J-Cole – Forest Hills Drive
J. Cole, a rapper from North Carolina, is confident he has created his classic with his third album; he will tell you as much halfway through the 15-minute credit roll “Note to Self.” The album avoids both singles and guests in its attempt to canonise: It’s a risky manoeuvre that flies when it floats but flops spectacularly when it doesn’t.
J. Cole is a hip-hop student, the kind that relocates to New York in search of a chance to rap for Jay-Z, sprinkles shout-outs to the genre’s legends throughout his songs, and writes an apology to Nas when his biggest track comes off as overly poppy. Cole is eager to incorporate the pacing and structure of strong rap albums into his own work. In his third album, 2014 Forest Hills Drive, he emulates Jay-Z’s Black Album’s self-mythology of nostalgia. Similar to how Eminem shot the Marshall Mathers LP cover, this one was taken at his childhood home. Like 2pac’s All Eyez on Me, the tracklist substitutes s’s for z’s (“Wet Dreamz,” “A Tale of 2 Citiez,” and “Love Yourz”).
J. Cole is a workmanlike MC and a jovial populist who is battling the absurdity of overnight fame. He produces decent albums with standout songs. He excels at turning common relationship problems into succinct pop tidbits. The highlights of his expanding body of work include his collaborations with Drake, Missy Elliott, and TLC. He also gets along so well with Kendrick Lamar that the two are rumoured to have secretly produced an EP together. 2014 Forest Hills Drive shuns both singles and guests in its effort to canonise Cole. It’s a block of largely Cole tracks with Cole raps and Cole hooks. Bold manoeuvre that soars when it floats but flounders magnificently when it doesn’t.
Although it wasn’t expected, giving an hour to a rapper who performs best in bursts really works quite well in this case. “03′ Adolescence” turns the traditional rags-to-riches story on its head as Cole begins to reflect on how difficult growing up was just to receive a chin-check from a friend whose future isn’t nearly as promising. Cole’s technical prowess is on display in “G.O.M.D.,” “Fire Squad,” and “A Tale of 2 Cities,” while his gruff singing voice emotes in “Intro,” “Apparently,” and “St. Tropez.” Never less than delicious, the production runs Cole’s own beats through milky instrumental embellishments and coyly referential samples. “St. Tropez” reimagines Mobb Deep’s “Give Up the Goods (Just Step)” as “Wet Dreamz” flips “Impeach the President”
Forest Hills Drive in 2014 Cole’s “Control” verse from Kendrick Lamar is a response to the rapper’s spike, establishing Cole in the pantheon of all-time great rappers. However, he gets a little ahead of himself and asserts that he is superior than Slick. Big Daddy Kane, LL Cool J, Rakim, and Rick on “January 28th”. The flows of Kane and Rakim were more precise, LL’s swagger is unrivalled, and Rick’s stories surge with a purpose unmatched in the body of work by J. Cole. These songs function best when they aren’t busy bragging about how great they are, which is ultimately a horrible look on a guy who makes his living by speaking to the problems of the common man. The album 2014 Forest Hills Drive sells reasonably well.
Listen to Forest Hills Drive and let us know what you think
- “January 28th”
- ”Wet Dreamz”
- “03′ Adolescence”
- “A Tale of 2 Citiez”
- “Fire Squad”
- “St. Tropez”
- “No Role Modelz”
- “Love Yourz”
- “Note to Self”
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