2014 Forest Hills Drive (to be released Dec. 9, 2014)
We’re three albums in and we’re still anxiously waiting that definite classic from J. Cole.
We hunger for it because we know he can deliver. His series of mixtapes — most notably The Warm Up and the phenomenal Friday Night Lights — had Cole’s name being uttered in the same breath as the incomparable Nas. Cole subsequent studio albums have been good, but not as great as the stuff you can (legally) download for free. The albums tend to be a bit bloated, sometimes filled with blatant attempts for mainstream ears — pretty much a necessary evil in today’s marketplace.
But the announcement of album No. 3, 2014 Forest Hills Drive, gave me hope. There was no heavy-handed marketing rollout, no glossy single featuring some trash radio rapper on the hook. In fact, the album doesn’t have any features at all.
It’s just Cole in his element, immersed in soulful production — bearing his soul at the same time. It’s the honest, introspective Cole you fell for years ago.
“January 28th,” Jermaine’s born day, is a flashback to his youth and the early glory days of his mixtape career: “Turn on the TV not one hero in sight/unless he dribbles, or fiddles with mikes.” When he’s focused, Cole has the ability to “paint a picture vivid enough to cure blindness.”
While most rappers are too cool to open up, Cole World has no problem being frank about his childhood insecurities. “Wet Dreamz” is a hilariously awkward account of losing virginity. Cole brags to a girl about his sexual prowess, then rushes home to figure out how to have sex. Poor guy had to watch flicks and try on condoms to figure out how they worked. “03 Adolescence” is even more revealing — Cole envies the neighborhood bad boy who flashes money and smokes weed in front of his mom, but Cole’s friend reveals that he’s the one who envies Cole — Cole’s the one with the bright future ahead of him.
It’s those type of tracks that will deeply resonate with listeners, much in the same way Kendrick Lamar’s “Good Kid, m.a.a.d. city” touched the consciousness of hip-hop.
The album admittedly loses steam in the second half. Longtime J. Cole fans are accustomed to Cole’s occasional crooning, but it overstays its welcome on “St. Tropez” and “Apparently.” And Cole has a hard time riding the scattershot beat of “G.O.M.D.” He’s not as bad as Big Sean at his worst, but it’s still noticeable.
2014 Forest Hills Drive can get kinda preachy — like the slut-shaming on “No Role Modelz” and rants about appropriation of black music on “Fire Squad” — but even then, Cole’s heart is in the right place. He makes up for it with the life lessons of “Love Yourz”: “Always gonna be a whip better than the one you got/always gonna be some clothes fresher than the ones you rock/ always gonna be a b***h that’s hotter out there on the tours/but you ain’t never gonna be happy till you love yours.”
Fans have been asking for the return of “Mixtape Cole” for years now, and that’s what he gives us with 2014 Forest Hills Drive. The album can get slightly unfocused at times, and even drags in some spots, but it’s easily his most personal LP. It’s basically Cole’s diary as an audio book. Classic album? Not quite, but Cole’s headed in the right direction.
2014 Forest Hills Drive is not flashy but it’s 100% authentic. Just how we like our Cole.
Best tracks: “January 28th,” “Love Yourz,” “03 Adolescence”
4 stars out of 5