Two summers ago, North Carolina artist Jermaine Cole made a massive statement by dropping his sophomore album Born Sinner on the same day as Kanye West’s highly anticipated Yeezus. The boldness of this decision demonstrated not only the massive amount self-confidence Cole has, but also a desire to be consider among the greatest rapper-producers in the game. His album sold almost 300,000 copies in the first week, just 30,000 shy of Yeezus.
This time around, Cole gets his own day for the release of his third studio album, 2014 Forest Hills Drive. Cole plays the Executive Producer on the entirely featureless project: potentially another statement that he should be considered one of the greatest, suggesting he doesn’t need any help. The project oozes authenticity: the somewhat short, 13-track production is raw. Cole is entirely unafraid to speak his mind and tell the uncut truth. His honesty prevails, and makes 2014 Forest Hills Drive his most well rounded project of his already incredible career.
On Nov. 14, J. Cole abruptly announced his third studio album alongside a short documentary following his trip back to his hometown in North Carolina. He states in the video, “I got a lot more dreams … But I don’t wanna become someone who’s so out of touch with what’s real.” Interestingly J. Cole was one of very few stars to travel to Ferguson, Mo. and actively demonstrate following the death of unarmed 18-year-old Mike Brown. He even held a contest for a few lucky fans to travel to his childhood home in North Carolina for a private listening party. There’s something thrillingly authentic about J. Cole.
The first track on the album, “Intro,” starts the project off with emotion depth. Cole’s rough, yet striking voice resounds over a strong piano melody repeatedly questioning, “Do you want to be happy? Do you want to be free?” His voice and the tone of the song are very reminiscent of his recently released single, “Be Free,” another highly emotional track. With “January 28th,” the second song on the record, Cole quickly shifts gears. On this track we find Cole using his singing voice, which is featured throughout 2014 Forest Hill Drive. J. Cole glides over the smooth, classic hip-hop beat as he raps about the significance of his birthdate. Cole pays homage to his boss, Roc Nation’s leader Jay-Z who featured a similarly titled track “December 4th” (his birthday) on his critically acclaimed Black Album. The last words of the track certainly hold the most weight (“You might be Drizzy Drake or Kendrick Lamar / But check your birthdate n—a, you ain’t the God”). The jabs at other rappers does not stop here, however. On the sixth track, “Fire Squad,” J. Cole really lets loose.
“Fire Squad” is the first track on the album with a truly chilling beat—one of those beats that you want to blast through your 2009 Prius speakers while viciously nodding your head. Cole starts out strong with the first lyric, “Ain’t no way around it no more, I am the greatest,” and only gets more serious. The second verse certainly has some nods towards Kendrick’s notorious verse on Big Sean’s “Control.” His finishing blow goes to Iggy Azalea as he raps, “I’ll probably go to the awards dappered down / Watch Iggy win a Grammy as I try to crack a smile,” demonstrating his frustration with parts of the current hip-hop scene.
Three songs later, J. Cole hits his listeners with easily one of the most successful songs of his career. “No Role Modelz,” opens with a strong bass and horns that will slap you across the face. His half-singing voice on the chorus is so smooth over the furious beat, while each bar adds complexity and substance. Possibly the greatest part of the song is a George Bush sound bite about two-thirds of the way through—while it doesn’t make much sense in context, it’s hilarious and makes for a great break in the action.
J. Cole also demonstrates his incredible storytelling ability on tracks like “Wet Dreamz,” where he explains his first sexual experience in an incredibly detailed manner, and “’03 Adolescence,” on which he discusses his childhood relationship with his estranged father. Other notable tracks include “G.O.M.D.,” “A Tale of 2 Cities,” and “St. Tropez.”
J. Cole’s third studio album proves to be a huge success. There truly isn’t one bad song, and he offers a surplus of great ones. Cole is honest, authentic, and innovative on 2014 Forest Hills Drive, solidifying himself as one of the greatest rapper / producers in the game right now.
Featured Image Courtesy of Columbia Records