A lot of people have said that this year has been a dry one for Hip-Hop, but a more accurate description would be that it’s been a low-key one. That doesn’t mean that good material has lacked in abundance though.
A lot of the year’s best releases came at the beginning and the end. But J. Cole, who before a month ago wasn’t even in the conversation for albums set to drop, announced his third album would be dropping December 9th. To add to the mystery of the surprise, he also said the album would have no preceding singles. For an artist of Beyonce’s stature, dropping an album out of the blue (obviously) isn’t a problem. But the fact that Cole has taken such an unorthodox method of promoting and releasing his album says a lot about his confidence as an artist.
And his confidence shows in the music as well. Choosing to take an autobiographical route, 2014 Forest Hills Drive focuses on key points in Cole’s formative years, revolving around his progression from small town hip-hop head to a superstar rapper, and the trials and tribulations that come with chasing your dreams.
While the album could be called conceptual, it really just highlights the natural progression J. Cole has made in his career, and in his viewpoints as a man coming into his own.
Songs like “January 28th” and “Fire Squad” assert Cole’s dominance and confidence as one of this generation’s most talented lyricists, but also provide personal commentary on his place in relation to the rest of Hip-Hop, and (sometimes controversially) calling those slacking to task.
Cole has always been known for his vivid storytelling, and his skills are put to excellent use in standouts like “03′ Adolescence” and “Wet Dreamz.” Both songs are great examples of why he has such a hardcore following. It’s the little details in his emotions and worldly observations that come through in his writing and make listeners able to relate to him on a deeper level.
With Cole’s album debuting at #1 and selling close to 400,000 copies in the first week. he’s really made a statement about the nature of the music business. Because of his extremely unique rollout for the album, he’s effectively proved that quality heartfelt music can prevail in an industry focused on image, trends and popular singles.
For an album with so much depth and emotion to it, maybe the only way to properly present it to the public really was to just drop it as is, with no gimmicks or shameless self-promotion behind it. Cole has spent his career letting his music do the talking, and with 2014 Forest Hills Drive, that method has done him (and Hip-Hop) wonders.
The #’s are humbling. It’s a win for all artists and fans and a clear message to the industry. No singles no features. Stop serving trash
— J. Cole (@JColeNC) December 17, 2014