Last year, one of the biggest albums dropped on 9th December 2014; coincidentally that year happened to be in the title of the LP, 2014 Forest Hills Drive – J. Cole’s third #1 studio album. Going Platinum just over a month ago, it became his most successful to date; and also the first LP since 1989 to do so without any guest features, succeeding Vanilla Ice with To The Extreme.
Following the album’s release, Cole announced his Forest Hills Drive Tour consisting of three acts (I: Hometown, II: The Journey and III: Hollywood) followed by the Homecoming, featuring his fellow Dreamville team plus a set of varying supporting U.S. artists for each of the legs.
I’ll be honest, at first, I didn’t even wanna do this haha. I said to myself sorta like, why spoil it for others? But then I thought, it’s a review, why not?
On Friday 15th May, I attended the show at the Barclaycard Arena in Birmingham [UK]. The line-up included Bas, Cozz, Omen, Pusha T & Jhené Aiko who all performed solo sets making what seemed like a long wait for Cole a little bit shorter and more entertaining; more to be patient for. Certainly not the average appetizers you’d expect to see. For £30.50 just to see Cole, I wasn’t budging at all. But… for 6 artists you can slap me silly, yo. How can you ask for a better deal. I admit, I’m one to complain. It wasn’t the case on this occasion. So, it was more like, shit – who cares.
Omen opened the show rocking the crowd with Motion Picture, the boom-bap cut from Revenge Of The Dreamers where he flowed smooth like an MC should do, and performed his standout verse from Enchanted, a Friday Night Lights classic – one for the ‘day-one’ fans. Slightly disappointed by the length of his set and do wish that it was a bit longer.
Newest signee to Dreamville Records, Cozz followed with a select few tracks from his debut LP, Cozz & Effect. Showed his energy as an up-and-coming rapper of the game. To say he claims to have only really been rapping for, maybe a couple of years, he’s definitely shown fast progress and seemed a natural performer, really had people off their feet throughout the course of his set.
Next up, Bas came out to My Nigga Just Made Bail, a fan favourite; instantly having the crowd ready for what we knew was going to be set off. He did songs from both Quarter Water Raised Me Vol. II and Last Winter that were patently familiar to ears across the arena as you could hear singing back. Bringing some of the Dreamville crew out onto stage as the DJ dropped We Made It amped everything up just that extra notch. Remembering his performances from the WDMC Tour up to then at the show proved to me that he’s made for live shows.
Jhené Aiko… an artist I could tell by screams everywhere, was long awaited to come to the stage, recited songs from Sail Out and Souled Out. Stage presence seemed very much alike to Sade Adu’s, as she swayed around whilst she crooned Spotless Mind, Bed Peace, Stay Ready, The Pressure and Eternal Sunshine. During The Worst, all I heard was the girls going for it – like their man or ex really hurt them too or something. Emotions flying everywhere. And, of course she had to do her verse from Post To Be *laughing and shaking my head*. I enjoyed hearing her sing er parts from From Time (Drake), the most. Beside that, 3:16 was probably my favourite to hear. Not the best set for what I expected of her and vocals not so mind-blowing live since I hold her music to a high standard, but to see her was nice, I guess.
Now this might have just been my favourite set of the night. PUSHA. T. My goodness. Every single line (and not just the punches) uttered like he meant it – greatness, even live. From his guest verses on Runaway, So Appalled and Move That Dope, to Grindin’, King Push, Blocka, Nosetalgia, New God Flow… brilliance, pure brilliance. A well-thought-out set. Need I say any more? His name is his name, and that’s it. Push.
Jermaine Lamarr Cole. Out of all the [four] times that I’ve seen him live in concert, this was the one I feel like actually introduced ‘Jermaine’ rather than J. Cole and was where, in the flesh I got to know him a bit more as a person and not just through the music or for what he has spoken in it. If there is any time to see him live, then, I’m telling you – it’s now. Go buy your ticket. So, instead of giving you this biased fan point-of-view, I’m about to let you know why, musically, this is a show worth seeing for any music fanatic and genuinely what I’d call the real definition of an experience.
Going into 2014 Forest Hills Drive, I saw that Cole had a lot on his plate and much to get off of his chest. It seemed like this was maybe not his deepest, however – I’d say most personal to date. Surely, the tour had to imitate the art and he felt he had a job to portray it in its best way. So, what better way to give himself to the crowd than to open up with, of course, an intimate version of the Intro, where he set the tone for reciting the rest of LP in its entirety.
Once he had the crowd engaged, Cole moved onto January 28th – voices all over came together with no hesitation as we got stuck in rapping word-for-word. From early on, I noticed Cole was really putting his soul into the performance almost like he’d been thinking out loud, there and then on a stage, live, in front of an audience – I saw it in his face from when he aggressively projected the prolific line, “You ain’t the God,” boy, did he mean it.
But, it was Wet Dreamz that really got people hype as soon as the beat dropped. Was interesting just hearing so many people sing along to a song about such thing as teenage innocence and vulnerability to virginity which is something I didn’t think I’d ever witness in my lifetime, coming from a generation of people who always felt they had something to prove or it was a matter of who did something first, all to impress or gain popularity. I went through that in my school days – and so, to see it come to light that others were, too, now singing was like a confirmed revelation.
Cole hitting us with ’03 Adolescence, A Tale Of 2 Citiez and Fire Squad really created the raw energy in the room; although, the live instrumentation of the last two in comparison to the songs in CDQ did seem a little bit of a disappointment. Thankfully, the crowd’s liveliness made up for it and hopefully it were only a mere technical difficulty.
The show really did pick up, I think, after the first 6 tracks. St. Tropez was a massive transitional period of the night that benefited and elevated the set as Cole had everybody waving their hands and vibing out to the mellow song. Following the performance, he delivered his first of many soliloquies, that night. He spoke on his metaphor for St. Tropez being a place, not that he’d visited himself; however, one where he imagined rich people would go away on Holiday and somewhere he aspired to be, one day. This first song break-down gave the crowd a chance to settle for a moment and just listen, but still be captivated and occupied. This was the moment where I had began to sincerely realize that, J. Cole is more than the music. Actually talking to the crowd and saying something, not simply for the sake of it with no purpose or substance in the words. To take that time out is something that I personally respect.
Cole then took some time away from FHD to jog us down another memory lane, taking us back to 2009 – 2011 having his live band run some of his older works (Lights Please, In The Morning and Nobody’s Perfect) which the crowd approved, no doubt.
Back to the show itself, though. Keeping the momentum rolling, the crowd knew what was next – G.O.M.D. Now, this really sent everybody wild (from where I was stood, it looked like a madness spectacle all around me). When the beat climaxed just past midway, the room went bananas and people just had fun jamming, bouncing to the song.
Before starting the next song (with the help of its piano chords being played to accompany his words), Cole delivered an insight into what the song No Role Modelz was initially about, with clever analogies and kicking some knowledge to us on what Hollywood is like, going from comparing the texture of the women’s fake butts to wet cement – essentially telling us that what looks good isn’t always what feels good, it’s not the real thing; not the authentic shit. How women can go to Hollywood and get caught up, she’s fucked up in the head, mentally sick, lost. She’s shallow but on Instagram, posting thirst-trap pictures with the deepest captions just to catch guys but also at the same time throw them off guard having them like, “this bitch read too!?”. He then goes on to perform the number that had been waited on all night long as Cole requested the crowd put on hand in the sky.
With the last three songs from the album yet to be performed, I had in mind, made this observation below.
“On the road to riches, listen, this is what you’ll find”. Cole’s music throughout the years has often expressed: turmoil, pain, envy, lust, fear, validation, depression. Struggling with all of these things that had come with the fame in his career, all whilst being in midst of “trying to stay alive,” and remain real, pure.
The line, “Can I get a glimpse?” to me, best describes Cole’s sparked curiosity towards the money. He wanted a taste of what that fortune was like and he got it through taking risks but eventually only realized that it wasn’t what he wanted. You could see that it was vividly clear and becoming evident that the money was starting to get to him – not, say, in a way that it began to affect his art, but himself; his values; beliefs.
Once again accompanied by the Piano as the speed tempo varies switching up, Cole sings Hello reminiscing on old times and is slowly missing what really matters which is home and a relationship. Something he wants to hello to again as he then begins to start appreciating life and what he has now in Apparently which the crowd enthusiastically assists Cole on.
Cole had lost his way due to relying on the money. So, whereas on previous tracks like Love Me Not where he said, “made it through the fame and never got too jaded,” things changed slightly.
Coming up to Cole’s last song, Love Yourz (by far the emotional take of the night), Cole wants to give the people something to hold onto and so in a speech he leaves [with] a huge reminder.
All of this is what culminated to the position Cole is in now; where he finally came to a realization and now believes that the key to happiness is “Real Genuine Motherfucking Love. Not that Hollywood shit” ~ Note To Self.
After wrapping up the performance of the album, Cole quickly came back to the stage to follow up with an encore of Can’t Get Enough, Work Out, Crooked Smile, and Power Trip. The main let-down, I think, was that, between the line-up laid potential performances of collaborative cuts like, I Need That by Cozz & Bas, Bitchez by Cole, Bas & Omen, Sparks Will Fly by Cole & Jhené, Looking For Trouble by Cole & Push. Me personally – I’d have preferred those maybe over the other tracks listed above in the encore; for, I’d seen those at Cole’s other live shows at least 3 times. It would have been nice to see the stage shared between them all. Almost like an all-star line up thing – each of them doing their thing.
I often (previously before the concert) found myself asking which is Cole’s best and most complete album, not to stick them up against each other but I did sway towards Born Sinner until after the concert. Hearing the whole of 2014 Forest Hills Drive in its entirety and feeling it on a scale of live performance, as far as that goes – for music to convert like that from audio to on stage the way it did is truly what is remarkable to me – and, this album did indeed come full circle. I see now that he’s solidified his spot that he doesn’t even want, and he did it the right way this time – after all the guilt, feeling like he may have sold out, he won really by staying true to himself and proved that if you stay real, eventually you will prevail.
Tickets for Act III of the Forest Hills Drive Tour are available at Dreamville.com/events
Thank you for reading.