The entirety of my college experience has existed between two headphones. To this day, I remember the soles of Carolina blue and white Nike flattops scraping against the front steps of Anderson Hall as I dragged my large Black suitcase up to my third floor triple. I was listening to whatever I could find on Bobby Shmurda's Soundcloud as I made my way up the mountain of stairs that preceded the main entrance. I soon traded in my Bobby Shmurda for a free download of Childish Gambino's Kauai and Hot 97 Freestyle. Meanwhile, I was dipping and dodging my way through the trials and tribulations of being a college freshmen in the nation's capital. I was listening to Wiz Khalifa's Blacc Hollywood when I snuck into a Howard party during welcome week. I was listening to Cozz's Cozz and Effect. when I pulled my first all nighter in the student activity center. I was locked into 0 to 100 when I was set to perform at my first open mic in the district. If it weren't for those moments in time, I'm not sure I would love those albums and singles in the way that I do today.
The first time I heard the intro to 2014 Forest Hills Drive I was a first semester freshman at American University on the train towards the center of Washington D.C. for an off site class visit. With the wifi swinging in and out of tune, I nearly reverted back to listening to ASAP Ferg's Ferg Forever tape that was released a week prior. Luckily, somewhere between Dupont Circle and Metro Center, my wireless connection hit its sweet spot.
I was all of nineteen years and a few weeks old attempting to comprehend Cole telling his life story to that point. At the moment, it felt like a tall order, but it all seemed to make sense in a way that other albums hadn't. In a sense, Cole was telling my story in a way that Kendrick couldn't with Good Kid, m.a.a.d City. I will never be from the West Coast. I can't identify with having shot somebody in my lifetime. I can't relate to growing up in a two parent household. As much as I love Good Kid, m.a.a.d City, I will never be a good kid in a mad city. I grew up in mid size town with my mother and brother. We weren't rich or poor. We were somewhere in that gray area known as the middle class. Cole went to college and I am in college. I could never be Kendrick, but I am Jermaine. I am No Role Modelz and the pre-2014 Forest Hills Drive "Be Free". I am 2014 Forest Hills Drive. At a time when I was away from without boundaries or a curfew with a girlfriend, academic responsibility and increasing financial responsibility, 2014 Forest Hills Drive was a guide to my maturity. Most vividly, I remember talking to my girlfriend at the time about the song, "Hello". I can still hear here telling me to never let that song become our reality. We haven't spoken in over a year and I haven't listened to that song in nearly 10 months. Similar to "A Tale of 2 Cities", I remember nearly being robbed while heading home from work at a D.C. public school during my freshman year. Simply put, 2014 Forest Hills Drive was my life in a way that so many people identified with Beyonce's Lemonade upon its release.
Is it bad if I say I am a J. Cole fan who doesn't want a new album? I believe that J. Cole's latest project will surpass that of 2014 Forest Hills Drive on a variety of subjective levels, but I don't want it. I don't want it because no matter what is said or done; it will never be 2014 Forest Hills Drive. It will never be better than 2014 Forest Hills Drive because I will never be the 19 year old kid roaming through Washington, D.C. with wide eyes and a naive heart. Much of the music I love is not because of the art, but more because of the time in my life in which it arrived. To Pimp A Butterfly will more than likely go down in history a better project than Good Kid, m.a.a.d City, but it wasn't released at the time I needed it most. The same can be said for Aubrey. Take Care will more than likely be Drake's most critically acclaimed work, but I wasn't listening to "Shot For Me" my first night out of the house when I moved away to boarding school. I was still listening to "Congratulations" despite the fact it was over a year old at that point. I don't know if you can relate, but I fall in love with the soundtrack to my life's story, not with albums. I don't know if that makes sense to you, but that is my reality as a fan of music.
2014 Forest Hills Drive may not be the most well crafted or comprehensive project. It may not even be better than its predecessor, Born Sinner, but it is the album I have identified most with in my life. For that reason, I'm not sure if I want another Cole album. If the goal is to leave at your peak then Cole would leave us with 2014 Forest Hills Drive. My fear is that I love 2014 Forest Hills Drive so much that I will look at any other project with the mindset that nothing will never top it, which isn't fair. I know my thoughts may be irrational. I know everyone may not have the same connection with 2014 Forest Hills Drive, but I also know what that album meant for me. It was my life story to that point and what I hope to learn going forward as a young, Black man in America. I don't want another Cole album. I really don't.