In the days of audacious braggadociousness in the Hip Hop industry, there are still those artists that attempt to bring real content and messages to the game. The average Joe, the every man’s man, the one gifted to with the ability to relate and appeal to the laymen. J. Cole is certainly one of those artists, and he stayed true to the blueprint with his latest release 2014 Forest Hills Drive. Forest Hills Drive is the street that Mr. Jermaine Cole was raised on, the place where the seeds were sown to develop the impactful artist that we are very much aware of today. And throughout much of this album, it felt like Cole was trying his utmost to take us on a trip back in time through his adolescence and into his transition from a boy to a man.
In the introduction, Cole croons about the pursuit of happiness in a life that can present many hardships over his own trademark soulful production. This track is solemn yet triumphant as he celebrates his own ability to overcome. J. Cole takes the initiative to provide some striking commentary on inner city strife in “January 28” with quotables such as this.
I hope that we remember these
Nights fulla Hennessey
When Hov around we switch up to that D’usse
Gotta show respect, one day we tryna stay where you stay
Cause we from where you from
Not talkin’ bout the slums
I’m talkin’ ’bout that mind state that keep a black nigga dumb
Keep a black nigga dyin’ by a black nigga gun
The preceding bars really capture the main point that I believe that Cole was trying to convey on the song. Detailing his rise to the top, and how nobody can match the skills of the man born on January 28, J. Cole. He even goes as far as to boldly proclaim himself the god even when matched against the greats and legends.
This track is followed by the all too relatable “Wet Dreamz”, in which Cole tells us a story of him losing his virginity in his adolescence–a track that epitomizes his ability to make highly relatable content. One of the standout tracks on the album in my opinion was “03’ Adolescence”. Here he goes into detail on his lack of confidence in his youth and his desire to fit in, almost to the point of making a potentially life ruining decision until these wise words received from his friend.
And just asked, “What a nigga gotta do to get that?
Put me on,” 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?
If you wasn’t my mans, I would think that you a clown right now
Listen, you 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’ma be stuck with two choices:
Either graduate to weight or selling number two
For what? A hundred bucks or two a week?
Do you think that you would know what to do if you was me?
This is Cole’s greatest display of lyricism and storytelling on the album, outlining this poignant exchange that changed his outlook on life and made him appreciative of all that he had. TDE affiliate Willie B produced this track and laid a great backdrop for Cole’s story to be told.
On “Fire Squad”, Cole transitions into brash aggressiveness, addressing the questionable rise of white artists receiving accolades in a black art form, such as Iggy Azalea and Macklemore. His goal is to take the crown and destroy it in order to promote more unity in a divided and combative industry. “St. Tropez” is a smooth track that is right down my alley in its laid back soulful sound–even with Cole attempts to harmonize on the track. J. Cole’s use of the same sample as Mobb Deep’s “ Give up the Goods”, Esther Phillips “That’s All Right With Me”, was honestly all it took the grab me on this one. However, I realize that this track may be too slow for many and Cole’s attempts at singing may cause some dismay.
From this point forward the album unfortunately took a bit of a nosedive for me. Nothing too bad, but I found myself struggling to remain engaged from time to time. “G.O.M.D.”, is a track that I could of done without as well as “Hello”, which features Cole harmonizing once again, only this time lacking the production and accompanying vocals to make it digestible. “No Role Modelz” comes across as a potential anthem track where Cole explains the difference between a dignified woman worthy of respect, and groupies/hoes to lames worldwide. “Love Yourz” is an inspiring track that is to serve as a reminder to be thankful for everything you have instead of comparing yourself to someone else who may “appear” to have a better life. The grass isn’t always greener on the other side.
Overall, I have to say that this is a very solid effort by J. Cole as he stays true to his DNA, however, in the future I‘d like to see an expansion of his content from his often utilized adolescent themes. Diehard fans of the God MC certainly shouldn’t be disappointed though. Absolutely no one can say that he didn’t remain true.
Standout tracks: “03 Adolescence”, “Fire Squad”, “No Role Models”