I can honestly say that I have been counting down the months, days, hours, minutes and seconds until J. Cole’s third studio album. After the commercial success of Born Sinner in 2013, the anticipation of him releasing new music was very high to me. When I found out that he would be dropping an album without any promotion and no radio singles, the anticipation for me to listen to this album became more of an obsession.
If you are a huge J. Cole fan like myself, then you will be very pleased with 2014 Forest Hills Drive. The title is taken from his former neighbourhood back in North Carolina, on this record, J. Cole tells the tales of his adolescent years and takes us through a journey of a young boy who dreamed about becoming a successful rapper and how his ambition right now is to become a rap legend.
On songs like “January 28th“, J. Cole expresses how he is coming for that Rap crown but not for reasons you might thing, while acknowledging his competitors including Drake and Kendrick Lamar but explains how he is in his own lane, with lyrics like “you might be Drizzy Drake or Kendrick Lamar, but check the birth date, you ain’t the gawd, Cole (is) the gawd“. He also brings up issues to the fact that the only black role models we have are rappers and athletics, and topics like these show how Cole has progressed in his lyrics.
He has always been very lyrical and spiritual, but now we are seeing a more political side of him in this album. With what has been going on in recent events, everyone has been having a opinion on politics in today’s society and it is amazing how J. Cole combines this with spiritual lyrics. Om other songs like “Fire Squad”, J. Cole expresses his concern for Hip Hop music and refers back to this year’s Grammy Awards season, which saw Macklemore beat Kendrick Lamar in the ‘Best Rap album category, which caused major backlash. He also mentions Iggy Azelea, another rapper that has cause major controversy. According to J. Cole, it seems that Hip Hop has turned into a type of gimmick, with people forgetting the origin of its roots and what it started as.
Compared to previous J. Cole albums, it is fair to say that he has become more fearless, from the name dropping of other rappers, to openly expressing his views and concerns about Hip Hop being stolen by white people, and being turned into pop. He clearly isn’t afraid to express his views and frustrations and he is fairly right to say that Hip Hop was created to give a voice to the voiceless and allow people to express themselves in whatever way they wish to. On this record, J. Cole is reminding us of how Hip Hop can give people that back. J. Cole has never been and will never be a gimmick, he clearly isn’t making music for the money or fame, but rather, simply for the fact that he loves Hip Hop and wants to get his message across.
2014 Forest Hills Drive reminds me of J. Cole during his Mixtape days, my all time favourite mixtape of his is The Warm Up and this album reminds me of that. He has worked with the same producers as he has previously in his mixtapes, and they are no features on this album. To me, this shows and proves that J. Cole can stand alone, is beyond the heavy features and isn’t into pleasing the radio and getting airplay this time around, but is simply trying to reach out personally to his fans.
This album does not disappoint at all and I have a strong feeling that it will be a commercial success even though that’s not what he is after and the 2016 Grammy Awards will certainly be dominated in the Hip Hop categories by 2014 Forest Hills Drive. If you aren’t a J. Cole fan, this album will turn you into one and if you are a true Hip Hop fan, you won’t have to worry about the state of it, J. Cole is keeping it alive and with that being said, Hip Hop is in safe hands. J. Cole is coming for that King of Hip Hop title and judging from this album, J. Cole is in the front line.
Words by Okoji Atutu // Edited by Ayo Adepoju