Take Care vs. 2014 Forest Hills Drive
By Adam Samee
Author’s Note: The songs linked in this article may contain profanity.
In 2011, a valuable opportunity appeared for young musicians to make a name for themselves. Popular musicians were not producing new material, and this left people looking for new music. Aubrey Graham, known by his stage name Drake, and Jermaine Cole, known by his stage name J. Cole, were two young rappers with promising futures. Both have dominated rap music for the past few years after their 2011 albums. Drake accumulated most of his attention when he released Take Care that year, his third album, whereas J. Cole did this with his first album, Cole World: The Sideline Story.
Since both were growing in popularity, it was often a debate as to who was more talented. Initially, most rap fans preferred Drake because of Take Care; but this changed when J. Cole introduced 2014 Forest Hills Drive in 2014, also his third album. After Forest Hills Drive, many rap fans began to believe that J. Cole was the superior rapper, and even today people question whose album is better. My answer to this question lies with Drake and Take Care.
Take Care exposes people’s vulnerability better than most albums in rap. How a listener feels entirely depends on what song they are immersed in. For example, a sentimental song like “Marvin’s Room” will leave a listener in tears, as he talks about his loneliness after a relationship. This is beautifully contrasted with upbeat tracks such as “The Motto,” an optimistic hype-song from which the term “YOLO” (“you only live once”) originates. The ability to manipulate a listener’s emotions seamlessly is essential to Take Care. The album’s greatness is largely due to the incredible lyrics. Drake addresses his lyrical genius on “Crew Love“: “I told my story, and made his story (history).” During an interview at the 2011 OVO Fest, he said, “I’m not the type of rapper to make up a story.” When he reflects on his life, he attracts fans who can relate to his struggles. The connection that he forms with his listeners is crucial to his success.
J. Cole does not show the same artistry in Forest Hills Drive as Drake does in Take Care. Take Care includes excellent featured appearances from various artists, while Forest Hills Drive is a solo album. Many fans respect J. Cole for this, and 22-year-old J. Cole supporter Yusuf Ahmad says, “unlike Drake, J. Cole doesn’t need features to be successful.” By going featureless, J. Cole is missing an opportunity to improve his music. Drake enhances the overall quality of his album by adding features, but to say he needs them to be successful is false. “Headlines” is arguably the most popular song he has ever released, and he did it with no features.
Forest Hills Drive lacks the intimacy that makes the difference between a good album and a great one. It also does not have any lively songs that could compete with the likes of “Under Ground Kings.” So why do people say Forest Hills Drive is better? The most common argument made by J. Cole supporters is that he is a better storytelling artist. His most popular narrative song is “Wet Dreamz,” which is about an attractive girl in his math class whom he fantasizes about. He objectifies her throughout the whole song. The story has no romantic aspect to it, and he lacks emotion in his voice because he has no feelings for her. Drake’s most popular storytelling song is different. In “Look What You’ve Done,” he thanks his family in the most personal song on the album. It ends with a voice recording from his grandmother, who has since died, saying she misses him and thanking him for keeping her comfortable in her old age.
J. Cole’s album could have been more impressive if he had included other artists and showed more skill. Drake uses his versatility to craft a superior album. He combines his incredible use of lyrics with his perfect flow and does it consistently throughout the album. There is still time for both of them to improve, but for now, Aubrey “Drake” Graham’s Take Care is better than Jermaine “J. Cole” Cole’s 2014 Forest Hills Drive.