2014 Forest Hills Drive, J. Cole’s third LP, is a reference to his old neighborhood in Fayetteville, N.C. This is an album where you get to experience Cole at his most honest and you find him at peak storytelling ability. 2014 Forest Hills Drive tracks the story of a young man as he leaves home and embarks on a journey for recognition and triumph in Hollywood, ultimately discovering that fame and riches don’t equate to happiness.
For his first album, Cole was chasing a major radio hit. He managed to succeed with the hit single “Work Out” in 2009. Despite the song going platinum, Cole was still complacent and soon plunged into a new project with his sophomore album, Born Sinner.
The second time around, Cole seemed to be free of major label pressure to create a hit. He still found success in “Power Trip,” another platinum single and record sales that outsold Kanye West’s polarizing “Yeezus” in its third week,
After all these milestones in a relatively young career, Cole seemed to still suffer from complacency, which shaped the framework for this new project. Cole chose to release this LP with no singles or album promotion. Without the outside influence of studio executives or a single crafted for the radio, Cole was free to create an album he could truly be proud of.
Cole has become more self aware in this LP and the progression is noticeable. It’s one of the things that makes the album so enjoyable. Cole started his career as a promising rapper but quickly fell into the cookie cutter mold of a good but not “great” rapper. He has finally found his voice for this album.
With the fifth track, “A Tale of 2 Citiez,” Cole portrays a younger version of himself dreaming of getting rich and leaving the city he once grew up in. On the bridge Cole raps, “Small town nigga Hollywood dreams/ I know everything that glitters ain’t gold/ I know the shits not always good as it seems.” The third track, “Wet Dreamz,” has Cole utilizing his wonderful story telling abilities to depict his first time having sex.
On “Apparently,” the eleventh track Cole raps, “This is my canvas, I’m a paint it how I want it baby.” Cole declares that he now realizes there is no right or wrong way to achieve success in music, so from now on we can expect him to do as he pleases. The production on this album is soothing and every new track has a distinct feel while still maintaining the vibes Cole is trying to present to the listener.
Cole often references his disillusionment with the glamorous life throughout the LP and especially on “Love Yourz,” a track that marks a new chapter for Cole in his musical career. “It’s beauty in the struggle, ugliness in the success/ hear my words or listen to my signal of distress.”
This LP is both a warning from Cole to listeners and a message to himself about the desire to chase fame and riches while disregarding something more important such as love. On the last track “Note to Self” Cole sings, “I’ve got a feeling that there’s somethin’ more/ something that holds us together/ the strangest feeling but I can’t be sure/ Something that’s old is forever/ Love.” This album is rewarding just to witness Cole’s progress as an artist. Cole isn’t chasing success anymore and it’s much more enjoyable to listen to him reflect on his life choices through a uniquely specific perspective. Cole created this LP to show he could create a compelling body of work and he succeeded.