More Than an Album – J Cole’s 2014 Forest Hills Drive
This is not an album review. How can you review a work of art that has taken 29 years to craft in a matter of days?
All this piece can do is give a slight insight, and provoke a few thoughts, nothing else. Art is about personal interpretation. But that’s exactly what 2014 Forest Hills Drive is, a work of art, a journal, a canvas, and with art it can sometimes be so easy to get caught up and lost in the beauty of the intricate details that are present, such as the astute wordplay, graceful rhymes, soulful flows andperfectly crafted hooks that are brought to us in this album. Step back however, and you see the bigger picture. The journey of a young ambitious hungry soul coming full circle. Experiencing the sorrow and pain his dreams and ambitions brought him in the Ville in ’03 Adolescence and the inner conflict he faced in, A Tale of 2 Citiez, to the pretentious shallowness of Hollywood and it’s people through G.O.M.D and No Role Modelz, and back again, to what’s really important, and what really matters to Cole, happiness and how important it is to Love Yourz.
The core elements of the album are made clear from the first lines, ‘Do you wanna be happy” “Do you wanna be free?” and from a certain perspective, the importance of these are consistent throughout the whole project, which has created a huge buzz globally and is being labelled J Cole’s best project to date. This comes as no surprise however, despite the fact that there was no single, just a 7 minute 15 second video, a couple tweets, and some VERY Lucky fans who were treated to hearing the album personally before it was released. The appreciation from his fans is a result of Cole’s openness and honesty from day one, as he has always treated his followers to personal touches and projects that very few other artists do, yet it never seems to devalue his worth or his works worth. From the Truly Yours projects, to the Warm Up 5 year anniversary letter, it these little touches that make all the difference. Even the visit to Ferguson and his recent performance of David Lettermen Show of his heartfelt song Be Free. All of this was done from his heart, with the best intentions, and it’s worked, not because he’s hoped it to, but because it’s real, and people feel real. Despite being tipped off as the Hip-Hop album to sell most this year in its first week, the numbers won’t define success for J Cole.
Cole’s lyrical ability and convoluted flows are maintained, and if not improved with the project, and continue to keep him in strong contention for the ever-sought-after crown in Hip-Hop right now. (Let’s see what Kendrick cooks up). However, in reality, competition is healthy, but far from everything, as made clear by the Fayetteville native in the controversial Fire Squad. Why it’s proved so controversial? It hasn’t. There are just a lot of people who follow click-hungry blogs. Noting on that record was said that didn’t need to be said, including the, soon to be infamous “Same thing that my n**** Elvis did with Rock n Roll, Justin Timberlake, Eminem, and then Macklemore”, along-side the Iggy dig. In reality, this is just an observation, Cole addressing a deep-rooted racial issue, and its evolvement into an arguably contained culture, as well as the societal relevance it holds following the events that have been taking place recently in the US.
Why else is this a work of art? Well, the production. It’s much better known now that Cole produces the majority of his tracks and does a phenomenal job of it. His production doesn’t only paint a vivid picture with its’ technical ability, but also it’s progression tells it’s own story, made most evident in the melancholy “Hello”, a track that begins the transition to the returning to the core stage of the album, which begins slowly, but picks up pace and by the time of the last verse, is at full speed and full of energy, reflecting the relationship and re-union with happiness that comes at the end of the album.
I’m a Cole fan, but I know there’s no such thing as a perfect album, and there never will be for everyone, as perception is truth. But one thing that we can be sure of is if something is art, and this is a work of art. 2014 Forest Hills Drive takes us on a journey; right in the passenger seat of Cole’s low-key tinted Nissan Pathfinder. This is more than an album. It’s his past, the present observations he witnesses, and for the culture’s sake, we hope it’s the future.
Listen for yourself : J Cole – 2014 Forest Hills Drive
Below is a paragraph, crafted from a line from each of the songs on the album and it tells a story. Read it yourself, and interpret it how you please :
Do you wanna be happy? If you ain’t aim too high then you aim too low. I want it bad, and I ain’t never been obsessed before. I ain’t gonna settle for lesser, I ain’t gonna take it for granted. But before you go, I’ve got to warn you now. One day you’ll have to decide who you gonna be. To tell you the truth I’m terrified. That is until I met you. Ain’t got no shame bout it. I always thought we would be together. Apparently you believe in me, and I thank you for it. But you ain’t ever gon’ be happy till you love yours. You’ll see in the end.