“I’ve gotten to this point in my career and realized that yeah I got a lot more dreams and I want to go further, but at the same time I don’t want it if it’s at the expense of my happiness. And I don’t want it if it’s at the expense of my sanity or I have to become someone who’s so out of touch with what’s real: the people that love you and the people that you love.” – J. Cole, “2014 Forest Hills Drive” trailer
Authenticity in music is a hard thing to maintain. Contemporary mainstream musicians of all genres are often musical actors, playing a generic role where their attire, lyrics, and public opinions were shaped well before they were chosen for the part, or at least it often feels that way. In hip hop, that means a misogynistic, materialistic gangsta who doesn’t take anyone’s shit with more money than you because of all the weight he pushes on the mean streets of (insert city).
Straying from the mold has disastrous consequences for most upcoming artists seeking mainstream success. Rappers like Eminem and Kanye West have been able to break through by being themselves but each “lost touch” as J. Cole puts it in the trailer to his new album “2014 Forest Hills Drive.” Slim Shady had multiple mental breakdowns and is no longer the lyrical wordsmith we once knew. Yeezus is calling himself some version of Christ and his wife is trending via #BreaktheInternet. Artist change. People change. They are allowed to do that and nothing done now can diminish the quality of their classic albums, but their modicums of authenticity were lost among most fans long ago.
J. Cole has presented himself simply as he is – a college graduate from Fayetteville, North Carolina who moved to New York City with a dollar and a dream. Cole finally gained the attention of Jay Z, one of his music heroes, who signed him to a deal with Roc Nation after years of grinding and many failures. Prior to the release of “Cole World: The Sideline Story,” his first studio album, Cole released several mixtapes for fans of his music and asked them to purchase the new album. People enjoy a variety of approaches to hip hop, not just the gangsta persona, and he needed the fans help to prove it.
His first two albums have been commercial hits on the charts and in the hearts and minds of hip hop heads. This third album has been staked as a moment to pay homage to his roots while still shooting for the stars in the music game. Along with this success has come more responsibility. J. Cole created the record label Dreamville Records which has signed Bas, Omen, and Cozz from the Northeast, Midwest, and the West Coast. Cole has continually found ways to stay connected to fans by addressing social issues through his music such as police brutality and mistreatment of women in society, performing two separate tours with $1 entry so fans can see his show even in dire financial straits, and having a public listening party at his house to celebrate the release of “2014 Forest Hills Drive.”
Is J. Cole about to release a new album next month, titled 2014 Forest Hills Drive? D: pic.twitter.com/HIe9XdguKo
— Hussain Sheikh (@HShakeee) November 16, 2014
J. Cole is a model for how artist can gain and sustain authenticity in the music industry. Talent is important but brand loyalty is the name of the game. He has the loyalty of his fans in abundance. In return, he offers a peek into his soul through phenomenal music. Don’t take it from me. Hear and see it right from the horse’s mouth. Enjoy the trailer for “2014 Forest Hills Drive.”
“2014 Forest Hills Drive” drops on December 9.