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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


J. Cole

“2014 Forest Hills Drive”

(Roc Nation/Columbia)

Author’s note: This column was originally posted on SB Nation’s Acme Packing Company on June 22, 2013.


Over the course of the past few seasons, the Green Bay Packers have consistently put a productive offensive unit out onto the field. No matter if it was in the scorching heat or the blistering cold, the Packers have rarely had problems offensively. While doing so, they have also established a sound reputation as one of the most prolific passing teams in the National Football League. In the midst of all of that was the fact that; during most of the Aaron Rodgers years, the Packers have significantly lacked much of a rushing attack.

For years now, many of Aaron Rodgers’ Sundays (or Thursday or Monday nights) consisted of lacing up his shoes, tossing on his yellow helmet, jogging out of the tunnel and completely obliterating his opponent’s defensive secondary. It became routine, and almost weekly tradition that these offensive marauds occurred every single time the he hit the field. A lot of times, Coach Mike McCarthy would draw up the slants, which set up the occasional long bomb, and games were won. It became second nature for the Packers to throw the ball. Everything was all right with the world.

Even with all of McCarthy’s and the Packers’ success heavily relying on what worked in the past, one thing that has always eluded the Pack in one way or another was the presence of a consistent running game.

The cries to establish the ground has not fallen on deaf ears throughout the years. Ted Thompson and company certainly have done things here and there to get this facet of the Packer offense up and running again. Ryan Grant was a valuable piece in the reestablishing years leading up to the Super Bowl, but he was the last 1,000 yard rusher in Green Bay, that was in 2009 (1,253). Since then, its been mostly committee duty, but that has staggered recently.

Having a 1,000-yard rusher certainly means a lot for an offense but it isn’t the end-all, be-all definition of what a good ground game is. Moving the ball effectively is all it’s about. To this point, that is what is hindering the Packers and is why teams like San Francisco are continuing to go deep into the playoffs consistently. James Starks was an effective runner before during the Super Bowl run, but since then the rushing well has run dry. A bright spot late last season was DuJuan Harris, who is averaging nearly five yards per carry. While he hasn’t posted a 100-yard game yet, he is favored because he runs the ball effectively and has been excellent in getting the line of scrimmage close enough for a good chance to move the chains.

The Packers have had some tough luck recently as well. Devastating injuries to guys like Starks, Grant, Cedric BensonAlex Green and countless others have been a main cause of the constant setbacks of the development of this rushing attack. The offensive line has also been a continuous struggle as well, and the positions go hand-in-hand in creating an effective running game. Other teams have caught on to this and it has shown on the field. Without a sound running attack, the Packers are often one-dimensional by the second quarter and are therefore susceptible to exploitation.

As mentioned before, Ted Thompson has heard the world’s cries to establish a running game — and has probably done some crying of his own — and it showed when he drafted not one, but two running backs in April’s draft. The two backs are Eddie Lacy, the 238-pound bruiser and the slender Johnathan Franklin, who weighs in at a lean 205 pounds. The two are second and fourth round selections, respectively and are expected to light a fire underneath their incumbent counterparts as they compete for jobs themselves. There are now five backs but that number is likely to be slashed down to three when it is all said and done.

Mike McCarthy understands that getting the ball rolling on the ground is necessary in aiding his quarterback if they want to continue to be able to continue their offensive onslaughts through the air. He told the Journal Sentinel that it is paramount in keeping defenses on their toes.

Running the football, trust me, it’s important. Would I like to do more of it? Yes. Will it help the quarterback driven emphasis? Absolutely. The best quarterbacks are always complemented by a good run game. And we haven’t been good enough there.

As far as his personnel running the ball, McCarthy sees that there is an significant upgrade from what he had last year. The unique thing about this particular group is that there isn’t just one kind of rusher taking the ball. This group has both speed and power and will be able to mix it up as the year goes on.

Well, we feel like we’ve addressed the position, and we’ve definitely upgraded the competition in that room. There’s young personnel there that we’re all excited about, and I’m not just talking about the rookie class. I’m talking all the way through. It’s a young group. There’s a ton of competition. There’s a lot of diversity.

One of the key things that McCarthy established in his statements was that this is a quarterback-driven football team. No matter what happens at the running back position, McCarthy knows that it will only be complementary of what they do as a passing team.

But our job as coaches is to utilize our personnel and ultimately to play to a team identity. And this is a quarterback driven football team. It has been in my time and has been for decades here and it works. So that’s what we stay in tune with.

Aaron Rodgers doesn’t mind running the ball a little more, but only as long as it results in wins, as he tells ESPN Wisconsin’s Jason Wilde:

If we can run the ball more effectively, it can only help us when we’re trying to get those one-on-one matchups outside. We have game-breakers outside, and it’d be nice to have some consistent game-breakers inside.

While running the ball consistently and effectively has been an issue for a few years now, it is not just a back-burner issue. The offensive line will be key in getting this ground game going. Zone blocking is something that Mike McCarthy has been heavily reliant on during his time here and consistent blocking will be just as important as anything else in getting the ground game… off the ground.images