2014 Forest Hills Drive: J. Cole’s Love Letter to Ourselves and to America

Warning: This is not a review. Just get the album, you’ll be better for it.

By: Ilana Rubin 

Ten days ago  J. Cole released his third studio album, “2014 Forest Hills Drive” *. His music has followed me through my teens into my twenties (math!) and I’ve always felt a certain connection to him and his music. Maybe it’s for a reason as silly as he attended St. John’s in my hometown neighborhood. Or because Cole was my first interview back when I was working at MTV. I don’t know, but his music has always held a special place in my heart. With the release of this project, I felt I received all of that love back. This album wasn’t just for his fans but for the world at large.

There have been critics who feel as though FHD fell short of a classic. Regardless of the bias that I hold, I always try and understand someone else’s point of view, but in this case I just simply fail to. Our world is in shambles. Not just internationally, but domestically. As incredulous as it is to believe, some people still think racism is okay. In our own little worlds that we exist in it’s easy to believe that racism is an ancient belief and that we have overcome, but we haven’t. The deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Aiyana Jones, among so many others, have brought a spotlight but nothing seems to be changing.

The album’s general thesis comes together on the powerful track, “Love Yourz” when Cole preaches how important finding happiness within yourself is. It’s easy to get caught up in the world of Instagram and Twitter and Facebook and to obsess over the fortunes and misfortunes of the people existing in our periphery. In this song, which feels more like a prayer, Jermaine urges us to recognize how ephemeral all of that is.

FHD is a glimmer of hope. While he may not be the only rapper preaching love and internal happiness, Cole is definitely one of the few. And right now that message is so important I don’t care if it’s not new. It’s what the world needs. We need a track like “Love Yourz” to remind us that there will always be people with flashier, shinier, bigger ticket items but that they don’t matter. Loving who we are as people will help us coexist with others and maybe then we can envision a world that has progressed past racism and hatred. We need tracks like “January 28th” and “Wet Dreamz” to bring us back to the memories that shaped our adolescence and influenced our growth.

As a nation we need to understand where we came from as a means of moving forward. Cole uses 2014 FHD to go back in time but also he gives us a glimpse of the future and what we can be if we focused less on the fleeting aspects of life and spent more of our energy on what mattered. Of course tracks like “Fire Squad”, “A Tale of 2 Citiez”, and “G.O.M.D.” knock a lot harder than the previously mentioned tracks but they serve the same purpose to Cole’s chronological narrative. And I know I already said this is not a review, but if “Apparently” doesn’t bring you to tears than I’d suggest going to a doctor because you might be dead inside. Or maybe I’m just emotionally unstable, both are valid possibilities.

Cole has always been an artist of the people and after what he felt like wasn’t a proper first album, he did a complete 180 with the release of Born Sinner. It was a concise narrative that told the tale of fame and the demons one faces on the “road to riches”. On 2014 Forest Hills Drive, an already experienced Cole tells us the story of getting back in touch with his roots and rediscovering the importance of life.

To further emphasize how minuscule the monetary outcome of this album was, Cole barely did any promo for it. Prior to the release Cole invited fans to 2014 Forest Hills Drive for private listening sessions. He also made personal visits to fan homes so they could listen to the album before it had been released. He didn’t drop any singles. The album was meant to be heard beginning to end.

After the record had been released Cole at his Letterman performance chose to perform, “Be Free”, a heartfelt song of pain and helplessness. The song was released when the turmoil in Ferguson was in the beginning stages and it held a mirror to not only what Cole was feeling but also what black people all over America felt. An artist choosing to perform a political song over a song off of his album is such a powerful statement that I truly hope didn’t go unrecognized. He even added an extra verse the night before when they were rehearsing.

He then set out on a weeklong tour titled, “Fuck Money Spread Love” in which he didn’t perform but just traveled across the U.S. guided by tweets he received from fans telling him where to go and where to eat. He had lunch with fans, played football at LSU, rented out a theater for himself and his fans to screen Chris Rock’s Top Five. It just all seemed so very magical. Unfortunately, my tweets telling him to visit me while I was babysitting got lost in the vortex.

If none of this implores you to listen/buy/sleep with/pray to/make sacrificial offering to  (too much?) I’d also suggest examining the facts. With no singles released prior and a very cultish promo campaign, Cole was able to land on top of the Billboard charts by selling over 370K albums. Despite a leak!!! Leaks are the cancer of the music industry and this dude still broke records. It’s all just very important especially to our generation who has such a powerful tool at our disposal (the internet) but a very tragic flaw, our alarmingly short attention spans.

Now let me bring you back for a second. On Born Sinner’s standout track, Let Nas Down, Cole raps:

Apologies to OG’s for sacrificin’ my art,

But I’m here for a greater purpose I know right from the start,

I’m just a man of the people not above but equal,

And for the greater good I walk amongst the evil


And with 2014 Forest Hill Drive Cole proves how true those four lines are.


-Wet Dreamz is sort of like Ms. Fat Booty 2.0. It’s incredible and hilarious. This song and ’03 Adolescene remind me of early Mos Def.

-Everyone should listen to his interview with Angie Martinez and the one he did with Ali Shaheed and Frannie Kelley

– If you couldn’t already tell this wasn’t just about Cole’s love letter to who he is and to the world, but also from me to him.

* the address of his childhood home and the first home he owned. He bought it back after it had been foreclosed from his mother when he was eighteen and in NYC attending college.

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