By: Elorm Nutakor
In the summer of 2009, J. Cole had recently signed to Jay-Z’s Roc Nation label and released his mixtape, The Warm Up. Back then, I had no idea who J. Cole was, but in time I realized how special that release was for both J. Cole and his fans, making me wish I had been able to share in that moment. A little over five years since dropping The Warm Up, J. Cole has released 2014 Forest Hills Drive, an album that revives and even transcends the feeling of The Warm Up.
On 2014 Forest Hills Drive, J. Cole changes it up a bit. He allows guest producers to contribute to the album’s sound – in the past, he preferred to produce his albums mostly on his own. Other producers on the album include Phonix Beats, Vinylz, Willie B., !llmind, and more. In the album credits he even shout outs to Organized Noize and The Social Experiment. In addition to guest production, J. Cole sings more on this album than on any past releases. In “St. Tropez,” J. Cole does not rap a single word, but, instead, allows his melodic voice to take over. The album has no featured guest hook singers, so J. Cole sings most of the hooks by himself with occasional background vocals. When rappers choose to sing, the final product is often a swing and miss – but in J. Cole’s case, it is a hit.
As part of the album’s aesthetic, J. Cole purchased his childhood home in Fayetteville, North Carolina and named the album after its address. The album art actually features J. Cole sitting on the roof of his childhood home, staring into the distance. The notion of going home is also a theme that runs through the album. We are taken through J. Cole’s life in a sense, starting with his adolescence on songs like “January 28” and “’03 Adolescence.” The album continues to depict J. Cole’s emotions and aspires to be a hip-hop artist (“Fire Squad”), signs a recording contract (“St. Tropez”), and loses himself in Hollywood (“G.O.M.D.”). These events cause J. Cole to realize his lack of love and happiness which ultimately brings him back home where he regains his identity (“Love Yourz”).
Personally, I connect with this album on many levels. The album is both motivational and inspiring, and the fact that it has been released during my freshmen year in college only adds to my sentimental feelings. I feel like 2014 Forest Hills Drive is J. Cole’s best album to date, even considering his mixtapes. I can only hope that it will be widely appreciated and understood in time.