Ever since Kendrick Lamar dropped his ‘Control’ verse last year there has been a certain level of competitiveness not seen in Hip-Hop for a little while. It hasn’t been overly in your face but all the major players in Hip-Hop realised they had to up their game artistically. J.Cole seems to have taken that a lot further than most on his new album as he’s often talking about the ‘crown’ in Hip-Hop itself.
‘2014 Forest Hills Drive’ (named after his childhood home) has Cole presenting himself as a rapper that succeeds in all the ways in which Drake and Kendrick Lamar succeed. In his ability to be perfectly honest on all topics.Much like a lot of Kendrick’s work, this album is a very coherent project about the need for happiness, and the ways in which people explore different routes to find happiness. Within this theme he talks about the need that people have to feel like they’re at the top of the ‘Rap Game’ like on the track that had most people buzzing before the release of the album ‘Fire Squad’. Most people were getting excited over the fact he talks about white appropriation in Hip-Hop, but what caught my attention is at the end of this track Cole talks about how although he feels he’s got at the top of his game; there shouldn’t be any crowns in Hip-Hop. He’s basically saying that everyone should be working together to give something back with the last line saying ‘deep down I know every boy just wants to be loved’.
Love turns out to be the answer to his quest for happiness, but not any old love – real love. He explores the faker side of love on the brilliantly amusing track ‘Wet Dreamz’ in which he talks about awkward first encounters of sex, expressing how nothing is as it seems at that age. On the song ‘G.O.M.D.’ (which translates to ‘get off my dick’) he raps about how no one ever raps about love any more, yet there’ll be people in the club singing along to ‘Get Low’ by Lil Jon. He accompanies this with his own little rendition of the chorus to that song changing the lyrics around to fit his own agenda; it’s very amusing especially when you consider people will probably try to play the song as a ‘banger’. Towards the end of the album he really does find the perfect way to sum up the fact that you need love in your life. The song ‘Love Yourz’ is a touching song where he goes into detail about how you can’t be happy unless you love yourself, no matter how money you have. It’s kind of like a more detailed version of Kendrick Lamar’s ‘i’ thematically. He spits the lines ‘Always gon’ be some clothes that’s fresher than the ones you rock/ Always gon’ be a bitch that’s badder out there on the tours/ But you ain’t never gon’ be happy till you love yours’.
Stylistically this album has J.Cole finding his voice as a singer; throughout the album he sings many times, being able to switch between spitting and singing in his flow brilliantly. It turns out to be some of the songs where he doesn’t sing so much that are the weaker ones. ‘No Role Modelz’ and ‘A Tale Of 2 Citiez’ lyrically are still solid, but they don’t offer up anything relatable or compelling with the more trap influenced beats. Whereas ‘G.O.M.D.’ has a beat that absolutely bangs with thumping drums, female vocal samples and strings that come in every now and again that feel so well placed. The more piano based songs are where they really shine with songs like ‘Hello’ starting off reasonably quiet and then building and building into this monster track.
Whether or not you are at all endorsed in the character who is J. Cole, you definitely should give this album a listen. This is almost like a story arc exploring Cole’s mindset through his fame and what he thought would bring him happiness. It makes sense that it be named after the home he was brought up in as it’s an album that has a distinct learning curve for him. As a music critic it’s always hard to hear someone’s hard work and then slap a rating on it; never has this been harder for me than on the final track of the album. The final track is basically like his credits where he says all of his thankyous and although it’s long-winded it’s hard not to applaud the clear effort that went into this project. Whether or not this will hit home with Kendrick or Drake as some serious competition is yet to be seen, but for me at least, J.Cole is now a serious player.