us back in 2003, when Cole first graduated from high school and headed to NYC to go to St John's University. It's clear again here how great he is at storytelling. Cole admits that as a boy from Fayettesville, NC coming to the big city, he suffered from self-esteem issues from his clothes, to funds, to getting girls. He admired one of his friends from school who was selling dope on the side getting a little money, only to find out that his friend looked up to and wanted to be like HIM. It made Cole realize that he had come so far, and refuse to take any of his opportunities for granted from here on out.

"Small town n***a Hollywood dreams...I know that everything that glitters ain't gold. I know the s**t ain't always good as it seems, but tell me till you get it how could you know?" Cole admits in "A Tale of 2 Citiez" how he wanted to be done with the Ville and make it big to escape the lower class life. He speaks on how people here commit crimes on the regular, but can't blame them because they only want material things too. Cole realizes that fame and fortune might not be all that it's cracked up to be, but how would you really know unless you've experienced it. He wanted to at least see for himself, as most of us do! Oh, and this beat? EVERYTHING.

"I came to bring the pain, my brain too quick.You see how I maneuver this game, I ain't stupid..." With a heavy 80s/90s reminiscent beat, "Fire Squad" will seemingly put you in the middle of an old school hip hop battle or cypher where Cole just goes in! Of course, he's gotten some fire for discussing white privilege and appropriation in hip hop with Justin Timberlake, Eminem, and Macklemore as examples. And yeah, he'll probably watch Iggy win a Grammy as he has to force a smile. Can't say I completely disagree about what he said, but, to me, it made it seem like music genres have color. Why can't whites love and be involved in hip hop, and kill it (well, not many of them), without it always being attributed to their race? JT and Eminem are amazing because of their talent and material. The reason Macklemore did so well, honestly, is because he has a more mainstream sound that can crossover to many listeners than a lot of other rappers, not necessarily because he's white. And Iggy? Well, Iggy's Iggy, but I still like her! But anyways, that's just a few lines of the song. Cole also discusses how he's different, and yes, one of the best in hip hop, even if the sales and attention don't necessarily show it.  The way he attacked on this track, who could deny him that? Overall, this was a solid track, and I applaud Cole for it.

"She asked me if I'm scared to fly...to tell the truth I'm terrified. I never been that high before. Very bad reason not to go, terrible reason not to go..." On "St. Tropez," we hear Cole tell the story of his career finally taking off, and his acquiring of the fame and fortune that he wanted back in "A Tale of 2 Citiez." Though he was nervous about actually making it, and was afraid to get caught up in the lifestyle, he is now focused on his career. With that intense focus, his personal life sometimes takes a hit, especially with his relationship with his family and girlfriend. However, he's still going after his dreams.

"Lord will you tell me if I changed, I won't tell nobody, I wanna go back to Jermaine, and I won't tell nobody..." On "G.O.M.D.," it's clear in this part of the journey that Cole has gotten caught up in the life, but still has his doubts about it all. His relationship is done after he went off messing with other woman, and he secretly wants to just be Jermaine again. Towards the end, he begins to see that there is more to life than just fame, especially for black people. However, he knows that rapping is his gift, so he plans to use it to make his and others' dreams come true (with his new label Dreamville Records).The track takes you through several different beats, but somehow someway, they mesh. I really liked this one.

"But then I thought back, back to a better me,before I was a B-list celebrity...Before I started callin' b***hes b***hes so heavily, back when you could get a platinum plaque without no melody. You wasn't sweatin' me..." "No Role Modelz" is somewhat the beginning of Cole's "snap back to reality" moment, though he's only speaking about the women that surround him in this. To him, long gone are the days of the independent woman that he could really fall in love with (though I can argue that guys who think like that either aren't looking hard enough, or are trying to win those women over with money and fame, which won't work for a real woman). Now, he's stuck with "hoes from reality shows," who seemingly have no character or personality. Kind of your own fault though, Cole.

"Reflection bring regrets, don't it? Rejection makes you defensive...So you protect your pride with your reflexes, but life is a game with no reset on the end..." Cole continues to reflect on his past in "Hello," thinking specifically of a woman he used to see, who has now moved on with her life and has two kids of her own. He still pines for her, and regrets that he let that relationship go.

"I keep my faith strong...I ask the Lord to follow me. I've been unfaithful...I don't know why You call on me..." Cole recognizes just how far he has slipped in "Apparently," and wants to correct his screw ups. Apparently  He dropped a nice video which features some clips of his mom and his house at 2014 Forest Hills Drive.

"On the road to riches listen this is what you'll find... the good news is n***a you came a long way The bad news is n***a you went the wrong way. Think being broke was better..." "Love Yourz" brings us to Cole in present day, who, after all this time, has really shown growth and improvement. He realizes that happiness isn't necessarily found in the fame and fortune that he has acquired now. He tells listeners to be happy with what they have, because this life ain't all it's cracked up to be.

"I've got a feeling that there's somethin' more...something that holds us together. Something that holds us together..." The smooth ending to the album, "Note to Self," gives us Cole's final outlook on life. After this journey that he's taken us on throughout the album, we find that his belief is that loving each other is the most important thing. That's what holds everybody together, and I definitely agree. The rest of the track is literally credits (which is why it's 14 1/2 minutes long), as Cole shouts out his team, his family, his label, and other artists. Different, but a good moment for him.

This is probably my favorite J. Cole album now. I LOVE vulnerability in artists, and this is Cole's vulnerable, self-proclaimed "F*ck Hollywood" album. He's been open in other songs before this obviously, but I loved the fact that this album took us through a whole journey of how Cole became the Cole that he is right now in 2014, even with the ups and downs of his career. I could see why he didn't put out any singles, because this isn't an album that has any songs they will play on the radio and people will rock out to. They might play "Apparently" every now and then, but it's not an every hour on the hour type of song. This album is a STORY, and Cole does an amazing job telling it. This is a full body of work where Cole is just expressing himself, whether you rock with it or not. And I love it.

RATING: ★★★★★ (Five stars)

What did you think of J. Cole's latest album?

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