The important thing to understand about 2014 Forest Hills Drive is that it wasn't just "another rap album." Instead of focusing on exuberance and grandstanding for its content, J. Cole decided to tell the story of his journey from his childhood home in North Carolina to superstardom. This personal album was almost entirely produced, written, and performed solely by J. Cole himself, a rarity in the world of hip-hop where even perfectionists like Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar bring on a bevy of producers and featuring artists to shape the music. 2014 Forest Hills Drive also proved, without question, that J. Cole is one of the best lyricists working today.
It's been over a year since J. Cole's 2014 Forest Hills Drive album was released, but the album has stayed in the public consciousness thanks to J. Cole's Forest Hills Drive Tour and hit singles like "No Role Modelz" and "Wet Dreamz." Now, J. Cole's releasing a victory lap of a concert special on HBO entitled Forest Hills Drive Homecoming , showcasing a concert where J. Cole performs the entirety of his album. It's a practical gesture as much as a symbolic one — what better way to celebrate an album about making it in the big city than returning home to perform it? Here are some of the best lyrical moments on J. Cole's 2014 Forest Hills Drive album that audiences can expect to really hit when performed for Cole's hometown audience.
Then reach the stars, you take the timeTo look behind and say, "Look where I cameLook how far I done came"They say that dreams come trueAnd when they do, that there's a beautiful thing
On the opening to the album, J. Cole drops a few quick lines that effectively serve as the thesis statement of the entire album. This album covers J. Cole's journey to the top, and now that he's there it's time to look back.
What's the price for a black man life?I check the toe tag, not one zero in sightI turn the TV on, not one hero in sightUnless he dribble or he fiddle with mics
J. Cole makes a pretty blunt, depressing statement about the state of the world in 2014. With all the death and mindless violence, Cole ponders why people are busy obsessing over athletes and rappers when attention needs to be paid to what's going on outside of the realm of celebrity.
This for my n****** that was tossed in the gravesEvery so often I fade deep in my thoughts and then get lost in the daysWe used to play before your coffin was madeJust got the call n***** got caught with a strayHope he's OK
J. Cole takes a moment to reminisce about some of his friends from his youth — celebrating that he is still here, because he very easily could've been hit by that stray instead of his friend.
I'm watching pornos trying to see just how to stroke rightPractice putting condoms on, how it go rightI'm in her crib, now a n***** palms sweatin'With a pocket full of rubbers and an erectionThat's when my hands start touching and her face start blushingAnd a n***** roll over on topAnd then she get my pants unbuckled and her hands start rubbingOn me, ooh girl don't stopIt's time for action: pull out the condoms real smooth, yeah, just how I practiced
It's common for rap music to discuss matters of sex – but it's rarely to talk about how not good someone is at sex. Instead of writing a song bragging about his skill with the ladies, J. Cole takes us back to the awkward, fearful child he was when he lost his virginity. It's a brave thing to write a song about in such an honest way, but it's also incredibly relatable.
You bout to go get a degree, I'ma be stuck with two choices:Either graduate to weight or selling number twoFor what? A hundred bucks or two a week?Do you think that you would know what to do if you was me?I got, four brothers, one mother that don't love usIf they ain't want us why the f*ck they never wore rubbers?
J. Cole shifts the perspective, briefly, to a friend of his talking to Cole about his dreams of going to college. J. Cole's friend is forced to deal drugs to support himself and his family, and is ensuring that J. Cole is aware that not everyone gets the same opprotunities to escape poverty that Cole is getting.
"A Tale Of Two Citiez"
Wanna know a funny thing about this sh*t?Even if you let em' kill your dream it'll haunt you n*****
J. Cole believes that you can set your dreams aside, or let other people tell you what you should do with your life, but nothing is going to keep you from wanting those dreams to come true.
Cole you might beLike the new Ice Cube, meets the new Ice-TMeets 2 Live Crew, meets the new Spike LeeMeets Bruce like Wayne, meets Bruce like LeeMeets '02 Lil Wayne, in a new white teeMeets KD, ain't no n***** that can shoot like me!
J. Cole mentions some of his idols that I would like to become, but what's especially notable about these lyrics are the complex rhyming. Cole balances a few different sounds around and finds unique ways to arrange and repeat those sounds in just five lines. An impressive feat that marks the difference between just being a lyricist and being a rapper.
It's called love, niggas don't sing about it no moreDon't nobody sing about it no moreBut every n***** in the club singingTo the window, to theMy nigga ride when I callGot bitches all in my mindF*ck nigga blocking my shine
J. Cole points out that most rap music today is afraid to talk about love, or at least a healthy version of it. Love of others or (healthy) love of self is almost completely absent from a lot of music today, which Cole recognizes and hopes to fix.
"No Role Modelz"
I want a real love, dark skinned Aunt Viv loveThat Jada and that Will loveThat leave a toothbrush at your crib love
J. Cole's vision of a true, genuine love doesn't get more simple or understandable than the practice leaving a toothbrush at someone's house.
Reflection bring regrets don't itRejection makes you defensiveSo you protect your pride with your reflexesBut life is a game with no reset on the end
He may not have Adele's voice, but J. Cole's song called "Hello" about dialing up an old flame is just as emotional raw as the "Hello" that most people know. Here, J. Cole tries to break down his own defenses so that he can actually live his life — since we only get one of those, after all.
Aim for the stars and I shouldn't have missedBut I was riding on fumes so I stopped by the moonNow I'm sitting on the hood of this b*tch like thanks for the view
Reflecting on his career so far, J. Cole looks at the shallow success of some of his early hit singles and isn't satisfied with the fleeting nature of work without artistic substance.
Always gon' be a bigger house somewhere, but n***** feel meLong as the people in that motherf*cker love you dearlyAlways gon' be a whip that's better than the the one you gotAlways gon' be some clothes that's fresher than the ones you rockAlways gon' be a b*tch that's badder out there on the toursBut you ain't never gon' be happy till you love yours
J. Cole has seen success, and chased money and women. He tried to find happiness in everything that wasn't himself before looking inward, which is the only place you can truly find lasting happiness.
"Note To Self"
I've got a feeling that there's somethin' moreSomething that holds us togetherSomething that holds us togetherThe strangest feeling but I can't be sureSomething that's old as foreverSomething that's old as foreverLoveLoveLoveLove
The ending moments of the album proper, J. Cole re-inforces the thesis of the album, his personal philosophy, and the theme of almost every song, poem, and story that has been constructed for as long as art has existed — Love will save us all.
J. Cole's personal odyssey is an experience unique to him, but the struggles of hoping to find success are universal. J. Cole's gone from the bottom to the top and 2014 Forest Hills Drive is a stellar account of what it means to discover one's self while everyone else is trying to shape you into something that you're not. His hometown return is sure to bring gasps, cheers and maybe a few tears when it premieres on HBO on Jan. 9.