By: Jimmie Sykes
(Photo credits to Brian Kalbrosky of Eugeneweekly.com)
I remember it like was yesterday. December 9th, 2014 which was the date of my father's 47th birthday. The days leading up to that date had the anticipation inside me building up heavily. This anticipation was for North Carolina rapper J. Cole's third studio album, "2014 Forest Hills Drive." This is the famous album that went "platinum with no features".
I'm a big music fan, I love artists of all sort. I've been listening to J.Cole since the summer of 2010 after seeing him perform on BET's Music Matters segment. "Who Dat" was the first time I've ever heard of J Cole. It's kind of funny because I remember mid-performance, BET send the viewers watching from home into commercial break. Kind of rude and abrupt to me, but nonetheless. I did my research.
Here I am, at the moment going back to listen a couple of Cole’s mixtapes such as the Warm Up (2009) and The Come Up (2007). The come up caught my interest when I heard tracks such as "Simba", "Dead Presidents", and "Rags to Riches (At the Beep). I'm kind of glad I didn't discover Cole back in 2007. His delivery and message would’ve went over my head.
The year was 2010 though, and I was unaware the Cole had an upcoming project until October of 2010. This project was "Friday Night Lights", which was released November 2010. Friday Night Lights is one of the greatest mixtapes ever made. Top 5 without a doubt.
1. Da Drought 3- Lil Wayne
2. No Ceilings- Lil Wayne
3. So Far Gone- Drake
4. Friday Night Lights- J Cole
5. Kush and OJ- Wiz Khalifa
Friday Night Lights lands at fourth of my top five mixtapes ever list. Back then I didn't give too much thought to the fact that Friday Night Lights and Kush and OJ released in the same year.
Cole was such an influence on my life and the way I viewed the world that I wanted to see him succeed on a larger scale. This is where the “OG” or original style of the artists seem to fade away to long time fans. A lot of my peers gave criticism to Cole’s single “Work Out.” This single was from his debut album "The Sideline Story".
I wasn't that critical of Cole's debut album because that's exactly what is was, just a debut album. One thing I can say is that album wasn't the same Cole from the mixtapes but that's the thing that set the two apart. Album makes sales, mixtapes are the raw craft.
A while back there were sources stating that No I.D told Cole that hip-hop star Nas didn’t like the single. This is what led to the song "Let Nas Down", which is a song I wasn't a fan of. Although Cole looked up to Nas, I felt at the moment he didn't have to make that song to apologize to him.
Born Sinner didn't catch my interest as an avid Cole listener because I couldn't wrap my head around the substance as a complete album. I liked songs like "Forbidden Fruit", "Rich N*ggaz" and saw the substance in the songs. Personally, I just feel like it didn’t live up to the hype.
"It's beauty in the struggle, ugliness in the success.
Hear my words or listen to my signal of distress.
I grew up in the city and though some times we had less.
Compared to some of my n*ggas down the block,
Man, we were blessed.
And life can't be no fairy tale, no once upon a time.
But I be God damned if a n*gga don't be tryin'."
Love Yourz is one of Cole’s singles that just made me miss the state of simplicity. When things were much easier to understand and happiness was much easier to obtain. It makes me think about how life should be. Loving whats in front of you so that you can appreciate the simple things in life. Cole is at best when his rhymes are simple, yet informative.
2014 Forest Hills Drive is one of those albums that gave me a splash to the senses of reality. This album gave me a conscious to the world that no matter where you’re headed, your roots are your roots. It gave light to the fact that for every day to day struggle that one possesses, there's plenty more who's going through the same or have it worse. I can relate to Cole through and through.
This is when I learned you learn the best when the teachings are simple. Cole is a simple teacher that can put life struggles in the purest form. He seems to put himself in the shoes of his fans which calls for a better connection to his music.
For your eyes, do you understand?
Over time, I went and analyzed the whole situation of "letting Nas down" after Cole dropped his latest album "4 Your Eyez Only" in December 2016. That is when I knew Cole solidified his ability in drawing substance to his art.
4 Your Eyez Only told a story of emotion through the eyes of someone other than Cole's. That's what made this album so good to me. The prolific storytelling that makes you put yourself in someone else shoes.
With the closing track titled "4 Your Eyes Only", Cole told a story of the conscious of a black man living with his back against the wall trying to get it before his daughter enters this world.
Unfortunately, the man who Cole portrayed didn't live to see the birth of his daughter. In the fourth verse of the song, Cole unmasked himself and the story behind “4 Your Eyez Only”. The guy that was portrayed on the album was Cole’s childhood friend. Cole was telling the daughter of his father's struggles and how he knew his day was coming. He wanted his daughter to know everything about him, so Cole relayed the message. He loved his daughter so much and Cole expressed that through this profound track.
One thing I can say about Cole is that although he isn't the flashiest guys, he's one of the best in getting his point across on the track. This was the first artist that made me comprehend music for what it's worth, rather than a hot beat and a catchy chorus. Cole's story-telling ability taught me that most people have a story, you just have to take the time out to listen.
Now, when I discover new music I have to play it all the way through. I went back and listened to previous hip hop stars I listened to when I grew up. Artists like Jay-Z, Kanye West, and Lil Wayne (although Wayne wasn’t hard to comprehend because he’s the metaphor king) music became more clear for me. Music is a passion of mine and I love when I can relate to an artist's way of expression through music.
Even trap music artists such as Gucci Mane, Young Jeezy and T.I were all easier to understand. There’s a stigma that’s been around for years saying that there’s a lack of substance in hip-hop. Hip-hop is a form of expression, there’s a vast amount of substance in the music if you just listen.
Although many don’t like to give Cole his flowers while he’s here, I believe he’s one of the best rappers of this time. Even of all-time.
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