Review: 15 Thoughts On J. Cole's Excellent '2014 Forest Hills Drive'
December 11, 2014 - 8:25 pm
6. More than a year after “Control” dropped, Kendrick’s words are still making ripples. Cole names—then chin checks—his friendly rivals Drake and K Dot on “January 28th,” insisting, “You ain’t the God... Cole the God.” On “G.O.M.D.” he does more posturing: “Fuck the rest I'm the best nigga out/When I'm back home I'm the best in the South/When I'm in L.A. I'm the best in the West.”
7. But ultimately his true stance on hip-hop’s crown is an important one. Cole flexes on the album standout “Fire Squad,” then explains the futility of grappling for the throne and how it reeks of insecurity. Later, on “Note to Self,” an extended outro that incorporates the thank yous usually reserved for album booklets, he shouts out Drake, Kendrick and Wale, saying “I'm sorry I had to come snatch the crown right quick. I had to do it to show niggas it ain't no more motherfuckin' crowns, man. We gotta be the example, we gotta show these niggas man, it's love at the top... Niggas want beef, niggas want drama, fuck that, we comin’ together.”
8. Anyone calling the “Fire Squad” reference to Eminem, Justin Timberlake and Macklemore a diss is just dabbling in drama. It’s merely calling a thing a thing. All three have acknowledged and been respectful with their white privilege while participating in Black culture, a fact surely not lost on Jermaine. And, they're all talented. Iggy Azalea’s mention, however, is grade-A shade.
9. Cole may have outsold Kanye’s Yeezus, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t take lessons from his rapper-producer idol’s latest. Such as the power of reviving a millennial rap chant (i.e. “Blood on the Leaves”). Cole interpolates Project Pat’s 2000 record “Don’t Save Her” on “No Role Modelz” and Lil Jon & the East Side Boyz’s “Get Low” on “G.O.M.D.” The function is two-fold, providing pre-approved chants for live shows and building on the nostalgic vibes.
10. There are tons of quotables on the LP, but for some reason, this random couplet from “G.O.M.D.” is especially tickling: “Order Domino's/and she take off all her clothes/Nigga you know how it goes/make the pizza man wait.” So true, ha!
11. As Big K.R.I.T. does on Cadillactica, Cole relinquishes some production duties, inviting help on about half of the songs. It helps diversity the sounds and styles. He's learned how to create moods and melodies with different instruments, pairing his usual piano keys with orchestral strings, richer brass and increasingly clever sampling. Those drums on “Fire Squad” are so Mobb Deep! (Also, “St. Tropez” shares its sample with Havoc and Prodigy’s Infamous classic “Give Up The Goods (Just Step),” in case you needed any more nostalgia.)
12. Love is the cornerstone on which 2014 FHD is built. You’ll find the album’s thesis statement in the second verse of “Love Yourz,” a direct address to his listeners living the hard knock life who’ve never heard Biggie’s “Mo Money Mo Problems.” Which is, basically, that you can’t buy happiness. And to appreciate what you've got. He raps: “Always gon' be a bigger house somewhere, but nigga feel me/Long as the people in that motherfucker love you dearly/Always gon' be a whip that's better than the the one you got/Always gon' be some clothes that's fresher than the ones you rock/Always gon' be a bitch that's badder out there on the tours/But you ain't never gon' be happy till you love yours.”
13. It’s difficult to find a blemish on 2014 Forest Hills Drive. If you want to nitpick, there's one—the outro "Note to Self" sounds a bit like a musical number to a hokey effect. Still, Cole’s lyrics are consistently thoughtful and lyrically sharp. The melodies are chicken soup for the soul. And with no guests to distract from the message, it’s a focused, singular vision executed brilliantly.
14. Sure there’s no Miguel or Trey Songz to carry a “Power Trip” or “Can’t Get Enough,” respectively, but they’re not necessary. Despite rushing the album out without any singles, quite a few songs here can move the masses. “Hello” is a emotional update on Drake’s “Marvin’s Room” that incorporates a repetitive sing-along bridge and an upbeat rap verse over a rousing instrumental. “Tale of 2 Citiez” is a certified crowd rocker with a beat that recalls Bas’ “Mook in New Mexico.” And “G.O.M.D.” is just fun as hell to rap.
15. With 2014 Forest Hills Drive, Cole has crafted his greatest body of work, retail or otherwise. It’s honest, personal, sometimes funny but always genuine. This is his Blueprint, the best rap album to drop this year. Much respect.