2014 Forest Hills Drive, J. Cole has finally shored up those tiny but aggravating cracks, and crafted both his most compelling and consistent studio album to date. He boldly refrains from overarching radio bids and features. As Kendrick Lamar proved with good kid, m.A.A.d. City, sometimes the most poignant music is birthed from nostalgic reveries viewed through one’s matured rearview. For the majority of 2014 Forest Hills Drive, Cole broadcasts the mental reservoir of early memories and struggles that he used to ride down Lewis Street with.

On “January 28th” the Fayetteville, N. C. native aligns himself with Rakim as an affirmation of his status as a God amongst among his peers: “You niggas might be L or you might be Kane/Or you might be Slick Rick with 19 chain/Or you might be Drizzy Drake or Kendrick Lamar/But check your birthdate nigga, you ain’t the God.” In the bittersweet aftermath of the “Control” verse heard around the world, Cole lets it be known that he is confident he will come out victorious in the battle for the throne but ultimately hopes that competition will not triumph over camaraderie with his brethren.

In lieu of his typical sneaking-into-dorm-room anecdotes, the Roc Nation MC relays a frank, embarrassing account of the time he lost his virginity on “Wet Dreamz." But even on a deeply moving recording like “Hello,” where impassioned harmonizing takes the place of rhymes, J. Cole always keeps it hip-hop. On “Apparently,” Cole sidesteps Lionel Richie all-night-long emo diatribes by buttressing the sentimental content with braggadocio about the home he used to inhabit: “Until they snatched it from my mama/And foreclosed her on the loan/I’m so sorry that I left you there to deal with that alone/I was up in New York chasing panties getting dome/Had no clue what you were going through how could you be so strong?”

Unlike his previous albums, Dreamville's head honch welcomes the good graces of other producers for more of a collaborative process. J. Cole sounds wholly comfortable on the stylings of Willie B and Vinyl among others, and the instrumentals augment the actual lyrics. On “03 Adolescence,” Cole samples Eminem’s “Runnin” beat only to take a jab at him two tracks later with the Vinyl-assisted “Fire Squad" (“While silly niggas argue over who gon' snatch the crown/Look around, my nigga, white people have snatched the sound.”) Phonix Beats and Cole display their chemistry on one of the highlights of the album, “No Role Modelz,” where Cole explores the disparity between independent women and the hoes he loves.

Hip-hop fans can be some of the most difficult to satisfy, and while there is no atrocious songs on 2014 Forest Hills Drive, this album reinforces the faith that Cole is a superstar. With every quality drop from the self-proclaimed “God,” his ceiling will continue to grow and so will fan expectations. On the finale track, “Note To Self,” Cole gives a long-winded thank you session against the sound of merry horns: “Everything happened too perfectly and in line.” J. Cole is righfully satisfied with the end product, as will the fans.Kellan Miller

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