J. Cole's 2014 Forest Hills Drive is a Perfect Rap Album
Jermaine Lamarr Cole, better known as J. Cole, is debatably one of the most prolific, intelligent, and artistic rappers of this generation. His simplistic and timeless sounding production choices coupled with his versatile flow and wordplay culminate into the makings of a modern pioneer in the rap game. Despite being relatively young at only 35, Cole has already managed to bolster an incredible 10 projects under his belt (five studio albums, four mixtapes and one EP); each of which contains their own unique sounds and themes showcasing some of the most rapid and developed artistic growth seen in a rapper. Drawing heavily from Nas in his early career, Cole understood the importance of lyricism, but more specifically the impact of punchlines and interesting stories. This influence has carried throughout his career and achieved perfection within 2014 Forest Hills Drive creating what I consider to be a modern classic and the scale for which I judge other albums and projects. All aspects of this package come together to complement each other; from aspects such as the tracklist to more simplistic things like the album cover. Consisting of a relatively short tracklist of 13 tracks, Cole manages to fill the hour you spend with his project with substance and enjoyment.
Part of the genius of this album is not only the presentation but the creative insight that went into its creation. For example, “January 28” is the first real track of the album and it discusses the day Cole was birthed into the world, while also subtly introducing a beginning and end point in the tracklist. Cole mentions in the last track “Note to Self” that the album was finished in December of 2014, connecting the January in the beginning to the end of 2014 with December. Another common misconception is that the “2014” in 2014 Forest Hills Drive not only ties to the year of its release but also the actual address of Cole’s childhood home. The underlying thought and foresight that went into the presentation of this project
demonstrates that Cole treated this release
with extra care and attention.
Growth is the main theme of this album as Cole utilizes the tracks to reminisce on his adolescent years, painting beautiful and vivid stories that each teach their own lesson. Tracks like “Wet Dreamz”, and “03’ Adolescence” all focus their attention on Cole in his adolescent years. “Wet Dreamz” discusses the pressures and emotions of a young man looking to lose his virginity with beautiful bars that paint a very vivid and entertaining story. “03’ Adolescence” talks about Cole pre and post fame, comparing the two to how young Cole dreamed he wanted to be versus the reality of the man he is now.
What I really enjoy about this tracklist is how the tracks manage to be fun while also simultaneously dropping knowledge and wisdom on the listener. Almost every song takes liberties to introduce clever wordplay, similes, or themes that mange to keep you engaged with this project; even on subsequent listens. The overall vibe of this project is also pleasant, and I believe this is due to the pacing and placement of each track. The more hype tracks like “A Tale of 2 Citiez”, “Fire Squad” and “G.O.M.D” are broken up by slower tracks like “St. Tropez” and “03’ Adolescence” which I find helps to prevent fatigue of hearing a similar vibe throughout an entire project. To go against this more modern trend of similarity and uniformness, FHD manages to contain a plethora of different types of rap songs, such as hype, somber, feel good, intellectual, etc. For me personally, this album is one of the few I tend to listen to in its entirety because of how it manages to keep me engaged and capture my attention.
While I could go over every track in their entirety and explain what makes them great at length, I feel that it would be better for you to go and listen to this project to draw your own conclusions on the tracks. What I will say however is that if you are remotely interested in J. Cole’s music or story, this project serves as a perfect viewpoint into Cole’s childhood and growth with what I believe is the best insight into his mind and how he became who he is today. While music does always contain an element of subjectivity, I believe that this album is one of the modern greats and will be considered a classic in the years to come.
Please consider giving this album a listen.
Written by Michael Miserendino