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13 February, 2015@1:11 am

The best selling hip-hop album of 2014 was J. Cole’s 2014 Forest Hills Drive, which as of February 2015 is just shy of Platinum. Beating out Eminem, Nicki Minaj, Rick Ross, Iggy Azalea, and a ton more, Jermaine Cole’s surprise year-end album had no major single to propel it and was his last contractual album for Columbia. But perhaps they’re considering renewing that contract now.

What’s most impressive about this feat is that J. Cole is one of the closest things we’re going to get in regards to a Platinum selling, conscious – or at the very least, “aware” – rapper on major label, and 2014 Forest Hills Drive is an album very much made in the spirit of classic hip-hop. Cole isn’t overly righteous or infallible, as he still falls to the allure of virgin sex on the innocent “Wet Dreamz,” and crime on “A Tale Of 2 Citiez” or “’03 Adolescence.” But it’s all done with depth, in such a way that he’s remorseful for his past transgressions. Think Nas, not Young Thug.

Much of the success of 2014 Forest Hills Drive is also owed to the production. Cole did not attempt to go for 70 BPM trap-rap beats or danceable, club-style production. In fact, there’s nothing here that’s marketable for the mainstream sound, yet he outsold everyone. Instead, the sound is heavy on samples, such as on the luscious “January 28th,” which sounds like a distant cousin of some Love Movement era Tribe, or “St. Tropez,” which beautifully refuels the Esther Phillips sample used on Mobb Deep’s “Give Up The Goods (Just Step).”

Cole isn’t afraid to open up and pour his heart out, which is likely what makes him so relatable to fans. “Intro” finds him crooning over some wintery jazz, unafraid to let his voice crack, while “G.O.M.D.” even comes with a disclaimer “this is the part that the thugs skip!” before he reveals his true feelings to his girl. Later on “A Fire Squad,” he doesn’t hold his tongue when speaking on the double-standards of race in the rap industry, suggesting “Watching Iggy win the Grammy as I try to crack a smile.” This line caught fire in the music industry news circuit, so much that it’s likely it swayed Grammy voter’s opinions, as Ms. Azalea walked away with nothing.

Cole is singing a lot more on 2014 Forest Hills Drive, but he’s vastly improved since earlier projects, finding his voice and sliding comfortably into his groove. The end result is a beautifully produced, smartly rapped and well put together LP that took the industry by surprise. Speaking of Grammys, Cole might be the one gracing the stage next year.

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7 Responses to "J. Cole – “2014 Forest Hills Drive” – @@@@1/2 [Review]"
  • Battlehound says:

    Not the biggest J Cole fan, gotta say though excellent album. Well deserved rating and sales

  • Tom says:

    “The best selling hip-hop album of 2014 was J. Cole’s 2014 Forest Hills Drive, which as of February 2015 is just shy of Platinum. Beating out Eminem, Nicki Minaj, Rick Ross, Iggy Azalea, and a ton more”

    Curious, the source on that one? It seems this statement is incorrect. What Eminem album are you referring to? MMLP2? That sold nearly 4 million worldwide, but was released at the end of 2013..or the Shady compilation, which from my research still sold more. Same with many of the other artists you mentioned selling more?

  • Pizzo says:

    Eminem “ShadyXV”. Check Wikipedia on the Forest Hills Drive for the Cole hard facts.

  • the man the myth says:

    This was one of the few mainstream albums that was ok in my book. I would give it 4@ at best but still pretty dope for the mainstream.

  • Pooch says:

    Classy Pizzo, nice wordplay.

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