Very rarely do we consider hip-hop albums after the 2000’s classics. While classics have come out throughout the years from artists such as Kendrick Lamar, The Weeknd, and Kanye West there is still something missing from the list. All of the albums coming from these artists in the past decade are fairly similar in concept. The concept being used is storytelling, emotion, and consciousness in order to craft a classic album. In order to triumph artists have turned to using features to hook listeners in and give them a familiar voice to recognize. This formula has been working for some artists in the past eight years and still continues to create memorable and outstanding pieces of art. With the concepts and formula in mind, can someone still make a classic album without any features that also embodies the ideas of storytelling, emotion, and consciousness? J. Cole tested this idea in 2014 with his album 2014 Forest Hills Drive.
J. Cole released 2014 Forest Hills Drive at the end of 2014 which was not the most notable year for hip-hop outside of the short but explosive career of Iggy Azalea, the release of Days Before Rodeo by Travis Scott, and the release of Run the Jewels 2. J. Cole picked a great time to release his album as one of the last ones to come out in a year where not much happened. 2014 Forest Hills Drive encaptures every aspect of a memorable and classic album, however, it does so without any features. J. Cole essentially took the formula and removed one of the most important variables and yet he still created 13 incredible songs. Without features, J. Cole was allowed free rein to make the album that he wanted to make. By removing guest features, the workload for 2014 Forest Hills Drive significantly increased since he couldn’t add guests to fill the time like most artists would. The album is simply 64 minutes and 39 seconds of J. Cole doing whatever he wants to do and tell the stories that he wants to tell.
With no restraints, J. Cole is the sole narrator of 2014 Forest Hills Drive as he tackles the concepts of storytelling, emotion, and consciousness in 13 songs. Songs such as “Wet Dreamz”, “No Role Modelz”, and “Apparently” are just a few examples of how the concepts are used and applied to this album. Normally, songs such as “Apparently” or “No Role Modelz” would have a feature for the chorus, however, J. Cole shows that he can do his own chorus sections alone. J. Cole makes it clear that he can demonstrate his talent and ideas based purely on his own words. 2014 Forest Hills Drive is not only a bold move for J. Cole but also for modern hip-hop. Without having features, J. Cole’s only marketing tactic was himself and thus could’ve resulted in a commercially failing album. But, since 2014 Forest Hills Drive went double platinum and won two awards in 2015 this risk paid off immensely. This move has gone on to allow artists such as Bryson Tiller and Future to make platinum albums without features within a few years of the release of 2014 Forest Hills Drive.
2014 Forest Hills Drive is a landmark album in regards to talent, marketing, and sound. J. Cole undoubtedly understands what it takes to make a classic album in this decade even with self-imposed restrictions. Not only does 2014 Forest Hills Drive show that it is possible to have a successful album without features, but it also reminds the hip-hop community that all it really takes is your voice and ideas. Recently, with J. Cole releasing two albums in the past two years with 4 Your Eyez Only and KOD he has certainly solidified himself as one of the greatest rappers of this decade and perhaps of all time. J. Cole knew exactly what to do when making 2014 Forest Hills Drive and it has and forever will be a stand-out part of the grand narrative of Jermaine Cole.