Album of the Week
“This project is a meditation on the value of love relative to worldly success.”
Thus delineates a statement for J. Cole’s introspective third LP, 2014 Forest Hills Drive. The 29-year-old rapper returns home, reaching new levels of maturity and artistic strut en route.
The album’s title is derived from the address of his actual childhood home in Fayetteville, North Carolina. The 2014 Forest Hills Drive house marked a change for a young Cole. It was the first proper house his family occupied after growing up in trailer parks, which at the time elevated his sense of domestic pride and socio-economic standing.
This period also marked the spark of Cole’s active interest in rap. Having the privacy of his own room, the time proved instrumental in the development of his now-flourishing talent as an MC. The home was eventually foreclosed upon when Cole was still too young to help, but in poetic act of overcoming he recently bought the house back this past fall – his first property purchase.
What’s apparent over the duration of this album-length reflection, in chorus with the record’s documentary-style trailer video, is that Cole seems to see himself as equal parts local boy done good and prodigal son.
He lives up to the self-promotional hubris of a platinum selling rapper, yet, especially in contrast to his peers, Cole is not restrained in admitting his own insecurities, shortcomings and regrets. In relishing the fruits of his own success, it is not lost on Cole how he’s changed and what he’s left behind. Nor does he seem to have any illusions about the impermanence of that success. This is hip-hop approaching its most transparently human. Cole’s production is also refreshingly restrained, opting for fashionably concise beats and melodies that make up for simplicity with maturity and groove.
This record was something of a surprise – a pleasant one at that – announced less than a month ago with no singles or further promotion leading up to release.
J. Cole chose to forgo the traditional industry rollout, preferring to limit pre-album hype and context in order for the album to be ingested as a whole. As the aforementioned statement reads, “He wanted it to be pure for fans and he wanted the tale to be heard by them first and the perception to be personal and theirs alone.”
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