Forest Hills Drive is where it all began for the Fayetteville, NC rapper who went to NYC with a dream and got signed to Roc Nation. On his third studio album, Forest Hills Drive, J. Cole forms his most personal work to date, cultivating this into the best hip-hop album of 2014. Real-life subjects are addressed, providing insight into his rise to fame, as well as his current thoughts on the rap game. J. Cole did things his way, this being his last album from Columbia records. It is a risk only real artists are capable of taking to express their artistry.
In the opening, Cole raps through his rise to fame on “January 28th,” permitting the track to open the album genuinely. A heartfelt mellow production only complements the power of the relatable lyrics. The hook is also inspiring, with the words, “Don’t give ‘em too much you / don’t let ’em take control / it’s one thing you do / don’t let ’em taint your soul / if you believe in God / one thing’s for sure / if you ain’t aim too high / then you aim too low.” It’s tremendous track for its personal details, provided by a true storyteller.
J. Cole looks down memory lane on hip-hop classic “Wet Dreamz,” with production so beautiful it brings some nostalgia of a younger, better Jay-Z from his Reasonable Doubt days. Furthermore, Cole expresses his loss of virginity, with “I wrote back and said of course I had sex before, knowing I was frontin, I said ‘I’m like a pro baby,’ knowing I was stunting.” This is entertaining and reminds hip-hop heads that the legacy of storytelling is still very much alive and well inside J. Cole.
“03′ Adolescence” exposes critical pieces of his upbringing. With a lack of confidence and an absent father, he spills it all out in rhyme behind a subdued “At Last” sample with a brilliant, mellow production. He talks about overcoming all of his life’s weak points, with “Cuz I’m trying to stay alive in the city where too many ni**as die / dreaming quiet trying to die just suit and tie.” A story is unfolding as the album progresses, ultimately revealing a bigger picture at the end.
As the bells ring during the haunting story, “A Tale of 2 Citiez,” Cole deals with being trapped in both nightmare and reality. Production provides horror nostalgia and slow bells lay within the lyrics, “ Last night I had a bad dream that I was trapped in the city and then I asked is that really such a bad thing?” The tale is real, revealing more about his life before the record deal.
Back to reality, Cole is in his ultimate prime on “Fire Squad,” which is, quite possibly, one of his best tracks lyrically. The production is reminiscent of old school hip-hop and will have heads nodding in agreement as the hook propels into the brain. Rapping with an intense demeanor, “Came from the bottom with stains on my shirt, what you expecting from me I came from the dirt, money is my motivator, the songs that I sing,” it’s the best verbiage so far on Forest Hills Drive.
The hard-knock-powered production mixed with melodic chants in the background is captivating on “G.O.M.D.” Cole aggressively pronounces, “You wanna know just where I’m at / well let me tell you about it / I put my city on the map / but let me tell you bout it / they tryna say I can’t come back / let me tell you bout it.” “G.O.M.D” is a send-off to all of the people who say the rapper cannot come back. Wait for an outstanding ending of untainted freestyle heaven.
A true love is what J. Cole desires on “No Role Modelz.” The emcee confidently conveys, “I want a real love / dark skin and Aunt Vivian love / that Jada and that Will love / that leave a toothbrush at your crib love / and you ain’t gotta wonder whether if that’s your kid love.” He warns heavily of those “bird traps” and how “lame brothers” cant tell the difference between the two. Cole represents the women he sees as role models with, “My only regret is I was too young for Lisa Bonet / My only regret is I was too young for Nia Long.” When the trumpet blows in the background, so does the message, loudly, “Don’t save her, she don’t wanna be saved, Don’t save her, she don’t wanna be saved.”
Following is “Hello,” the best of the pack. The church organ brings gospel healing through the production. A love lost is on Cole’s mind when he raps, “And I thought about you today / and I thought about the things you used to say / and I thought about the things we did.” Cole wants to go back to his love, but has doubt about being a stepfather when he has no kids of his own yet. It is a story that many can relate to and the way he presents it is graceful from beginning to end. It is possibly the best moment on Forest Hills Drive.
The next track, “Apparently,” is where Cole remains resilient despite life obstacles. “I keep my head high / I got my wings to carry me / I don’t know freedom / I want my dreams to rescue me / I keep my faith strong / I ask the Lord to follow me.” Even when times permitted him to doubt, his mother still believed in her son. A real honest tale is hitting the heart like a hip-hop story, producing empathy for the rapper.
“Love Yourz” is the last record in the album, concealed behind an tender beat with piano. He pours out the lyrics, “It’s beauty in the struggle / ugliness in the success / hear my words and listen to my signal of distress / I grew up in the city and though sometime we had less / compared to some of my n**** down the block / we were blessed.” The brilliant meaning is clear, “no such thing of a life that’s better than yours / no such thing, so love yourz.” It’s such a significant message in hip-hop, where mostly, lyrics are about money.
J.Cole is a real example of hip-hop music from back in the day with his fantastic tales of his life. Forest Hills Drive is a remarkable album, full of introspective stories with deeper meaning to the fellow man, to become better by showing love to one another. Its message is vibrant and moving, and the album redeems Cole from Born Sinner. Unswerving in his conveyance, Cole will one day be one of the best in the game. He has a skill of creating lasting, classic music to continue his legacy, lengthening the love for real hip-hop.