J. Cole shuns industry norms in revolutionary album


By Nick Beaulieu, Editor-In-Chief

“Do you want to be… happy?” It’s a question with an obvious answer at face value. But it’s the recurring phrase throughout the intro track and the question that J. Cole attempts to answer throughout his new album, 2014 Forrest Hills Drive.

Cole’s new album is a revolutionary composition that stands out in a genre corrupted by money and fame. The cover of the album features J. Cole sitting on the roof of the house he grew up in, a complete representation of his music.
J. Cole is a 29-year-old rapper who has released two studio albums and three mix tapes prior. Cole grew up lower-middle class in Fayetteville, N.C. before attending St. John’s University. From then, he would first break into the rap game with Cole World: The Sideline Story, following up with Born Sinner before last year’s late release, 2014 Forrest Hills Drive.
J. Cole announced he would have a new album on Nov. 16, less than a month from when it would be released on Dec. 9. That bold announcement would further prove representative of the music on the album.
After “Intro,” the album begins with the track “January 28th,” Cole’s birthday. After this song is “Wet Dreamz” and “03 Adolescence.” These three songs delve into Cole’s childhood, his challenges as a kid and his struggle with family and peers in his upbringing.
“Wet Dreamz” tells the story of Cole losing his virginity. Riddled with anxiety, Cole’s verses and delivery put listeners in the shoes of a young, nervous teen internally battling the idea of sex in his head.
The album bridges to tracks “A tale of 2 Citiez” and “Fire Squad.”
Both songs feature high-tempo beats and tell the story of an older J. Cole. The songs touch more on social and modern issues.
“Fire Squad” boasts a confident Cole who insists there is no one better in the rap game than himself.
So ahead of my time even when I rhyme about the future I be reminiscing.”
Cole couples the confidence in his verses on “Fire Squad” with a hook that follows his story line. “If you scared to take a chance, how the f**k we gon’ get rich?”
In “Fire Squad,” Cole realizes he has the talent to make it in rap, but he has to overcome circumstances that are weighing him down.
2014 Forrest Hill Drive, like most rap music, is filled with expletives. But unlike most artists, Cole uses it constructively to both relate to his audience and speak as he once did when he’s telling the stories.
“St. Tropez” comes in after “Fire Squad” and serves a smooth and meditative track.
“She asked me if I’m scared to fly,to tell the truth I’m terrified.”
The hook repeats, “He’s on his way, he’s bout to get paid, he’s on his way to Hollywood” four times.
The soft-tempo track – which features a nice brass sound – bridges the listeners to the next point: J.Cole’s life and the rapper entering Hollywood.
The next track is “G.O.M.D,” the most unique song and longest track on the album besides the 14-minute outro track “Note to Self.”
“G.O.M.D” features a primary sample from the song “Berta Berta”a 1992 composition by Branford Marsalis that is folk in identity, replicating the sounds of prisoners used in the play “The Piano Lesson.”
“Hollywood Cole!” J. Cole shouts before pouring out about fame, the money and everything gained and lost on the road to Hollywood.
“I want to go back to Jermaine but I don’t tell nobody,” J. Cole says, as he deep down longs to go back to his life before the fame.
Things are different for J. Cole as the story progresses. The same people he was once with in the earlier part of the album are no longer there with him or for him and “G.O.M.D” tells the story of Cole’s resistance to admitting it in an angry denial.
Things with women are different, the industry of music is different– everything is different – and you can sense the uneasiness in his words and voice.
One verse on “G.O.M.D.” begins with, “This is the part that the thugs skip” as Cole delves into as softer topic of discussion involving genuine love and compassion with women.
Not only did Cole go against industry norms by dropping an album three weeks after announcement and not releasing any singles or music videos, but Cole also goes where no rappers go, ringing the taboo bell time and time again.
The next four songs on the album reveal Cole’s awakening.
“No Role Modelz” speaks to the trickery and unfortunate trends that associate dating and intimate interaction in today’s times.
The Hollywood life is robbing Cole of real love, and he doesn’t like it.
“Apparently” is the one track you’ll likely hear on the radio with a catchy hook and airway friendly lyrics, and the last song before the credit track is “Love Yourz.”
“No such thing as a life better than yours” is the hook in the final track and the ultimate, final, end-all message expressed in 2014 Forrest Hills Drive.
J. Cole opens up about being grateful for where he is in life and his realization that money and fame is not what matters most to him in life.
“Always gon’ be a whip that’s better than you got. Always gon’ be some clothes that’s fresher than the ones you rock,” Cole preaches to listeners.
At one point Cole says “I think being broke was better,” emphasizing the important things money can’t buy he once had before becoming rich.
2014 Forrest Hills Drive is a life lesson. It’s a story about how a young, ambitious person who climbed the latter of fame and made it through without being changed, unlike what seemingly happens to every other star.
J. Cole breaks all industry norms both on and off the tracks. With mostly self-promotion and songs with no features,
J. Cole went back to his roots and produced an album that intellectually rivals any other musician today.
J. Cole is one-in-a-million in that he rose to fame, got the riches, and yet still overcame the temptations that lead to corruption, allowing him to tell the story of his journey from a perspective down a path many are never able to do.
His always-relevant rhymes will make you shake your head and his wordplay and metaphorical schemes are so hot, a fire emoji doesn’t do it justice.
With a variation of melodies and styles, Cole tells a story that everyone can learn from – a story that hits home more ways than one.