I know it's not the hottest take ever or something like that, but I think J Cole is one of the most overrated rappers in modern rap music. Yeah, many people said it before me but here I am saying it as well, and I want to explain what are my personal issues with him as an artist and especially with this album.
This is J Cole's third studio album, released in 2014. Although he is not exactly the critics' most beloved rapper out there (that would probably be some guy named Kendrick Lamar), Cole is one of the most famous and successful rappers in mainstream hip hop today, and this is certainly considered as his best album among most fans.
I think the album is fine. It's absolutely listenable, and at best it even contains some bangers here and there. Does it deserve all the praise that many fans are giving it? Not even close. Like I already said, of course that the album is not quite acclaimed and praised by "music nerds" or on that site for that matter, but if you casually walk in the street many hip hop fans will say it's an undeniable classic and that Cole is one of the best rappers today. I disagree.
Let's start with the album's production. For the most part, it's quite good. It's not something too adventurous and unique but there are a handful of fantastic samples and great beats, on songs such as Fire Squad, January 28th and No Role Modelz which is the most overplayed shit ever, but a good song. On the other hand, you also have a couple of messy tracks production-wise or dull beats on certain songs. For example I think G.O.M.D. doesn't execute its 20 beat switches very well, and the result is a little disoriented even though the main sample is stellar, but the rest of the song isn't.
You can also find some generic or tacky beats on songs like Hello which is boring as hell, Apparently which is cute but slightly bland, and don't even get me started with Note to Self. Ok actually I will. The "song" is super embarrassing, corny and unnecessary, which is really a shame because Love Yourz could've been the perfect ending to the album with an actual good message and a moving meaning. But no, let's do 15 minutes of whatever the fuck Note to Self is.
J Cole himself is also perfectly fine, but not much more than that. The dude can definitely rap, with some very decent flows, a lot of confidence and a good voice. However, sadly I can't really see what makes him stand out in the grand scheme of things. What makes him more compelling than your average conscious rapper. He is solid, his lyricism is solid, but he is failing in creating a really cohesive and engaging album from front to back in my opinion. There are always moments of corny lines, generic storytelling or derivative descriptions and imagery.
The album itself is quite introspective on paper, with Cole diving into his past experiences, love, the music industry, certain lifestyles and self-care. It's supposed to be some sort of a concept album about his journey and struggles in the music industry and rise to fame, but...It's not really the case. And if you compare it to an album like TPAB which also contains some of the same subjects it's shallow and dull as hell. It's not close to being as focused as it should in order to be a concept album. And it's not like it's not trying to be, it definitely tries despite the "vibey" sound of the record.
As a whole J Cole stays on the surface level when it comes to exploring these introspective themes. He never dives deep enough, never brings an actual thrilling perspective or a thought-provoking message to the table, he is doing enough to be acceptable but that's it. You can't really compare him to other conscious rappers like Kendrick, Little Simz, JID, Denzel Curry and many others, which are way more cutting edge, clever, introspective and interesting.
While there are better conscious rap albums out there, this one serves as great background music, and it does have a couple of great tracks. Even with my gripes, I feel the need to say that I don't hate the album. Sure, it's overrated, but it's a decent hip hop album that can be very enjoyable at its best moments, but a little boring on the low ones.
Overall, 2014 Forest Hills Drive is just an OK album from J. Cole. It has some good vibes and fun tracks, but if you are looking for deep messages, intimate lyricism and inspiring music, I would recommend an album called Baby On Baby 2, which is a little too complex and dense for some people, but give it a try.
Favorite: January 28th, Fire Squad, No Role Modelz, Love Yourz
Least favorite: Note to Self