Throwback Thursday

Do you want to be free? — Forest Hills Dr 2014: Revisited

What is it about certain music that connects with us more? Is it because it happened to resonate with us during a time of hardship, gaining it automatic top ranking in your mental rolodex? Or maybe that’s a rhetorical question…


‘2014 Forest Hills Drive’ by J. Cole is an understated and under-appreciated work of art. It’s not an “of the moment” album, with trendy beats and trash lyrics. Its music you can grow with, learn from, and both laugh and cry along with it.

It came out during a time in which I personally was experiencing personal deluge; dealing with the highs and lows of being a young black male in his 30s with a family and career in the inner city. The economic hardships that come with being a newly single parent, trying to pursue the dreams you desire for yourself while still having to generate enough income to provide for your children, paying for school loans, and living in a society that automatically views you as a criminal or assumes you’re never good enough based solely on the amount of melanin in your skin. Basically living in a shit storm of emotions that never ends. I first took a listen on what used to be an hour long drive to work , so it was just me, the road and a brand new streaming J. Cole record.
“Do you want to be happy? Do you want to be free?”
Thought provoking questions become our tour guide through a project that starts off as a re-birth of energy and an inward journey for Cole

The campaign continues to guide us through adolescent memories that somehow, reminds us a little of ourselves in subtle ways. We all remember our first sexual encounter and the nervousness that existed within that moment. We all had times when we were feeling down and sought company and looked through the eyes of a friend (as Cole does on the third track, Adolescence).

In short even though Forest Hills Drive is not a bunch of superstar producers coming together (the album was primarily produced by Cole himself, as is most of his work) and there are no guest stars that appear anywhere on the album, no glamorous videos attached — yet the music still manages to encapsulate the entire spectrum of everyday human emotion.

It doesn’t matter what type of life you’re living. We all go through fairly common circumstances that range from dealing with relationships, money woes, ego, highs and lows, appreciating what we have and then finally (as we get older and go deeper into it) we realize that all that matters is genuine love.
That’s the beauty of Cole’s current state of music. Some may argue that his voice or flow is too boring for the young cats or he’s not making enough lyrical-miracle songs for the old heads. Putting that aside, he’s one of the few emcee’s to successfully make music with a message and a spiritual overtone without coming across as overly exhortative. His lyrical prowess is still excellently delivered while showcasing his ability to touch on subjects that reach people’s hearts. All this without a bunch of the filler songs and turnt-up club anthems.

With his recent addition to the Imagine Justice concert series thrown by Common and #SchoolsNotPrisons, J.Cole continues to not only make that quality music that we all need to hear right now, but he follows up those words with actions. Hell, this is a man who you can still find riding the damn bus from time to time.


J.Cole and Forest Hills Drive 2014 are such a rare feat in today’s music that it deserves all the praise it can get.

– Neutron
– IG — @neutron215



Antoine Hopkins

August 17th, 2017

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