For the past month, J. Cole has been gearing up for his 90-minute HBO special by releasing weekly visuals, titled Road to Homecoming, every Wednesday. The visuals first debuted on December 16, and offer a behind the scenes look at Cole throughout stops on the 2014 Forest Hills Drive Tour. But what makes the HBO Special such a historic feat for the North Carolina native, is that it puts Cole on a very short list of musical artists to have their own HBO concert film. The film highlights the sold out show at the Crown Coliseum in Cole’s hometown of Fayetteville, NC, and based on some of the fans reactions, that isn’t something hip-hop artists get the opportunity to do very often, but J. Cole has certainly earned the honors.
A short look back at Cole’s past year leading up to the HBO premiere: His 2014 Forest Hills Drive album was named best selling hip hop album of 2014, while on its way to becoming the first rap album in 25 years to go platinum without any features. Cole also took his album on a three-act tour across the country that brought in over $1 million dollars in ticket sales, as he sold out multiple venues, including the prestigious Madison Square Garden arena in NYC. Lastly, in 2014, Cole earned a third consecutive number one album and inked a contract with HBO, the 2nd largest premium channel in the country, to do something that no other solo Hip-Hop Artist has ever done in the history of the station. With the best part being that it was all going to happen in front of his home crowd. HBO was coming to the ‘Ville.
Saturday, the suspense was no more as J. Cole & HBO finally premiered 2014 Forest Hills Drive: Homecoming with hundreds of thousands tuned in for the behind the scenes look. The Roc Nation emcee performs all 13 tracks from his most recent release in an hour and a half span, with added commentary on life in Fayetteville from current locals, and Cole himself. There’s no shortage of emotion and passion as Cole opens up to the HBO Camera crew on the disparities in his City with the same enthusiasm and energy he does when performing. It feels sincere. He immediately grabs at the heart the moment he appears on stage. He begins the show sitting on a decorated set made to resemble the roof of his childhood home, as he’s done so many times before, avidly asking a packed Crown Coliseum crowd, “Do you wanna, do you wanna be, happy?” before diving head first into January 28th.
As he works his way through the entire album, it’s obvious that this show means a little more to the Fayetteville native than any of his others. After a six-month, three act tour across the country this is the final show, and there’s no better way to close it out. He’s home. At the Crown Coliseum in downtown Fayetteville, Cole’s comfort level is clear, but nothing close to calm. With each passing song, he explodes with more energy, as he raps to the roaring crowd affectionately providing the back up vocals, ending the show in a full sweat. It’s no debate that J. Cole definitely silences the critics that say he is a boring rapper. Just ask any one of the nearly 9,000 attendees in Fayetteville whose backs didn’t touch their seats once and left the arena in awe, with some even in tears, they’ll tell you a different story. The arena erupted when he performed G.O.M.D & No Role Modelz, but the real treat came when J. Cole brought out Drake and Jay-Z for surprise performances, sending the fans into a frenzy.
Personally, I’ve been a fan of J. Cole’s since he first came on the scene with The Warm Up, and I can admit that he doesn’t always make the most listenable or radio worthy songs, but boring? Not a chance. He makes real life music that most in his generation can relate to. J. Cole’s ability to relate to people from all walks of life is second to none, and a quick glance around the Crown Coliseum is a clear indication of that; Fayetteville locals, surrounding areas college kids, high school dropouts, and middle-aged adults all packed the Coliseum for the historic concert. Maybe it’s the multiracial background; having been birthed to a black father who left his life at an early and raised by a white mother, while growing up in low income North Carolina, that fans identify with. Maybe it’s his degree in Communications and Business from St. John’s University that translates into bass heavy beats and lyrical wordplay that listeners can’t help but cling to. Or maybe, it’s his social awareness, and ability to attain success while remaining humble, that they admire. Whatever it is, it’s allowed Cole to always come off as more human than most celebrities in his position, and this concert-film furthers that sentiment.
After seeing a little bit of where J. Cole comes from and just how successful he’s been able to become, it’s inspirational, and current Fayetteville would agree. One clip has a fan expressing how proud he is to say he’s from Fayetteville now that J. Cole has had so much success. Cole’s mom even appears on camera saying with absolute certainty that the sold out show will be one talked about for years to come. I haven’t been lucky enough to witness J. Cole live yet, but the 2014 Forest Hills Drive: Homecoming made me feel like one of the Fayetteville faithfuls in attendance that night. I blared my TV set at the highest possible volume while I nodded my head to the beats, and despite not having heard the album since at least June, rapped along seamlessly song after song.
With 2014 Forest Hills Drive: Homecoming, J. Cole makes it’s clear the odds have always been stacked against him, but all it took was a slight change in his mindset to lead him to unimaginable heights. When they told him he’d never be signed by Jay-Z or drop a platinum-selling album without any features, he held on to his dreams, believed in himself, and made them come true. And in doing so, inspired an entire town, and generation, to do the same. Now as I sit here listening to 2014 Forest Hills Drive on repeat, writing this, and replaying clips in my head from the 90-minute concert, only one thought comes to mind, “if they don’t know ya dreams… then they can’t shoot em down,” and J. Cole is living proof of that.