2014 has been a horrible year for hip-hop album sales, so when J. Cole announced he was dropping an album on such short notice and without any radio singles — many deemed the rapper crazy. If history repeats itself, if there’s any MC who could find a way to succeed despite the downward spiral in record sales, it’s the humbled Born Sinner who pushed up his last album to compete with and eventually outsell Kanye West’s self-proclamation: Yeezus.
If you read Hip Hop My Way’s editorial on streaming (if you haven’t check it out here,) we challenged rappers to use their creativity for more than music. Cole’s mentor Jay Z introduced #NewRules in 2013 when he partnered with Samsung to release Magna Carta Holy Grail — now it’s up to the game’s current crop to continue harvesting innovative marketing plans in order to succeed in today’s music industry.
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Let’s take a look at Cole’s marketing in the weeks leading up to 2014 Forest HillS Drive. First, the rapper connected with his fans by sharing an impromptu PSA announcing the project and it’s interpersonal home is where the heart is theme.
Next, Cole hosted a contest where he gave fans a chance to hear his album ahead of time at his North Carolina childhood home.
— RIKKI (@RikkiMaa) November 20, 2014
As if his house warming welcome wasn’t inviting enough, the rapper randomly responded to a die-hard fan on Twitter and played her and her family 2014 Forest Hills Driveat their home.
Next, the rapper delivered a genuine cover story for Complex Magazine’s upcoming December/January issue. The interview has ideology that’s identical and foreshadows the concept of his upcoming album, focusing on inner peace over all.
— KING Themba© (@REALTeeNgobs) December 4, 2014
In light of the no indictment decisions attached to the Mike Brown and Eric Garner murder cases, J. Cole participates in local NYC protests.
J. Cole’s new album 2014 Forest Hills Drive is the album of the people, for the people. Everything about the project, from it’s relative message of finding inner peace and happiness to the marketing and promotional of the LP humanizes the Roc Nation signee’s third studio LP. In the weeks leading up to his homecoming inspired release, Cole built a buzz by participating in generous gestures that felt genuine for his established fan base. Sonically, Cole stays true to his formula of combining catchy melodies with thought provoking wordplay and punchlines over self-produced sample heavy beats. The lyricist sings and harmonizes more than ever before on the project, a switch-up from his previous drops that shows off his growth and versatility as an artist. Despite 2014 Forest Hills Drive being his shortest ever release in terms of the amount of songs and album duration, his storytelling and soul searching makes the release his most complete body of work thus far. Cole has found comfort in returning home, simplifying life leading to happiness — metaphorically comparable to him making better music now for his appreciative loyal fan base rather than reaching with hit-singles and flex heavy verses for mass gratification. Think of 2014 Forest Hills Drive as a homecoming high school play full of motivating and meaningful monologues, and the soundtrack is definitely a candidate for 2014’s album of the year. Check out our track-by-track up next, and purchase the project here.
J. Cole starts off 2014 Forest Hills Drive by setting the tone with a reverb heavy melody over minimal piano instrumentation — following a formula his fans are accustomed to. In reflection, he repeatedly hums “Do you want to be happy…?” introducing the album’s theme in search of inner peace.
2. January 28th
With “January 28th,” Cole speeds up the tempo and reiterates the importance of staying true to self, while crowning himself the next king of rap amongst a generation that includes Drake and Kendrick Lamar, the peers and competitors he’s often compared to.
3. Wet Dreamz
Staying true to the high school and homecoming theme, with “Wet Dreamz” Cole describes losing his virginity to a classmate. A brutally honest story-telling track, that features the lightskinned rapper revealing as ever while simpin’ his way for the song’s full 4:00 duration.
4. 03’ Adolescence
Sonically, the album’s fourth joint sounds like an outtake from his 2010 mixtape Friday Night Lights. “03’ Adolescence” synth-heavy song describes Cole’s battle with poverty while growing up in Fayetteville.
5. A Tale of 2 Citiez
A continuation of “03’ Adolescence,” “A Tale of 2 Citiez” talks about the difficulty that comes with thinking rationally when you’re always in search of quick money come ups. The song gives an insightful take on class inequality and privilege.
6. Fire Squad
“Fire Squad” is the most controversial song on the album, which infamously has Cole throwing jabs at white appropriation of hip-hop culture. Throughout the hard-hitting lyricist cut, the wordsmith is flexing his punchlines, delivering his best “rapping” effort of the album.
7. St .Tropez
After three straight lyrical exercises, Cole slows the tempo down with a smooth interlude-inspired instrumental. “St Tropez” would serve as the intermission scene, before Jermaine moves out of Fayetteville to pursue his bigger city dreams in New York.
“G.O.M.D.” is one of the album’s standout cuts. The lengthy introduction instrumental solo prepares listeners for the catchy, upbeat banger. “G.O.M.D.” is Cole’s best work on 2014 Forest Hills Drive production wise, and the MC makes sure to bring entertaining flows to match the hard to resist drum line.
9. No Role Modelz
The strings in the beginning of the song introduce a new vibe to 2014 Forest Hills Drive. Straying away from the previous rap heavy, hard-hitting tracks — Hello is a slowed down song that features Cole singing for the full cut. This song would be the third reprise of the school play, similar to a reflective monologue with the Roc Nation signee in the moment regretting leaving home for NYC.
Following the same formula of “Hello,” “Apparently is another song that features more melody than flows. The heartfelt track includes Cole’s story on feeling sorry his family’s home was foreclosed while he was away. In addition, he talks about his flaws as a human being, regretting focusing on his dreams and aspirations more than spending time with him loved ones.
12. Love Yours
“Love Yours” is another standout track from 2014 Forest Hills Drive. The interpersonal and introspective cut reminds listeners to value their lives more than anything else. It reassures the beauty of the struggle and importance of appreciating what you have that already makes you happy before you search for fake happiness.
13. Note to Self
After projects of attempting to replicate Kanye West’s “Last Call,” J. Cole finally has his own. Spoiler alert: Stay for the movie credits.