Jan 7, 2016

AOTY 2014 Review - 2014 Forest Hills Drive - @JColeNC

It's December 2014. Time is winding down and my staff is getting our album of the year lists together and boom! J. Cole announces his album, 2014 Forest Hills Drive is dropping in two weeks.

No lead singles, no features and still went platinum. No one has been able to do that since Nas in the 90's. The hype for the Born Sinner follow up was immense. We only got a few loosies and give away a after that project. He then performs on Letterman and performs an impactful new song, Be Free. I think it was deep that he played this in light of what was going on rather than a single from his album on the Late Show.

Let's get into the music. The Intro reminds me of Be Free. Sonically the keys provide a similar ambiance and he beckons to his people with the same question, "Do you wanna be free?" It transitions to the official first track, January 28th. This serves as the musical introduction. Verse one tackles his growth in the industry, verse two goes full circle and how he's touched by what was going on in Ferguson, MO at the time. The meat of the album comes next. Wet Dreamz I remember talking about how he painted another story we could all relate to in losing our "V card" in high school. The story telling continues in 03' Adolescence. A Tale of 2 Citez is next. I love everything about this song musically and the delivery is perfect. The beat is boom-bap but still something gritty enough the trap lovers can get down with. His flow leading to and on the hook was so tough. I'd go to another Cole concert just to see this song performed live. I also love the choral singing the bridge at the outro with him, clever.

Fire Squad is another radio jam that gets deep in the third verse about white privilege in the hip-hop community. He even name drops Timberlake, Eminem, Iggy, and Macklemore. "All good jokes contain true sh*t," Indeed. I like what Logic had to say about it especially because like J. Cole he is the product of mulatto parents. St. Tropez is still in my rotation a year later. It uses the same sample Mobb Deep used from an old Ester Phillips song in 1971. This song changes the mood of the album, really smooth, really chill. His message is about climbing up in the industry comparing St Tropez, France to Hollywood, CA. This isn't the first time he voiced his opinion on how fake Los Angeles is, remember LAnd of the Snakes? The sound changes but the theme stays the same in G.O.M.D. I don't think I understood this until now as I type. He's always explained his concerns on the mainstream. He let Nas down to make a good record and get heard. Whenever he does that he refers to himself as Hollywood Cole as he does on this song. It's funny because it's an oxymoron. The song is definitely a radio hit and bouncy like Big Sean's IDFWU. Whether I was thinking too deep or it flew over my head it's genius. Even the video paints a tale of how the people react to his plans, this time in the 1800's. The lyrics just show a more arrogant Cole talking about commercial music. It's pretty deep. To fully understand I think he threw in a curve ball with the words "The make/break up." Listen again for yourself. No Role Modelz is another song about the women from the city of angels and how to handle them. It's simple, no one likes a captain save-a-hoe. The personification and tribute to James Avery from the fresh prince was dope. Especially thinking back to Breakdown on his first album. Fast forward to his first official single after the album dropped, Apparently. As far as production on the entire album, J. Cole really took a liking to playing the keys more than usual. Omen, Vinylz, Cardiak and others threw some assists in that aspect as well.

All in all as I think it takes a little bit of time to take Cole in. Everytime you listen you hear something you may have missed even if you know all the lyrics. Perhaps that's why last year Cole was our split decision AOTY winner. I just needed more time to really get it rather than the two weeks before year's end. It's funny because in that review I rated his album higher (4.79 of 5 Stars) than the actual winner. Before Forest Hills, I complained Cole was telling the same story. I'm mullato, I graduated, I want Jay's spot. I didn't realize it took all of those stories to continue painting the grand picture, and it's still being painted. First to third album he's really grown and the fans have right with him. I really believe if one sample didn't get cleared and the album dropped three weeks later, we'd have a different AOTY for 2015. I guess that's why it sparked the Kendrick/Cole argument we've had all year. Read the original AOTY 2014 Review here.
Jonathan C. Ramsey
Jonathan C. Ramsey

Multimedia Journalist, Founder and Chief Editor of WTM Host of A-Side B-Side Podcast and more. I like to talk about stuff and write it down. Sometimes to a microphone. Either way, I need you to feel this.

No comments: