Lately, my life has been feeling like a skit off of Kanye West’s “The College Dropout,” except it’s not funny. Since I graduated college in May, I’ve been working at 2 jobs I can’t stand with hardly anything to show for it or any time to myself. It’s frustrating when you’ve worked so hard away at school for the last few years and you come home to selling sneakers for a living. I’ve been feeling complacent, trapped, and more importantly, BROKE. I spend more time on Indeed than out with my friends and it’s really been getting me down. So, I decided to take a little road trip to see some of my friends from school in Baltimore last Thursday.
Iight, so picture this: I’m flying down the NJ Turnpike on my way home from Baltimore at 3 AM because I have to report to one of my jobs on Friday. I needed a break from all the trap music I usually play and decided to revisit J. Cole’s “2014 Forest Hills Drive” to get in the mood for his concert at MSG on my birthday, this Tuesday.
J. Cole became one of my favorite rappers when he caught my attention with his feature on “A Star Is Born” and since then, a fan was born. I downloaded “The Warm Up” and fell in love as soon as I heard “Lights Please,” I was hooked. Since 2009, I’ve attended one of his concerts, purchased 2 singles and 2 albums (I was broke when Sideline Story came out), and constantly gushed over him on my Tumblr page. With his concert days away, I’m so glad I found a new sense of inspiration with his last album.
Now see, this isn’t a typical album review. For one, I’m sure everyone and their momma voiced their opinions about this project since it released in December 2014. This is just me looking at the album from a totally new perspective now that I’m in a different stage in my life.
Track 1: Intro – Cole introduces the album with the simple question asking, “Do you wanna be happy?” Now the answer is obvious, of course I want to be happy. But over the next 2 minutes over light smooth jazz and keys playing in the background, I began to ask myself, “What would really make me happy, truly happy?” because I haven’t been lately. Money can’t buy me happiness, but it’ll make a lot of my problems go away. But I’m still not satisfied. I want more than enough money to be comfortable or to buy me materialistic things. I want a career where I can leave behind a legacy, something my family, friends, and community can look back on and say that I took part in and made a difference. The next question I decided to ask myself was, “How can I make that happen?” The answer was right into the next track, “January 28th.”
Track 2: January 28th – Similar to Jay-Z’s “December 4th,” J. Cole gives us a brief synopsis of his early life and who he is as person with this song named after his birthday. The hook for this song gave me words of wisdom on how I can accomplish the goals I set for myself. Bottom line, don’t sell your self short and you’ll go far with God right by your side.
“Don’t give them too much you/Don’t let them take control/It’s one thing you do/Don’t let them taint your soul/If you believe in God, one thing’s for sure/If you ain’t aim too high, then you aim too low”
Track 3: Wet Dreamz – Even though this track is a coming-of-age story on an adolescent losing their virginity for the first time, it’s one of my favorite songs off his album. I always loved Cole’s ability to tell a story through a rap song. He paints a picture almost as vivid as Slick Rick mixed with Nas’ lyrical ability, but way more entertaining. Just when I thought this had no way of relating to my current situation as a broke, recent graduate, it did. At the end of the song, Cole got the girl he wet dreamed about. If I want something like a career just as bad, I can put my mind to it and make it happen.
Track 4: 03′ Adolescence – This song always hits home for me. I can perfectly relate to this song from start to finish. J. Cole starts off the track frustrated because he wishes he had new things and had a better situation, like myself. He uses a girl he’s in love with as a metaphor for the rap industry, similar to when he used it before on tracks like “Power Trip” and “Dreams.” When he says,
“In love with the baddest girl in the city, I wish I knew her/ I wish I wasn’t so shy/I wish I was a bit more fly/I wish that I,could tell her how I really feel inside/That I’m the perfect nigga for her, but then maybe that’s a lie/She like a certain type of nigga, and it’s clear I’m not that guy/Ball player, star player, I’m just watchin from the side/On the bench, cause my lack of confidence won’t let me fly”
it makes me think of how many interviews I’ve been on and how I’ve been discouraged being turned down for jobs. I feel almost as not good enough for the corporate world and feel stuck working in retail stores. But in the hook, J. Cole knows that this situation isn’t permanent and change will come, despite the emotional toll it’s taking on him which is also parallel to my situation. In the second verse, Cole comes to a realization once he visits one of his friends that sells weed. His friend makes him realize the skies are the limit because J. Cole is pursuing his college education and Cole makes a change to become the “illest nigga alive” and show the rap game his true potential to “her.” I applied this same mindset and decided it’s time to show the world and corporate America who I am. It just takes some time.
Track 5: A Tale of 2 Citiez – This was another personal favorite off the album. This song is a look at the city J. Cole is from from 2 different perspectives, one from a conservative “suburb” side and the other from a rebellious “inner-city” side. Both sides want Hollywood dreams and riches but on an opposing spectrum from one another. I’ve lived in both the city and the suburbs and it made me reflect on how things could have been if it wasn’t for my suburban background and makes me appreciate the better opportunities I’ve had because of it.
Track 6: Fire Squad – J. Cole finds his confidence on this track. He asserts himself as one of the greats and is ready to go “toe to toe with the giants” of the rap game. His aggressive flow and braggadocios style makes you nod along and find yourself feeling the same confidence as you rap the words. It made me remind myself that I’m great and underneath all this recent doubt is the determined, strong-minded individual I usually am. “I ain’t afraid of you niggas, I’ll end up fading you niggas” is exactly how I feel to anyone who’s ever doubted my potential to be great.
Track 7: St. Tropez – This laid-back track had me cruising on the turnpike on my way back to New York. On this song, he second guesses himself that he’ll be great once he becomes famous. He uses St. Tropez as a metaphor for following his Hollywood dreams. He says he’s “scared to fly” and says he hasn’t “been that high before” as it relates to his career moves. It’s hard for me to picture Cole would ever doubt himself when I consider him to be one of the leaders of the new school. Then again, why would I ever doubt myself when I know how amazing I am? “Lately, it’s been hard for me to smile” spoke to me too, but I suddenly became more optimistic once I heard “G.O.M.D.”
Track 8: G.O.M.D. – “G.O.M.D.” is a song from the viewpoint of J. Cole becoming lost in the lifestyle of a rapper. Cole followed his dreams and thought that was enough to make him happy, but his attitude changed for the worst and people started to resent him for the person he became. He comes to the conclusion that he should find true happiness and a better sense of self. Most of the time I’m usually focused on the beat and the flow but this time it made me realize I have to put the right things in perspective when it comes to life decisions. What good is being a rich, successful person when you’re not a good-hearted person? There’s no true accomplishment when you can’t grow as a person. “G.O.M.D.” made me realize even though I’m stuck financially, I’m moving forward spiritually. I don’t ever want those around me to think I went “Hollywood.” Instead, I want to spread positive energy and hopefully that can instill the same qualities in everyone else and make everyone better too.
Track 9: No Role Modelz – J. Cole is still transitioning between the rapper lifestyle and finding true happiness. He’s surrounded by superficial women and doesn’t truly feel loved. He realizes the women he’s around don’t have any substantial role models and he desires something more out of life than just being with a “bad bitch.” I always loved this track because I personally feel the same way. I desire more out of my life than just sharing myself with anybody for the moment. I want what J. Cole says in the following lyrics for myself too:
“I want that real love/Dark skinned Aunt Viv love/That Jada and that Will love/That leave that toothbrush at your crib love/And you ain’t gonna wonder if that’s your kid love”
Even though I’m single now, I’m content with waiting for someone else who aspires to be a young, black professional like myself. Sometimes I feel like having a significant other might help me out of my post grad blues, but once I heard “Hello” it set me straight.
Track 10: Hello – This song is a reflection of a past relationship J. Cole once had. Sometimes I myself go back and think about my last relationship. Sometimes I miss it but most of the time, I’m happy it’s over. It was great when it was great but looking back at my old thang, I’m just glad I can say I’ve moved on and appreciate the memories from it. Sometimes I wish I had someone to go through this journey with and then I think to myself, “Nah, I’m good.” Cole and I made another connection because my last boyfriend had a child too. It’s proof Cole and I are kindred spirits.
Track 11: Apparently – This is an obvious favorite of mine. I love the part where Cole gives a verse similar to Jay-Z’s flow on “Nigga What, Nigga Who” in the second verse.The chorus is the part I find the most uplifting.
“I keep my head high/I got my wings to carry me/I don’t know freedom, I want my dreams to rescue me/I keep my faith strong, I ask the Lord follow me/I’ve been unfaithful/I don’t know why you call on me/Apparently, you believe in me/Apparently, you believe in me and I thank you for it”
Cole takes the time to appreciate all the loving people in his life that supported him and made an influence on him, which really makes me do the same. I know my friends and family are there for me through thick and thin and so is God, every step of the way.
Track 12: Love Yourz – This song is touching, from the strings, to the keyboard, and essentially, the message: “No such thing as a life much better yours.” I catch myself looking on social media comparing myself to celebrities or Instagram models who take pictures all day and lead luxurious lifestyles and wish I had it made like that. Cole gives his listeners some encouragement when he says, “Don”t be sleeping on your level cause it’s beauty in the struggle nigga.” If I had it my way, I’d be making 6 figures by now. But Cole puts it perfectly when he says,
“It’s beauty in the struggle, ugliness in the success/ Hear my words or listen to my signal of distress/I grew up in the city and though some times we had less/Compared to some of my niggas down the block man, we were blessed/ And life can’t be no fairytale, no once upon a time/But I be God damned if a nigga don’t be tryin”
Sometimes, I forget this was also a man who was once in my shoes. J. Cole graduated from St. John’s University here in New York and didn’t find his place in the rap game until a few years later. The last few lines on this song strummed the strings to my heart, or whatever other mushy way you can put it.
“To all my niggas out there living in debt/Cashing minimal checks/Turn on the TV see a nigga Rolex and fantasize about a life with no stress/I mean this shit sincerely/ And that’s a nigga who was once in your shoes living with nothin to lose/I hope one day you hear me/Always gon’ be a bigger house somewhere, but nigga feel me/Long as the people in that motherfucker love you dearly/Always gon’ be a whip that’s better than the the one you got/Always gon’ be some clothes that’s fresher than the ones you rock/Always gon’ be a bitch that’s badder out there on the tours/But you ain’t never gon’ be happy till you love yours”
Things could be so much worse.There are people without opportunities to get a higher education. There are those with educations that don’t even have a job yet, and here I am complaining with 2. It’s only been 2 months. I shouldn’t expect the course of my life to change in a mere 2 months. Hearing this took away whatever sadness or resentment I had left since I played this album.
Track 13: Note to Self – I don’t always let this track play out because it’s 15 minutes long, but I had all the time in the world when I was driving home. It makes me so happy to hear J. Cole constantly thank God and all the people who were by his side along the way to his journey for happiness and success. This could be me, once I stop stressing.
And just like that, my post-grad blues cleared away. Thank you J. Cole. Can’t wait to see you at the Garden Tuesday. You’re gonna be a great birthday present!
Have you listen to this album? Care to share how it made you feel? Comment below and share!