J. Cole - 2014 Forest Hills Drive

by Barney Ross Smith

Jermaine (J.) Cole returns after last year’s Born Sinner with his third studio album, 2014 Forest Hills Drive. Cole has always been very interesting with the way he makes releases; Born Sinner’s release date was moved up a week, to compete with Kanye West, purposely being released on the same day as Yeezus. Cole always manages to be charmingly self-confident.

2014 Forest Hills Drive starts mellow with Intro. Cole sings a looped vocal of “Do you wanna be happy?” over an accompaniment of piano and keys. The song crescendos with passionate lyrics and a fuller accompaniment, but still no beat; certainly a much more emotional start compared to Villuminati of Born Sinner. The listener questions who Cole may be talking to when asking “Do you wanna be happy?” which engaged me from the start. I actually cracked into a smile when the bass of the second song, January 28th, kicked in; the classic hip-hop beat and sampling was massively emphasised by the mellow nature of the song previous, Intro. To make matters better, his lyrics and flow appear to have lost absolutely, rapping in January 28th about race, his talent, and the struggles of fame passionately. These opening two tracks together make for a superb start to the album.

Wet Dreamz follows, and tells a story of a teenage infatuation. J. Cole speaks of a young version of himself as a virgin, falling for a girl, and their first romantic venture. Too scared to say he was a virgin, he finds out that she was too. A perhaps relatable story, the most astonishing thing for me is Cole’s ability to paint a vivid picture of two teenagers, passing notes in ‘math’ class and making such a typical American ‘rom-com’ story so believable. Wet Dreamz is immediately followed by 03’ Adolescence, carrying on with the theme of his teenage years and the struggles of growing up. Atmospheric reverb echoing the vocals gives a nostalgic feel, and Cole again proves his story-telling prowess as well as his fantastic lyricism.

From a trailer park, to a front yard with trees in the sky. Thank you momma, dry your eyes, there ‘aint no reason to cry.

My favourite song of the album follows - A Tale Of 2 Citiez. This is how I want J. Cole to sound more often. A sinister sample loops hypnotically and meets deep bass that made me physically grimace. The song is dark and dramatic, the beat is addictive, and Cole’s lyrics about street crime and dreams of getting rich fit the song perfectly. The next song, Fire Squad, has a driving rhythm, and fits the theme of the chorus lyrics alluding to getting rich and working towards the top.

If you scared to take a chance, How the fuck we gon’ get rich?

Fire Squad contains the best verse of the album, starting with “History repeats itself and that’s just how it goes, same way that these rappers always bite each other’s flows”, proving his undeniable lyricism. Track seven, St Tropez, is not a stand-out track but is still a pleasant listen. A female voice frequently interjects with harmonies which give an R&B feel to the song. The song fades out with a soulful horn section instrumental, ending an easy-listening, but not game-changing track (although Cole’s intentions with the song were clearly never to record something that would blow minds).

G.O.M.D begins with a vocal sample and deep, droning bass reminiscent of Kendrick Lamar’s fantastic Backseat Freestyle. Synths and keyboards enter and create a funkier vibe to the song – head-nodding is irresistible. The last section of the song sees a dramatic stripping down of the beat and a deeper bass. The beat becomes much more sinister and Cole’s lyrics have a greater focus on race and ego in this section; areas where his lyrics are most powerful. No Role Modelz feels emotive, and the chord progression is pleasant. However, the song does not stand out and feels somewhat forgettable.

Tracks ten and eleven, Hello and Apparently, have similar vibes to No Role Modelz. Hello adds an emotional groove to the album, with the addition of the piano creating this effect. Apparently is very similar, both strongly incorporating Cole’s unique style of singing his rap lyrics occasionally. Yet both tracks lack the impact of tracks like A Tale Of 2 Citiez.

Love Yourz is also very similar to the two previous tracks. However, this is has more of an impact for me. Cole powerfully questions fame and whether or not it brings happiness.

There’s beauty in the struggle, ugliness in the success.

Cole finishes the album with Note To Self, an interesting fourteen minute tribute to all those that have helped him. He voices his gratitude in spoken verse in a humorous test of patience to the audience - fourteen minutes is a long time but I made it (just). Some of the words in this finale are some of the most pungent of the whole album: “I don’t care if we sell three copies, we killed this shit”. Funnily enough, you do believe him…