Updated: Jan 14
Today's throwback album review comes from North Carolina's own J Cole, with his 2014 classic '2014 Forest Hills Drive'. This project is widely considered Cole's best, and I happen to agree. So let's dive into reviewing this project. Firstly, the production is absolutely immaculate on this album and creates the perfect atmosphere on each track. It's very piano and soul sample heavy with a small jazz influence found throughout and it sounds amazing. Cole's lyricism on this album isn't the most complex, but what he rhymes he does it so poetically all throughout. The lyrics are so concise and real, and his wordplay is slick and punchlines witty at a consistent basis. Also, his storytelling is very good and is a common trait in this album. Cole's flow ranges in speed but is always smooth throughout, and his delivery just like the production fits the mood perfectly. Whether it needs to be a desperate or menacing - he's got it locked down. Cole sings quite a lot too on this project, and it's fair to say his signing voice is quite nice. Content wise, this album tells the narrative of a boy, who is trying to be a rapper and eventually makes it big in Hollywood - consequently he gets caught up in that Hollywood life. He realises his wrongdoings and mistakes as well as the people he's hurt, works to change this and eventually does and turns into the Cole we know today that values love and happiness over a materialistic things, which is a key theme of the album as well as the fuck Hollywood theme that's prevalent.
The project begins as every good project should, with a track titled 'Intro'. It's only two minutes long, as does a good job of introducing the key themes of the album which are love, happiness and money. He lays them themes poetically over a slow piano themed instrumental, it sounds decent and is a good introduction - but probably a skip in the grand scheme of things. On 'January 28th' we see J Cole talk on a range of topics including: his childhood, status in rap, making it big and racial injustices in America. Cole's wordplay is great in this track, "Cole is the hypnotist, control the game whenever he snap // That's every track, n****". Also some more deep lines hit hard over the soul-themed beat with an incredibly smooth guitar and slow drums. Cole spits over a smooth soul sample again on 'Wet Dreamz' as he takes us through the story of him losing his virginity. The storytelling in this is good and enjoyable to follow along even giving us a twist at the end - while the repetitive hook is pretty catchy and a great interlude between the verses - giving us a real highlight of the album. Following on from that we reach the track '03' Adolescence' which is another great track track over a brilliant Frank Sinatra soul sample and slow drums, as Cole glides over it with a very old school flow. The story starts from when he's 18, and he starts by telling us he's an unconfident shy kid, describing what he gets up to until he has a chat with a mate of his, making him realise how lucky he is and he starts to appreciate his life more. The metaphors in verse one are great as is the storytelling as usual, but compared to the previous tracks it lacks the same replay value and therefore I don't think it's in the same category as them.
'A Tale of 2 Citiez' takes the perspective of two different people on the different sides of Fayetteville, beginning with the perspective of someone in Forest Hills, the better side of town where he doesn't want to get caught up in crime and dreams of making it big. The perspective then flips after the first hook to a criminal in the rough parts of town, and represents the perspective of those underprivileged in the Ville. The storytelling again is great as is the wordplay and metaphors scattered throughout. The production is menacing to fit the theme - especially the piano while the slidy 808s are subtle but so effective. 'Fire Squad' absolutely bangs and goes so hard. The beat is menacing, the sliding 808s once again create a great bass effect as Cole talks on restoring balance in hip-hop. Within the context of the album, Cole is on the come up and is just about to blow. Once again, Cole's lyrics are poetic and his punchlines are great, "Of these phony n*****, so ahead of my time // Even when I rhyme about the future I be reminiscing". 'St. Tropez' is the first song I dislike. Firstly before I express my issues with it, it focuses on Cole being on his way to Hollywood, with St. Tropez being a metaphor for fortune and fame. There are many metaphors within this track to unravel, and the production is once again great and consists of the usual soul samples and drums but has a lowkey bass guitar which brings it all together. While it was a great fit for the album, I just don't like it. I'm not huge on the singing - he should rap, he's a rapper and this track despite fitting the storyline, is a definite skip every time without fault.
The next track 'G.O.M.D.' goes very hard. The production is great on this track, the drums and bass sound hard and the sample used is great. Lyrically it's nothing crazy but the bars come thick and fast as Cole is braggadocios and caught up in the Hollywood life before he realises he's ways and wants to go back to keeping it real. His flow as well, especially in the 2nd verse, is so smooth yet ferocious. The next track is the iconic 'No Role Modelz'. It's an incredibly catchy song, full of witty punchlines and more poetic bars. The production is once again great consisting of trumpets, deep drums and a subtle piano. The theme of the track is that kids these days have no role models anymore. Cole attacks reality stars who are now famous and idolised and uses them as a reflection of the shallow, artificial lifestyle of Hollywood that he found himself trapped in. The following track 'Hello' features Cole speaking desperately over melancholy piano keys and drums as he tries to get back in touch with an ex girlfriend who's moved on. The lines in this song are simple but effective, and the repetition of hello gives us a clear indication that this girl isn't replying to him. His singing voice on this track is pretty good as well as he sings rather than raps for the majority of this song.
Moving into the final 3 tracks of the album we start to see Cole trying to make up for his past mistakes - starting with the emotional 'Apparently'. He spends the first verse thanking his girlfriend for believing in him and apologising to his mum for the way he has treated her and also thanking her for her unconditional support. The second verse then focuses on more rapping, as he provides us great wordplay while providing an amazing flow. The choppy piano on this as well as the subtle trumpets make another melancholy beat, but there seems to be a bit more victory within this instrumental reflecting the overall theme of the song. As the album begins to close out, we come onto arguably my favourite J Cole song of all time 'Love Yourz'. The track focuses on the most important thing in life - happiness, as J Cole uses simplistic lines, straight up and not complex, yet it is so effective - especially the second verse that is so real. There are so many quotable lines in this but the ending of the second verse is some of the most real lyrics I've ever heard, "Always gon' be a bigger house somewhere, but n**** feel me // Long as the people in that motherfucker love you dearly // Always gon' be a whip that's better than 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 'til you love yours". The climatic ending to the album 'Note to Self' is everything you expect it to be - Cole's complete transformation and realisation that nothing matters in life until you love yourself and the others around you. His singing voice is nice, and it's a really fitting end to the album. He also ends this by giving a huge speech spanning around 12 minutes to all those who helped make the album and had a hand in it, in typical Roc Nation style.
To conclude, this album tells a really good tale while providing high quality music throughout. It has a mix of emotional songs, bangers and storytelling tracks for you to enjoy while providing us motivational all throughout. This project really shows the maturity of Cole and the progression of his music to this point, and at the moment this seems to be his magnum opus.
FAVOURITE TRACKS: January 28th, Wet Dreamz, 03' Adolescence, A Tale of 2 Citiez, Fire Squad, G.O.M.D., No Role Modelz, Apparently, Love Yourz
LEAST FAVOURITE TRACK: St. Tropez
OVERALL RATING: Light 9.5/10
*REVISED SCORE: Review may not match favourite tracks and overall rating because I've since re-listened and changed my score.*