2014 Forest Hills Drive: Biggest Flop for J. Cole Thus Far

Image from youtube.com

Image from youtube.com

Let’s be honest: J. Cole is overrated. That is not to say that he is not a good artist or that he has no talent or message to deliver. In fact, I believe that J. Cole, whose full name is Jermaine Cole, is a very intellectually and socially conscious in comparison to many popular hip-hop musicians today like Drake, Chief Keef, A$AP Mob, and Lil B. However, compared to artists like Kendrick Lamar and Joey Bada$$, who can make great songs while providing some profound message, J. Cole lacks both the sonic ability and focused, sharp lyrics of his contemporaries on many of his tracks. However, there is both good and bad news for the Roc Nation artist: on the one hand, hardcore J. Cole fans will love his new record 2014 Forest Hills Drive for its strong similarities to his previous albums, but many who are ambivalent towards him will easily get bored and tired of him by the third or fourth track. Sadly for J. Cole, not everybody listening to this, including me, is a fan of his, leaving us with a bad taste in our mouths by the end.

From the intro track, a major flaw on the album is already displayed in full: the corniness of the songs. The intro and end track are probably the guiltiest of them all, with the intro continually repeating the phrase “Do you want to be free; do you want to be happy?” and the end track “Note to Self” being a fifteen minute session by J. Cole thanking everyone he can possibly think of (including fictional people he created on the spur of the moment) for their help and support. Does J. Cole know what album sleeves are meant for? However, these cheesy lines sadly permeate throughout the rest of the record as well, like when he says “From the window to the wall” on “G.O.M.D.” or compares himself to a hot dog while telling other rappers to “ketchup” on “Apparently.” Funnily enough, he apologizes for the ketchup joke right after he says it, making me wonder why he would put it on there in the first place. These lines are not bad objectively, but when the rapper saying them is J. Cole, an artist who prides himself on making sophisticated, thought-provoking lyrics, they just sound fake and awkward.

These bad vibes get taken to another level on the third track “Wet Dreamz.” Like the title of the tracks sounds, the song is about a younger J. Cole going through puberty and discovering his sexuality and first sexual encounters. It is obviously a personal track meant to be reflective, but J. Cole went about this the wrong way. It is just uncomfortable to hear the rapper talk about his young sexual experiences, especially with lines like “I ain’t never did this before,” that make the track sound like a parody of itself. I did not think that J. Cole could make a weaker song than his single “Work Out” from his first album, but he managed to do it with this one.

Just like some of J. Cole’s lyricism on some of the tracks, this record also needs some revamping when it comes to production, which was largely handled by the artist himself. On the track “No Role Modelz,” which is a decent enough track on the album, he has a skit in the middle of it where ex-President George W. Bush makes his famous “Shame on you” slip-up. Though the song mentions the feeling of shame earlier, this section of the song changes the track from being serious to being comical, a fatal flaw found in a couple of more tracks like “Apparently” also. However, even these songs sound great when compared to the track “St. Tropez,” easily one of the worst songs on the album. First, his beat, which samples “That’s All Right With Me” by Esther Phillips, is extremely sleepy and sounds as bland as elevator music. Secondly, however, he decided to sing, an extremely bad decision for an artist like J. Cole, and the result sounds horrifying. If he added some flair to the beat through horns or strings, it might have been a decent beat that could redeem his singing on the song, but my guess is that he was going for a certain mysterious mood that just fell flat.

For all the atrocious parts of this album, there are some great tracks that deserve to be mentioned. The tracks “January 28th” and “A Tale of 2 Citiez” are pretty good, showcasing J. Cole’s lyrical profundity over decently produced beats. The former track has a sense of nostalgia that creates the general mood for the rest of the album, and “A Tale of 2 Citiez” has a nice, mysterious-sounding beat that compliments Cole’s lyrics about getting out of the city ghettos through any means necessary, even illegal ones. “Love Yourz” is also a good track, and talks about the importance of family and friends in one’s life. However, a surprisingly good track on this album was “Hello,” which is completely sung by J. Cole, yet has a great piano-enhanced beat in the background that builds superbly. And, although the rapper is not a good singer, this actually works in his favor by enhancing the emotion in his lyrics through his slightly-cracked singing voice. This, along with “Fire Squad,” the fastest and heaviest song on the record that discusses whites taking over the African-American created genres of rock and hip-hop, are some of the best songs that J. Cole has made in his career yet. Everything he says sounds so real and passionate on this track that it allows Cole to sound wise instead of preachy.

Though this album tries to recreate an old-school feel, just like Joey Bada$$’s new debut album B4.DA.$$, it lacks the individuality and sharp lyricism of the former to make it sound like a classic record. J. Cole, on almost every track except “Fire Squad,” is saying the exact same things that he talked about on Born Sinner and Cole World: The Sideline Story, and sometimes he even talks about his topics better on his former albums, especially in comparison to songs like “St. Tropez.” The problem with this album is the exact same I have with J. Cole as a rapper: it brands itself as a stellar record with a classic Illmatic and Ready to Die feel, when in all actuality it is simply a decent, run-of-mill album whose tracks will be easily forgotten in the next few months or so. After listening to J. Cole’s first three albums, I feel as if the rapper is already past his peak that he established on The Warm Up and Friday Night Lights, a sad realization for an artist who had a lot of potential for growth after those tapes.

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