Album Review: J. Cole delivers another solid album with ‘2014 Forest Hills Drive’

Posted: December 11, 2014 in Uncategorized
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Over the course of the past few months, things were eerily quiet on the hip-hop front as far major album releases. Something was bound to happen.

That big something happened less than two weeks ago when North Carolina rapper, J. Cole rose to the occasion for hip-hop by announcing the release of his third album, “2014 Forest Hills Drive” (Roc Nation/Columbia) after what was an unusually quiet year for the 29-year-old emcee. Twelve short days later, J.Cole made due on his promise and the rapper’s third offering has arrived.

Since the release of his first two albums, “Cole World: A Sideline Story” and “Born Sinner,” J. Cole has slowly veered off of the path that many artists take in their approach to releasing music. Rather than chasing a radio hit, putting out a lead single or calling up collaborations from friends like Kendrick Lamar, Drake or his mentor, Jay Z, J. Cole has decided to take more of a grassroots approach to the promotion of this album, go it alone this time. As a result, he released his most honest and open album to date with “2014 Forest Hills Drive,” a good album that isn’t without its flaws.

Right from the start of the album, on the intro, you’re whisked away as Cole soulfully sings “Do you want to be…” over light piano keys for about two minutes. Cole gets back to rap after the intro blends into “January 28th.” On the album’s second track, Cole opens up about his experiences since becoming famous, about the struggles of dealing with fame, peers, his career and finding his place in hip-hop.

One of J. Cole’s strengths as an artist is that he isn’t just a good rapper, he’s an adept storyteller as well. From that, he has drawn comparisons to legendary rapper Nas. On “2014 Forest Hills Drive,” songs like “Wet Dreamz,” and “03′ Adolescence” shows how J. Cole is able to take on a certain concept and successfully convert it into a good song. The album’s first few songs, “January 28th,” “Wet Dreamz and “03′ Adolescence” does well in leading off the album and sets the tone, and the bar, for the rest of the album.

If you had to put all of the album’s songs in a police lineup to identify the record that was, or could’ve made for radio, it would have to be “A Tale of Two Citiez.” Here, J. Cole takes a serious step in the direction of mainstream rap, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After the first four songs, “A Tale of Two Citiez” feels like an abrupt change from the tone that had been set up to that point. It feels like more of a Drake song than a J. Cole song.  It’s not a bad song by any means but it feels a little out of place on “2014 Forest Hills Drive.”

On “Fire Squad,” Cole continues on with the up-tempo bravado and swagger rap that he brought on “A Tale of Two Citiez.” From a purely lyrical standpoint, Cole delivers some of the best verses here than he does on any other song from this album.  He raps, “Ain’t no way around it no more. I am the greatest. / A lot of people sat on the throne, I am the latest,” as he makes his claim as one of the top emcees in rap today.

“Fire Squad” is followed are two somewhat forgettable tracks in “St. Tropez” and “G.O.M.D.” but after that “No Role Models,” rights the ship from what is the weakest two-song stretch on this LP.

As the album winds down, it takes a turn back toward the soulful direction it seemed to start in. Songs like “Hello,” “Apparently” and “Long Yourz.” Three excellent tracks that embody all of what we’re used to getting from J. Cole at this point in his career. At the very end, “Note to Self” makes for the perfect outro as Cole sings to close the album out before he gave his laundry list of shout outs.

“2014 Forest Hills Drive” is a solid album that comes across as very honest and open. J. Cole has never had a problem opening up in his music and things are no different here. It was very ambitious thought to do this album without any features, but as talented as J. Cole is, it would’ve served him well to put at least a couple features in there. This isn’t the classic J. Cole album that everybody was waiting for but it wasn’t a step in the wrong direction either. Very solid album.

Notable songs:  January 28th, 03′ Adolescence, Fire Squad, Hello, Love Yourz

8/10

J. Cole

“2014 Forest Hills Drive”

(Roc Nation/Columbia)

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