*Before I write this I will say I don’t always agree with the lyrical content or the explicit nature of the songs but if you look past that he is an amazing rapper*
So you will hear me say a lot how I don’t like a lot of current hiphop something I have been saying for a while due to the game being wack and not producing enough bangers both lyrically and production wise. But thankfully I can start to put that phrase behind me thanks to people like Cole, Kendrick, Joey Badda$$ and others bringing back what made me fall in love with the art of hiphop in the first place. Late 2014 and 2015 have been amazing years for hiphop let alone music in general and J-Cole’s album 2014 Forest Hills Drive has had a hand in changing that.
Jermaine Cole (J-Cole) is a rapper out of Fayetteville, NC who came out around 2011 (but really 2009). He was born in Germany as his dad was in the military and lived there for a little while before moving to Fayetteville. Sadly his parents divorced before Cole could remember and his mom remarried. His mother who is white was big into the rock and folk world while his dad who is black was big into hip-hop like 2pac and Ice Cube. Cole looked up to Pac, Eminem and Nas and hung their posters up on his wall in Fayetteville. Once he graduated high school Cole moved to New York and went to college at St. John’s University on a scholarship. While in school Cole worked on his first of several mixtapes The Come Up in 2007. Cole was clubs like the Black Student Union at St. John’s. Before graduating college Cole was persistent to get Jay-Z to sign him so he spent numerous days outside of his office in hopes of giving him his demo the mixtape The Warm Up. Eventually he met his idol and became the first artist signed to Roc Nation.
He started with two big mixtapes The Warm Up in 2009 and Friday Night Lights in 2010 which were free mixtapes to download. He even got to contribute to Jay-Z’s 2009 record The Blueprint 3. His next two commercial albums The Sideline Story in 2011 and Born Sinner in 2013 where both received with critical success. His third commercial album is 2014 Forest Hills Drive which was put out December 9th, 2014 and is the album I’ll be reviewing today.
Now a little background on how I came to find out about J-Cole. So the year was 2011 I was in AmeriCorps and one of my teammates who like me was very into music Matt played some of his music while we were in our van on the way home from work. He played some of the Warm Up and Friday Night Lights mixtapes for us and I instantly found something different from most of the hiphop coming out at the time. I liked that Jermaine was able to paint a picture and tell a story through his rhymes. His music just felt genuine like he was taking from real experiences and it was not forced like most rappers at the time. Plus I just felt like I could relate to what he was saying like we were going through similar situations even if we weren’t. Oh and his samples and hooks were on point. Favorite Tracks: Lights Please, Higher, Best Friend, Blow Up, Friday Night Lights, Too Deep for the Intro, Villematic, You Got It
That September when I got home Cole dropped his first big commercial project The Sideline Story. Now after listening to his mixtapes I didn’t find his commercial debut to be as great as I had hoped previously. I found it a bit lack luster from what I heard before and found his songs to be a little on the mainstream side and a little more pop-rap then I would like all though I did like a few tracks from the album. He did have some good features though and some pop hits which made up for it somewhat. With features from Missy Elliot & Drake it made for a somewhat enjoyable album. Favorite Songs: Work Out, Lost Ones, Sideline Story, Interlude
Then in June of 2013 Jermaine dropped his second studio album Born Sinner. The name alone kind of turned me away as I was not a big fan of Jay-Z to begin with and the title felt very Jay-Z like. Just like The Sideline Story, this album again sounded very marketable and polished with many singles and radio hits. Now Cole has a way of hitting you with his samples and features on his records and this was no exception which made me like a few of the songs. A story that I heard in a Cole interview is that the meaning behind Let Nas Down was that Nas was one of his favorite rappers. He looked up to Nas a lot and so when Nas got a listen to the very poppy song Work Out (off Sideline Story) he basically thought it was trash which was sad as he had previously said Cole was “the one.” Cole says he knew it was a risk putting out that song (Work Out) but the label thought it was a great radio hit which it was. Working on songs with Miguel (who he was featured on one of his songs All I Want Is You), TLC and Jhene among others helped to make this a commercial success. Favorite Songs: Let Nas Down, Crocked Smile, Power Trip, Sparks Will Fly, Chaining Day, She Knows, Daddy’s Little Girl
In between Born Sinner and Forest Hills Drive a lot was going on in the black community. Too many to count unarmed kids as well as adults were being gunned down in the streets everyday by police. One thing Cole did to recognize this and to show his solidarity for those effected was get on a plane and visit Ferguson after the Michael Brown shooting and rites that followed. Things really came to a head when one unarmed man was choked to death by police for selling cigarettes on the streets of New York. There was video footage of the whole thing and everyone was up in arms about it. This made Cole do the one thing he knew how to help which was rap about it. Be Free the single was released in August of 2014 and was the first we had herd from Cole since Born Sinner in 2013. Be Free became an anthem and a railing cry for many people in the movement. In December of 2014 after the release of his third studio album Cole took the stage of the David Lettermen Show and gave a moving performance of the song. I found this performance to be breathtaking and it was about time people in hiphop or the mainstream music care about our people and these issues.
Ok so now that you know how I got into J-Cole’s music and what I think of it lets get on to the review of 2014 Forest Hills Drive. I will tell you what I thought of the album and then give you my favorites and why.
This album was amazing and probably my favorite album of 2014 only second being the return of D’Angelo. To me this album was unpolished, kind of choppy and a little sloppy but raw and real at the same time which made it relatable. The way Cole took this story telling vibe with this album as he does most of his work gave us a glimpse into his world. The album reads like a movie from birth, to high school, to NY, to getting singed and Hollywood Cole, to realizing this is not the life for him, to knowing that there is something better out there which is love.
It’s a beautiful concept and what I love most about Forest Hills Drive is that it’s got layers. At first hear you might not really get it fully but think it bangs. Your second hear you might understand it a little better but not fully and third you might hear it different and so on and so forth. To me I found it to be a breath of fresh air as he was talking about something real. A lot of people praise Kendrick’s album which came out a few months later in 2015 a little more than Cole’s as they feel it has this theme of pro-blackness and his lyrical game is more on point. To a point I understand that but I like Cole’s better as his them of love is more of a universal theme that anyone can get behind and understand.
There are a wide range of themes in this album like love, materialism, values, and the Hollywood life among other things. The best thing about this album is the way he put it out. He only gave us notice he was putting it out three weeks before he put it out and did very very little promo for it. He also has done only a few interviews for the album but those few he talks about some important issues going on today.
G.O.M.D.- This song (which you can determine what the title means) is my “I’m pissed at the world song.” It just goes so hard talkin about annoying people who really just need to go away. But no really this song kind of poses the question of why nobody talks about love in music anymore and how kids will just listen to the crap with no meaning. The video is fresh too. Now if you can get past the lyrics and look at video as a story it’s amazing. It’s takes place in slavery where Cole is a house slave & you have the field slaves and Cole goes to greet the field slaves he gets dissed. Then he ends up steeling the master’s keys and taking the field slaves to the master’s gun shed and he is passing out guns. Then the master’s daughter & some other guy follow them and the daughter pushes him away. Later the field slaves come out with the guns and capture the master and people and shoot them and burn them at the stake then dance around them as they burn. I wish this could have happened to all slave owners. Great song & video over all.
No Role Models- This song talks about there being no role models anymore in Hollywood. It starts off saying “First things first rest in peace Uncle Phil” and goes on in the song about the fact that the only thing kids have to look up to is reality tv stars who are not smart and just start drama. He then goes on to name some older ladies he wishes he could been there for as they were more classy like Lisa Bonet, Aalyiah and Nia Long. It poses the question of wither there are any role models left.
Intro- This is a short little song at the beginning of the album which has a jazzy little melody to it. It talks about wanting to be free of all the troubles in life and society. “Free from pills free from bills” “Do you wanna be happy?” Beautiful song!
Love Yourz- Another song posing the question about love is appropriately tiled Love Yours. Favorite song on the album. He talks about love being the only real thing that matters in this life. A lot throughout this album Cole talks about how as a naive kid he used to think all the materialistic stuff was where it was at until he finally got it and then found that is all fake and can’t replace the real thing love. One line he says in the song is “No such thing as a life that’s better than yours” which I find to be true no matter how much better somebody’s life can seem materialistically you might have a better family life and more love. You never can compare some one else’s world to your own.
Apparently- The song dedicated to his mom. Story Time: In an interview with NPR, Cole talks about how when he was in college his step-dad was overseas and couldn’t pay the mortgage on their house in North Carolina. So his mom and brother where forced to leave and it was foreclosed on. Sadly Cole who talks about this in the song was too busy trying to get his record deal and was not keeping in touch with his mom. Thankfully do to him putting out Forest Hills Drive he was able to buy back the house and now lets single moms live in the house. It’s a beautiful dedication to his mom and mom’s everywhere.
Note to Self (Credits)- If this where a real movie this would be that role the credits moment. The first part of this song is an actual song but then you have the thank you for the album. The song is again about love. The lyrics go: “And wherever we go And whatever we do And whatever we see And whoever we be It don’t matter It don’t matter I don’t mind cause you don’t matter I don’t mind cause I don’t matter (And don’t shit matter) You’ll see in the end “I’ve got a feeling that there’s somethin’ more Something that holds us together Something that holds us together The strangest feeling but I can’t be sure Something that’s old is forever Something that’s old is forever Love Love Love Love” The rest of the track is J-Cole being his most real and just giving his thank yous to the production team and such. The best part of the track is when he yells out of nowhere “I love you momma” “Momma I love you” which was really cute.
’03 Adolescence- This song is about life in the Vile when he was in High School. It tells the story of right before you was about to get out and go to New York. He is chillin with his homie asking about the dope slinging game and how he wants to be part of it and get payed. His friend tells him that he has no other option but that Cole has a chance to get out of there so why would he wanna get into that. It’s a pretty inspiring track.
Fire Squad- Ok this is the track that came out and everyone was all up in arms because they thought he was dissin Em. I thought that was funny because if you have ever heard an interview with him he clearly says that Em is one of his biggest inspirations but whatever. This is one of those moments I really wish people would wake up and actually listen to the lyrics of a song. What Cole is talking about in this song is how if you have paler skin it is so much easier to sell records and win awards and how hiphop might in 20-30 years become a white music with white faces. Now this came out on the tail end of the big “culture appropriation” debate especially when talking about Iggy. He was just talking about the climate in hiphop at the time.
Other Songs I like: Tale of 2 Cities, January 28th
Cole recently put out a documentary/concert titled Homecoming on HBO that aired January 9th. I definitely recommend you go out and check this out if you have HBO. This documentary was beautifully done and really gave us a glimpse into what it takes to make a Cole record and tour. Plus it shows you all the people who are apart of and really support Cole in his journey. The concert which was Cole bringing his FHD tour to his hometown crowd. It also goes into how growing up in Fayetteville really was like. It was an amazing ode to his roots and where he came from.
Ok so now all I can say is if you have been sleeping on J-Cole then I defiantly you should wake up and get to listening.
*Oh and Cole did have a really cute verse in the queen Janet Jackson’s song No Sleep off her recent record that came out in 2015. The video is great too classic Janet with her R&B vibes like from the ‘90s and Cole with his ever smooth rhymes.*
Well that’s all for now folks check below for videos & interviews.
Tell Next Time F Money Spread Love <3!