J. Cole: Graduation

Featured in Manifest Feb/March/April Issue.  Download the App for FREE now in the Google Play Store HERE!


This guy, J.Cole is a authentic rapper not these superficial bland ass rappers that rap about $$$ women clothes and cars...or rapper turned actor. Only deep thinkers can understand the way this guy sees the world. Plus he’s one of the only rappers with an album I will buy and not pirate.

 comment left by fadedOTAKU 

This being Manifest’s “Leadership Issue,” in a time when so many entertainers shy away from being called a role model for fear of having to live up to that standard, and the expectations that come along with that label. Cole, instead does not run away from that inevitability.  Instead, he  seems to take it on as a calling, and also; a challenge. Therefore, with hip-hop music being the most prevalent genre of music for millennials reared on pop-culture, it would be remiss not to include commentary on J. Cole's third consecutive #1 album (released on December 9th, 2014). The album has been out a couple of months, and there has been adequate time to digest it all.  The various reviews, although  they mostly seemed most hit the mark, they didn’t exactly ring the bell. In a time when music sales are declining overall, J. Cole's, 2014 Forest Hills Drive sold 371,000 copies in its first week and went gold the next week selling with over 500,000 copies sold, proving that some of the critics are not in sync with the masses.

Whereas so much hip-hop music today can be likened to fantasy, as if watching an episode of, Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, J. Cole’s music is more relatable to real life and mostly absent of tales of riches and bitches, bottle poppin’, diamond rings, conspicuous consumption, bling and things. Instead, refreshingly 2014 Forest Hill Drive, is a visceral endeavor into the unsuspecting struggle that one encounters on the road to superstardom, or whatever your definition of success might be. It is a coming of age story as well as a cautionary tale filled with double entendres, that can relate to and be applied to both; the state of hip-hop and everyday life situations. The album offers simplification for the tough situations life throws with its overall theme of, "love conquers all," as well as exposes the complexities that lie underneath when trying to come to that realization. Head bangerz’ of a different sort. If songs on 2014 Forest Hill Drive won’t make you bounce and reel, they will perhaps make you think and feel. If you’re looking for something that will make you turn-up, or perhaps have you turned out — this is not that. However, if music is your therapy, then have a seat on the couch and take a listen.

With intentional lower tones and frequencies throughout the LP, versus achieving the loudest jarring mix possible, the production on 2014 Forest Hills Drive, forces you to unwittingly not just listen, but to hear. What is heard is a compilation of soul-baring accounts of the world that shaped J. Cole as a person and as a rapper. You hear the things that have brought him to the point where he is today and what he discovered along the way. The album is not only well thought out and comprehensive, but is also pure poetry in motion. Like poetry it is full of paradoxes and double meanings that could go this way or that, left up to the interpretation of the listeners to decipher what it all means in grand scheme of things and in relation to their own lives.

In the Intro, Cole’s question asking, “Do you want to be happy? Do you want to be free?," sets the album up. Contemplation on what it means to be happy is not often a popular theme in a genre latent with get rich and famous schemes — but hey it worked for Pharrell. So why not? But, still a poignant and courageous direction to take, nonetheless.

On “January 28th”, Cole takes aim at other rappers and calls names like Drake, Kendrick Lamar and on some slick sh*t, if you are reading between the lines, maybe even Jay-Z.

The set up …

I hope we remember these nights full of Hennessy / when Hov around we switch up to the D’usse / Gotta show respect, because we trying to stay where you stay

... translation: you had your time and now I’m coming for you. He goes on to say ...

This (speaking of himself) is New York’s Finest (a title for which the Jigga Man is lauded), / For 11 years straight, I took on New York’s climate (he’s not talking about the weather here people) / like show me New York’s ladder, I’ll climb it / and set the bar so high that you gotta get Obama to force the Air Force to find it -- what other rapper on the planet is associate with the President other than Jay-Z? Then he straight says, “You ain’t the God.” Could that be directed directly at Hova? Also not to mention the other subliminal title of the track being J. Cole’s birthday, just as "January 4th" a track on Jay-Z’s Blueprint album is also his birth date.

However Cole is no fool, in the course of the song , he explains himself for this treason by offering the excuse… If you believe in God / then one thing is for sure / if you didn’t aim too high / then you aimed too low.

j. cole. 2

On “Fire Squad,” the hook on the song like others seems to take on a double meaning and kind of sounds like a conversation Cole could be having with the people around him as well as a conversation he is having with himself. Although calling his counterparts on the carpet and claiming that he is the best. It really sounds like he is still trying to convince himself.

A lot of niggas sat on the throne / I’m the latest / I’m the bravest / go toe to toe with the giants / I ain’t afraid of you niggas / I’ll end up fading you before it’s all said and done

Which means he is basically admitting that he is not there yet.

My inhibition fighting my intuition / premature premonition / showing the demolition of these phony niggas / so ahead of my time / even when I rhyme about the future I’m reminiscing

The next passage suggests he is biding his time …

As fate passes you by half of you try / the other half of you fry (their brains on drugs) too high to actually fly / Cole might be like the new ice cube meets the new Ice T / meets 2 Live Crew / Meets the new Spike Lee / Meets the Bruce like Wayne /meets the Bruce like Lee / meets the 02 Lil’ Wayne / in a new white tee / meets KD / ain’t no nigga who can shoot like me!

Well, as is typical with the millennial generation, you just can’t place them into a box because they have been exposed to so many different influences from all spectrums and are the sum totals of all of those things. With regard to breaking away from those that would seek to pigeonhole him, in an interview with Power 105.1’s Angie Martinez, Cole says,

“For the past four-five years of my career, I’ve always been very politically correct, riding that line. But at the end of the day, I realize I’m doing myself a disservice and I’m doing people a disservice because I could say one thing. If I’m speaking my mind and saying how I truly feel, I might say one thing that connects the dots for somebody, that might have been the right connection that was needed.” He adds, That’s why I love what I do because I can be my worst self and tell you all about it. And it’s ok and then I could give you my best self and you know both sides of me.”

This speaks to critics Craig Jenkins of Pitchfork and David Turner of Rolling Stone magazine's, reviews of 2014 Forest Hills Drive. Both deduct points from the LP for crudeness. With the former pointing out “No Role Modelz,” “parlays a suspicion about a hookup being a gold digger, into a tirade about black women lacking respectable public figures, crudely suggesting that "she’s shallow but the pus*y is deep.” And suggest that, "for all of Cole’s enlightenment he’s a perfect brute when it comes to women." The latter, David Turner; echoes that sentiment saying, “He speaks some incisive truths about class, race, (“Fire Squad”) and relationship (“Wet Dreamz”), but those insights are too often undercut by crass humor. (“No Role Modelz” includes the faux-cleaver refrain “She shallow but the pussy deep.”

Actually it’s both of them that should take demerits for the inability not to see beyond the surface. It may not be obvious to all and definitely not to the feeble minded, that this song is a backdoor message to females who base their self-worth on how well they can win the affections of, and favor of men. The song warns of the danger in that mentality. This is a lesson without being “preachy,” and sort of a public service announcement with a true account of how men view and treat women who act in this fashion. He is letting you know that, if that is all you want — that’s all you get! This is not Cole trying to degrade women and relish in his own sexual prowess. This is a song for women, with Cole being brave enough to put himself in the line of fire …

Don’t save her/ she don’t wanna be saved …

Okay, now that, that’s over, back to “Fire Squad.” Ultimately the song comes back around to saying, “We all are kings,” and while we fighting for the throne the real predator is slipping in the back door and getting ready to hold everyone for ransom:

History repeats itself and that's just how it goes / Same way that these rappers always bite each other’s flows/ Same thing that my nigga Elvis did with Rock n Roll /Justin Timberlake, Eminem, and then Macklemore / While silly niggas argue over who gonna snatch the crown / Look around, my nigga, white people have snatched the sound / This year I’ll probably go to the awards dappered down/ watch Iggy win a Grammy as I try to crack a smile / I'm just playin', but all good jokes contain true shit / Same rope you climb up on, they'll hang you with

Meaning with all of this in-fighting there are bigger issues at play that could change the existence of hip-hop as we know it. Evolution is great and it is wonderful that hip-hop is universal and can be enjoyed by and even performed by all.  For instance, no one- not even Cole can gripe about Eminem’s ascend to the top.  Eminem came from an authentic place, he lived it, he earned it and he deserves it.  He didn't have to change his voice, or his accent. He was just an undeniable bad-ass White boy who could rap his ass off and made you submit. Therefore, no one cared in the least that he was White.  In fact, if anything it made it all the more amazing.    Not so sure the same can be said for Atlanta transplants by way of Australia.  To Cole’s point, here is where it can become dangerous, as the pilferage of hip-hop culture proliferates, it gets more and more watered down and maybe eventually to a point where it’s originators will be displaced and the culture ends up becoming something entirely different than it was at its genesis.


On to “Wet Dremz,” this is where Cole’s story telling skills come alive. Again, if you dare to look beyond the surface, while this may actually be a story about a girl, if you listen within the context of the whole album, this song could also relate to the feelings, and anxieties experienced entering the hip-hop game and along the way on the road to stardom:

I'm hoping that she won't notice it's my first time / I'm hoping that my shit is big enough to fuck with /And most of all I'm praying, "God don't let me bust quick" /I'm watching pornos trying to see just how to stroke right / Practice putting condoms on, how it go right /I'm in her crib, now a nigga palms sweatin' With a pocket full of rubbers and an erection

So again, for critics who say when it comes to storytelling skills, Cole is no Slick Rick, although there may be some truth in that, still you can’t take anything away from Cole. At least, he is not telling a story for story’s stake. It all has an underlying meaning that could easily be missed if you’re not paying close enough attention. Therein, lies the genius.

Basically, overall the whole album is about learning to appreciate what you DO have. After spending to by jewels, watches and cars, the most significant purchase he has made to date was the repurchase of his childhood home at 2014 Forest Hills Drive. Now after he has matured some, he is questioning why did he want those things and what they did for him after he got them, saying in the promo video for the album, "It’s ok to have and want those things but don’t place all your value on those things, because ultimately it really is just a thing." A lesson that is surely needed in today's world of entitlement where rather than meaningful connections, so many seek instant gratification by way of things they can possess. Especially in the scope of hip-hop. For that, he is to be commended.

Actually, it's hard to believe that a rapper as consistent as Cole, who has been able to best his last effort each time he comes to play, would still carry the tenure of doubt underneath it all. In "Apparently," Cole says,

I aimed for the star, and I shouldn't missed / But I was riding on fumes / So I stopped by the moon / and now I'm sitting on the hood of this bit*h

Although he says he's the best, does he really believe it? Throughout the album, he seems to kind of give himself an out, just in case he doesn't find himself where he imagines he should be. Therefore, although he may have GRADUATED, we are still waiting on him to get his MASTERS.