Just like that, J. Cole has released the best album of 2014*. Check out the breakdown of Cole’s third LP
Words: John Kennedy (@youngjfk)
1. In J. Cole’s insightful Complex cover story, the Fayetteville, N.C. MC shares that he’d be content wrapping his career with 2014 Forest Hills Drive. And while it’s unlikely Cole is pumping the brakes any time soon, this album eerily sounds like a bookend or closing chapter.
2. There’s a distinct story arc that traverses J. Cole’s first three studio albums. Cole World: The Sideline Story found him still a wide-eyed rap rookie trying to make his name, too busy for close friends and family and feeling some type of way about Jay Z’s perceived apathy to his career (until Hov bodied his neophyte on “Mr. Nice Watch.”). He was still Simba testing out his roar. On Born Sinner, he’s established but overwhelmed by the pressures of fame. Cole was preoccupied with his net worth, rap game pole position and remaining faithful in a proverbial room full of hoes. The morose sound reflected the dark side of celebrity culture. On 2014 FHD, he’s self-actualized. Neo in The Matrix. The superficial stuff—handshakes from the fakes, paper chasing, forbidden fruit—all falls to the wayside as he returns home both literally and figuratively. He reminisces on the simpler days, before he left for New York City with merely a dollar in his pocket and big dreams on his dome. He embraces genuine love. It’s true maturation.
3. That same thread exists within 2014 Forest Hills Drive. His mentality shifts from juvenile years (“03’ Adolescence”) to stardom (“St. Tropez,” “G.O.M.D.”) to a humble homecoming (“Hello,” “Love Yourz”). This album feels more like a journal than its predecessors.
4. It’s easy to tell that “Wet Dreamz” is a relic from the J. Cole vault that dates back at least to 2010. The chipmunk soul sample—a slither taken from Family Circle’s “Mariya”—would be at home on Kanye West’s pre-fame Freshman Adjustment mixtape. It fits with the album’s wistful feel. Sharp storytelling, too.
5. Cole gets his Nat King on, hitting notes on nearly every song. He’s no D’Angelo, but like his Mike Brown dedication “Be Free,” the sung vocals add a rawness to the lyrics. It’s no wonder he’s a fan of Chance The Rapper.
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* Our Albums of the Year list included projects released between Dec. 2013 and November 2014. Look for Cole’s 2014 FHD on next year’s list.