This is Cole’s most personal work to date. There are no featured artists and about half of the album is produced by Cole himself and he has co-producer credit on all other song. In songs like Wet Dreamz, Cole gives away very private personal information but in all honesty it feels a little forced. It feels like he is opening up for the sake of relatability, not to prove any grand point or sure a characteristic beyond “regular guy.”
The production on Forest Hill Drive is decent. The songs co-produced by a different producer are generally the stronger tracks but Cole definitely shows growth as a producer compared to Born Sinner, his previous record. It has a nostalgic flair, with most of the instrumentals featuring live instrumentations.
His lyrics also include the same sort of nostalgia. He sells himself as an alternative to rapper who only rap about money and women, and talks about how rap should be more positive and gives praise to old MC’s. Out of the 13 songs, five of them have z’s instead of s’s which is a tribute to old school hip hop. He didn’t make any songs for the radio because he wants to prove that you can make great music and be sucessful with sucumbing to hip hop tropes.
He raps about what it is was like not growing in the ghetto, being a normal teenage surrounded by people who are going down the wrong path, disillusionment with being famous, how he is the greatest rapper out there (January 28th features a great response to Kendrick’s Control verse), and how we should all love each other and God. The thing is Kanye West, Drake, Kendrick Lamar, Childish Gambino, and countless other huge hip-hop stars have rapped about the same things and Cole doesn’t bring a lot to this formula that other rappers already haven’t. He raps about being the best rapper in the game, but neither his technique nor his wordplay prove he’s right.
If J. Cole has proved something with this album, it’s that he is a great story teller. The highlights on this record like a Tale of 2 Citiez, Fire Squad, and No Role Modelz really show Cole coming into his own and being able to tell a great story. But across the album, the choruses and hooks are really weak. The slower track on this album, with the exception of 03’ Adolescence, are really weak and feel rather uninspired.
Overall, this is a good record, but not the classic that J. Cole needs to prove he is on top. The biggest problem with this record is that Cole thinks its a better record than it is. It is a good record that thinks it’s a great record. Like of the 14 minute last track “Note to Self,” Cole stretching his talents to far to where it feels pretentious and long winded. J Cole gives his best effort but he still has some growing up to do before he can really come out with that great he needs.