J. Cole commands a lot of respect for being one of the few real and honest lyricists operating in mainstream hip hop. '2014 Forest Hills Drive' is his third album, and his growth and development is apparent from the instant you press play on the haunting and emotional introduction. Cole recently said that he doesn't care about reviews, good or bad, so I'm not sure he'll pay this much attention, but the North Carolina MC has produced a quality piece of work, with a diverse yet cohesive collection of thoughtful, mature and truthful hip hop.
J. Cole begins with 'January 28th', his birth date, and opens the album with lyrics about his early life as well as his thoughts on the recent incidents in America, alluding to the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson. The lack of real content in much of the recent rap music is a concern, but Cole assures us from the outset that that is not a route he's going down. He follows this track with 'Wet Dreamz', which has an incredible beat produced by the man himself. J. Cole recounts his first sexual experience over soulful, crisp production, and the honest approach is something that works well, and is very endearing. He shows courage and a disregard for following the standard trends, and it's a much needed breath of fresh air. This continues with '03' Adolescence', where the 29 year old rapper demonstrates both his story-telling ability along with making clear his attitude towards the materialistic and indulging nature of much of mainstream hip hop in today's climate. 'Fire Squad' features another example of this honesty regarding his feelings towards the industry; Cole name-checks Eminem, Iggy Azalea, Macklemore and Justin Timberlake.
'G.O.M.D.' is one of the stand-outs from '2014 Forest Hills Drive', with a fantastic beat you can't help but vibe to, and with Cole demonstrating his radio-friendly ability to full potential, whilst remaining relevant, unique and engaging. Cole really demonstrates his production talents on this album, being at least partly responsible for 10 of the 13 tracks. 'No Role Modelz' is a dope track, Cole makes points about the lack of figureheads, incorporating a well-placed George Bush sample. 'Hello' showcases an effective combination of Cole's vocal ability and consistent flow, and this continues in 'Apparently'. 'Love Yourz' is yet another highlight, featuring Cole spitting confidently about his realizations in what's important in life. The closer, 'Note To Self', is a 14 minute long list of thank yous, closing the album off in Kanye style.
J. Cole shows a maturity and confidence on '2014 Forest Hills Drive' that really sets this album apart from his earlier work, which has always shown his clear skills, but not in the way evident here. The album's themes of love and happiness are apparent throughout, and Cole demonstrates his technical ability, whether it's storytelling, punchlines or flow, in keeping with this. His recent performance on the David Letterman show is also worth a look; it's another example of J. Cole's personal, heartfelt and honest work. Cole's entered the running late, but this is a strong contender for being one of the best hip hop albums of the year.
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