J Cole – 2014 Forest Hills Drive

So after listening to To Pimp A Butterfly, I asked my friend Caleb (the one that introduced me to Kendrick Lamar) what else there is like it out there and without a beat he mentioned J Cole’s latest album 2014 Forest Hills Drive. So I checked that out and loved it!

Again it’s an album that talks a lot about the black psyche, experience and problems that face black people in the US. This album was released just before the black lives matter movement, so it’s also a victim of bad timing because he makes no reference to it, even though it becomes one of the most important things in black culture from late 2015. He tells a great story, though you can tell he doesn’t have as good technique as some other rappers like Kendrick Lamar.

The album seems very nostalgic and like it tells the story of his life up til now and what he’s learned about himself, society’s problems and what in history has caused it. You can tell it isn’t a random collection of songs he had lying around and decided to put them together into an album, all of it was crafted with a theme in mind and each song moves to the next really well. He’s also tried very hard to not make it a regular sounding rap album, with heavy beats and rapping about woman, cars and money.

So firstly, it’s more of a regular “rap” album than To Pimp A Butterfly from what I can tell. But there’s still loads of orchestral elements, the opening song on it “Intro” is just him singing, with a piano and eerie sounds in the background that almost sound like stars twinkling, it’s hard to explain. Weirdly critics seemed to hate it when I searched online, they mostly talk about how he’s acting more important than he is, yet isn’t that what Kanye West does basically constantly?

Now there’s a couple songs on the album I wasn’t a fan of, unlike Kendrick’s album, where every song was good for a different reason.

On this the songs I don’t like are:

  • Wet Dreamz: Talks about him in school and his first time having sex, which is a bit funny because it talks about how he thinks the girl is an expert, so he acts like one though he isn’t, and when they first get together, shes scared of his “experience”. It just feels like there’s no point to the song though, 4 minutes just for a punchline and the music isn’t good enough to be played in a club or anything
  • No Role Modelz (you’ll notice he replaces the letter S with Z, not sure why): It talks about how he thinks black women act the way they do because they don’t have any role models, but in the same song he’s talking about how he thinks his girlfriend is a gold digger and is pretty misogynistic. I’m not sure if he’s hating on women ironically in the song to highlight the point or if he’s just like that
  • Fire Squad: While he raps really well, its just a bit boring and he’s just a regular gangsta rap song, from someone who’s obviously not gangsta material! I can’t explain it any better than that!

While I say that, there’s a couple of songs I love on here. St. Tropez, just a really cool, chilled out song, good for listening to almost anytime. G.O.M.D which has one of the best music videos I’ve ever seen, at the top of this post, has loads to say and is just great gym music. Hello, which has a really great upbeat tempo, while the subject matter of the lyrics is really depressing (Thinking he can’t be a stepdad because he didn’t have a father growing up). Finally Apparently, which is sad enough to bring a tear to my eye!

Honestly I think it’s a great album and while the last song “Note to Self” is a bit self-indulgent, talking about how great the album is etc. for 15 minutes, I think he’s great and considering how young he is, I reckon he’ll get better and more political in the coming years.

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