I vividly remember getting an e-mail in my inbox with the opportunity to win a chance to be one of the firsts to listen to J. Cole’s 2014 Forest Hills Drive album. The dates happened to be on November 29th and November 30th, the former being my 20th birthday. I submitted my information twice for the contest drawing thinking the possibility of venturing to the North Carolina rapper’s childhood home was near impossible.
It was the Monday before my birthday, the 24th to be exact. I took a seat in my last class of the day and –as usual– checked texts, social media, and e-mail prior. The moment I opened my e-mail, I was ecstatic. Why? My inbox contained an invitation to listen to Cole’s new album at his house that has yet to be released. Did I mention it’s on my birthday?
I was dumbfounded.
Economics wasn’t the class to hold my attention in the first place, but there wasn’t a word I listened to after getting the news. I was too preoccupied with posting the snapshot above to social media and attaching it to several text messages.
Adrenaline was running through my veins. At the time I thought I was going to meet J. Cole himself(which didn’t happen).
I secured two spots immediately. My birthday week was in full effect.
I departed from my house at approximately 8:30 Saturday morning with the listening session starting promptly at 11:15 am. However, simply driving up to 2014 Forest Hills Drive wasn’t the case. After checking in at the recreation center in FayetteNam, a bus would transport the group to the final destination.
After taking our seats on the bus that sunny fall morning, invitees were required to hand in their cellphones to eliminate the chances of recording anything that could be deemed as revealing to a possible leak of the somewhat-surprise album. Goosebumps started to spread as the house was in plain view. Security was scattered throughout the property. We step off the bus as video cameras and photographers capture our entrance into the humble aboad.
As we enter the house, a man – who they called “Uncle” something, I forget – gives us basic guidelines to follow. He tells us to make ourselves comfortable, but be respectful. Soon enough, individuals hand us iPod shuffles and a pair of Dr. Dre Beats Solo headphones. The entire album is one track. Don’t press that skip button.
I strap in and prepare for the ride.
The intro – titled “Intro” -begins to melodically cascade through the the headphones. I’m covered in chills. This is actually happening.
My first instict, along with everyone else, was to embrace the childhood room of where J. Cole’s music career began. His first ASR beat maker, posters of inspirations, and even a TV with a Nintendo-64 were part of his recreation of what his room was decorated then.
I traveled back down a short flight of stairs into the living room where pictures of Cole himself along with family members accompanied the white walls aligned with furniture.
I went back upstairs to peruse Cole’s room. I gazed at records on his dresser along with the magazines that lined the floor and bed itself. A basketball, kids-sized clothing, and composition notebook were added for attention to detail.
The three-bedroom house allowed Jermaine and his brother to have his own room.
I remember sitting on the bed in his mother’s room listening as closely as I could.
It was an environment that purely had you overwhelmed in the moment. The North Carolina connection made spending the morning of my 20th birthday listening to J. Cole’s unreleased album in my top three moments in life. I couldn’t wait to hear it again.
The album is more than just the context and interpretation of the music. Some people are able to feel the journey and experience the artists tries to instill.
Listening to the album always puts me back at 2014 Forest Hills Drive.