It’s been one year since J Cole dropped the, as he would say, certified classic, “2014 Forest Hills Drive.” And I am also going to call this album a certified classic. From start to finish, this album has no weak points, no bad songs. I have listened to the entire album over 60 times and certain individual songs upwards of 100 times. It may not be considered one of the best albums of all time, but to me, it is. And here’s why:
Cole takes us back to his life as a kid, growing up in Fayetteville, NC. The album is an ode to his roots, to the small city kids, and the ultimate fuck Hollywood album. But what I like most about the album is that Cole doesn’t rely on radio singles and huge guest features to sell records. This album features one man, and that is J Cole himself. And yes, you’ve heard singles off the album on the radio, but none of these were released before the album dropped. This makes 2014 Forest Hills Drive the first hip-hop album in over 25 years to be certified platinum without any features. Think about that. Of all the amazing artists and albums that have come out in the past 25+ years, NO ONE has a certified platinum album without a feature on it. Welcome to Cole World.
As I mentioned earlier, the album takes us through the life of a young Cole. It also gives very inspirational messages throughout. Freedom, love, and happiness are the key elements to the album. And isn’t that what life should be about? So many of us (myself included) dwell on materialistic things and often strain ourselves trying to impress others by purchasing flashy things to indicate success. This album challenges that idea. It makes you believe in yourself as a human, not the things you buy or the places you go. We idolize and imitate celebrities and their fancy things all the time. But in this album, Cole tells us that everything that glitters ain’t gold. Buying nice shit doesn’t make you happy. Living in a place like Hollywood doesn’t make you happy. Only you can make yourself happy. The intro begins by asking, “Do you wanna, do you wanna be happy/ Do you wanna, do you wanna be, free?” It sets the tone for the album and its overall theme. Then, on the next track, “January 28th,” Cole begins the journey in his life. The song is basically a young man wondering if he can make it in the rap game and ultimately that you can, but do it your own way and block out the opinion of others. “Wet Dreamz” is that one song you can’t forget. A story all too real for every person, especially the male fan base, about that very first time with a sexual partner. Some may think it’s a corny song, but they’d be close-minded people. One thing about Cole is that he keeps it real and this song is as real as it gets (and pretty damn funny too). Plus, how amazing in this music video?
“03’ Adolescence” is about 18 year old J Cole, an aspiring rapper headed for college. The song deals with Cole’s deepest insecurities and uncertainties about his future at the time. “A Tale of 2 Citiez,” one of the more aggressive songs on the album, delves into the two sides of his hometown, Fayetteville. The affluent area and the poor, crime-ridden area may be in the same town, but they create very different environments that cause different people to view the city so differently. “Fire Squad” is the wow moment on the album. This track represents the part in Cole’s life where he is truly on the come up, showing off his dominance with impressive lyrics. He calls out the hip-hop industry, spitting hard bars on this one, and claims the throne of hip-hop. The album takes a drastic turn with the next song, “St. Tropez.” The beat is much more laid back and Cole’s raps softer, calmer over this one. As Cole said at his concert (which you can read a write up of here), he can’t even point out St. Tropez on a map. “St. Tropez” is a metaphor for getting out of the small town mentality and chasing your dreams to make it.
The next stop on the album is the banger “G.O.M.D.” At this point on the album, Cole has “gone Hollywood” and has started becoming arrogant and out of touch with his true self. Then, the second verse begins his transition into the man we all know and love today; focused on happiness and love, trying to find himself through his music. Next we have my personal favorite song on the album, “No Role Modelz,” which addresses Cole’s lack of role models growing up and the shallowness of the “LA” or “Hollywood” girls he has to deal with now as a result of fame. Furthermore, he challenges the materialistic world we have become and the happiness such things can bring. The horns are all time and the G Dub interlude is one for the record books. The next two tracks, “Hello” and “Apparently,” deal with women in Cole’s life. “Hello” is about an old love interest whom he is trying to get back in touch with, while “Apparently” is both an apology to his mother in verse 1 followed by a hard hitting, lyrical onslaught proving it was worth it in verse 2. Pretty awesome juxtaposition within another great song of this great album. We come to the end of the album with the inspiring track “Love Yourz.”
This song is all about finding true happiness and love in yourself and everything you do. “There’s no such thing as a life that’s better than yours” is one of the greatest hooks to grace the music industry because of its beautiful meaning. A truly great way to close things out…almost. The last track is mostly Cole rambling his thank yous and shout outs for 13 minutes, providing some hilarious moments along the way but before all that we get our final positive message from the album. Material goods, women, money: it don’t matter. All that matters is love. A beautiful message throughout an amazing album that will not get old any time soon. Thank you Cole.
P.S. Don’t miss J Cole’s “Forest Hills Drive: Homecoming” HBO Documentary tonight on HBO at 10.
Peace out, America.