Review: 2014 Forest Hills Drive by J. Cole
“I’ve gotten to this point in my career and realized that, yeah I got a lot more dreams and I want to go further, but at the same time I don’t want it if it’s at the expense of my happiness…” -Jermaine Cole
On November 16th, rapper J. Cole arose from the darkness and announced that he would be releasing his third studio album titled 2014 Forest Hills Drive on December 9th. Fans, including myself, were super stoked to hear this news. Cole mentioned on his Facebook page that no singles will be released in the three weeks leading up to the release. A short video shot in Fayetteville shows Cole taking us to his hometown, reminiscing about one of the first times he freestyled at his high school and hanging out at different spots around the town with his friends. Towards the end of the video, Cole explains that he wants to reconnect with his small-town life and rediscover “real happiness” after being in the Hollywood spotlight for several years. Last week, Cole tweeted “F*** money, spread Love” in light of his album being leaked to his millions of listeners. Since the man himself said that it was okay to listen to his album beforehand, here are some of my thoughts on the brand new album!
Track 1: Intro
J. Cole starts off the album with the words “Do you wanna be happy?” with a smooth piano/trumpet background and establishes that everyone wants to be something in this world. Everyone faces their own obstacles throughout their lives but still conquer their fears and make something of themselves. He talks about freeing himself from all the negative energy in his life and only looking forward towards success. With a 2-minute chant-like introductory song, Cole definitely sets the mood for the entire project.
Track 2: January 28th
Titled after his own birthday, J. Cole begins the album by taking us on a tour through his life, starting with his earliest years. He talks about his past friends, the current state of the black men in America, and the fact that he’s the best rapper in the game. The chorus basically says if you don’t aim for the stars then you’ll never reach them because you will always sell yourself short. This smooth jazzy beat compliments Cole’s classic flow and is a great starting track for the album.
Track 3: Wet Dreamz
The timeline of 2014 Forest Hill Drive progresses to Cole’s teenage years as he reminisces about his “first time” with a girl. He deals with the typical play-it-cool attitude when in reality all he knows about sexually are his wet dreams. This track instantly became one of my favorite tracks of the album, with the classic Family Circle “Mariya” sample and relatable lyrics for any young teen going through the motions and thoughts about losing their virginity. By the end of the track, Cole is struck with a pleasant surprise when he realizes the girl he’s doing the deed with is also new to the game.
Track 4: ’03 Adolescence
The title implies this was the J. Cole back in 2003, when he was just about eighteen years old. He talks about about being a young boy, taking things for granted and not fully understanding everything in life. This track also deals with the low self-esteem his younger self suffered from when talking to the opposite gender. On this track, Cole shows us what he’s always been best at: storytelling. He ends the song with a reassurance to his audience that he knows he’s the “illest alive”.
Track 5: A Tale of Citiez
We all know the famous Charles Dickens novel “A Tale of Two Cities”, but Cole tells us his own adaptation of two cities (New York and Fayetteville). For the rapper, the events take place after 2003 and his move to New York City. He talks about always dreaming about becoming rich as a child and how he was determined to make that dream come true. “Last night I had a bad dream that I was trapped in this city”. This line is a double entendre on the dangers of the city he was brought up in and the fear of staying in the same city forever, not being able to pursue his lifelong dreams. This track is also one of my favorites off the album because of the double entendre upon the two cities that made him the rapper who he is today. I was discussing this song with one of my friends (Hi Harry!!) and his personal interpretation of the track is as follows: “Two verses, two guys. Both unsatisfied with their current position in their city, both want money and material things. First is honest and ambitious and trying to figure it out. Second wants it so bad he takes the hustler route, doing illegal things. At the end both meet at the moment of theft. You either take or you get taken from. Both routes are valid, but snakes make their way to the top quicker by being snakes, the honest route is a slow burner but eventually leads to better things.” Something to think about the next time you listen, right?
Track 6: Fire Squad
On this track, Cole attempts to restore the balance in hip-hop as he criticizes (but does not offend) white privilege and white appropriation of hip-hop culture. He specifically speaks of the Macklemore-Kendrick Lamar Grammy controversy and Iggy Azalea’s astonishing popularity in one of his verses. In the storyline of the album, this is Cole on the come up in New York asserting his dominance in the rap game. This song samples Manzel’s record “Midnight Theme” and shows Cole’s alter ego, Lil’ Cole towards the end which adds more spark and sass to the track.
Track 7: St. Tropez
This track is titled after the city of St. Tropez, France, a city used as a metaphor for fame and fortune more than one in the hip-hop industry. Drastically changing from the tone of “Fire Squad,” we see the rising action of the album changing as Cole’s career is starting to take off, as said in the hook of this song (“He’s on his way, he’s ’bout to get paid
He’s on his way to Hollywood”). With the smooth beat and production sampling a Esther Phillips classic in this track, Cole allows himself to express his rise to fame through a city that is known for exactly that.
Track 8: GOMD
On the eighth track of the album, Cole is starting to lose himself in Hollywood; becoming arrogant and making typical mainstream music (as mocked in the hook). When the second verse comes along, his first doubts about his new lifestyle and how he should focus more on true happiness and genuine love begin to arise. Thus, it begins the transition to the Cole we all love, trying to get in touch with his roots and find himself throughout the rest of the project. When listened to closely, this track is the ultimate climax of 2014 Forest Hills Drive when the rapper realizes that making typical club bangers is not his style and he must stick to his classic self.
Track 9: No Role Modelz
After his realization on the previous track, Cole begins the final transition on the album. He takes a look back into his life and decides what he wants for his future. Upon looking back he sees who effected his path up to this point and realizes that he didn’t have a real model growing up. “Don’t save her, she don’t wanna be saved”. This line is a double entendre on the hip-hop industry in dire need of being saved from all the trashy club bangers and a girl who needs to be saved from her lifestyle but thinks she is fine exactly where she stands. This song brings out a lot of Cole’s frustrations with the earlier years of his life, but realizes there’s not much he can change about it now.
Track 10: Hello
As Cole describes the absence of love in his, he decides to call up an old flame to see if they can rekindle what they had, only to find out she started a new life. His listeners can hear the rapper attempt to reach over to his phone and attempt to call the girl, hence the repetition of “hello”, while contemplating how he could have changed his life with her. Unfortunately, this track is my least favorite one of the album for the sudden shift in mood and lack of rhythmic flow from Cole.
Track 11: Apparently
Closing in on the final tracks of the project, J. Cole reflects on the wrong decisions he’s made in life and attempts to correct them now knowing how much people look up to him as a recording artist and producer. The second verse shows Cole telling his listeners that he has not fully grasped everything he needs to know in life, but it’s starting to come together before the closing of the album. Not one of my favorite tracks of the album, but still tells another side of Cole’s eventful life.
Track 12: Love Yourz
On this almost closing track, Cole is saying to love what you have, no matter what it may be. There’s always going to be someone who has something better than what you have, but when you appreciate and love what (or who) you have instead of focusing on what someone else has, you will be happier in life. Cole draws back to the intro of the album and its main themes as he comes full circle back to present day. A much wiser Cole reflects on the most important things in life such as love and happiness. Not a memorable track from the album, but still powerful.
Track 13: Note to Self
The final song on 2014 Forest Hills Drive completes Cole’s main outlook on life: Love one another and life will fall into place. After giving his last verse on the project, he uses the rest of the song as the credits for the album and takes the time to show love to every single person who took part in the production of the album. Enough though this track plays as album credits, I still love the meaning and effect it leaves on his listeners as he ends his journey with us.
Overall, this album is definitely J. Cole’s best work yet. He is still growing as an artist from his previous album (Born Sinner), but he has stripped down and put his heart and soul into this project, really showing his listeners a tracklist of his life. I can honestly say that Cole has mastered his craft in ways most of these artists have not. The album starts off on a very high note and builds up until the “GOMD”, but trails into a slow, but not terrible, decline towards the end. However, if you’re a fan of smooth beats and storytelling verses, you will definitely enjoy this work of art. You can purchase the album on iTunes or stream it on Spotify. Cole World forever, right?!
What is your favorite song on the album? Comment below and let us know what you think!
By Rupal Mehta