J. Cole’s 2014 Forest Hills Drive vs. Kendrick Lamar’s Section.80. Which Is Better?
One year ago, Ambrosia For Heads launched a debate among its readers seeking to answer one of Hip-Hop’s most hotly-contested questions: who is the greatest MC of all time? “Finding The GOAT MC” lasted between September 2014 and May 2015, engaging millions of readers and ultimately producing its winner, as determined by hundreds of thousands of voters. Now, “Finding The GOAT” returns to ask a new question: what is the greatest of all time Hip-Hop album?
“Finding The GOAT Album” will consider 120 albums from three individual eras (40 in each), with options for wild card and write-in candidates. You and your vote will decide which album goes forward, and which one leaves the conversation. While there will no doubt be conversation between family and friends (virtual and real), only votes cast in the voting tool below will be counted, so use the power of your click.
In the 2010s, you will not encounter many conversations about what’s good about present-day Hip-Hop without hearing the names of J. Cole or Kendrick Lamar. Collaborators for nearly five years, these diligent students of Nas and Tupac Shakur, respectively attained a gift for making the music feel meaningful, and to be cherished—even in an era where music is becoming more of a commodity. 2014 Forest Hills Drive is a third album that felt like a debut—with its own artist fending off distractions, including his strong label machine. Kendrick Lamar’s Section.80, which featured early Cole production work, is a highly inventive cosmos of Compton anthropology, years before the mainstream accolades. This battle, featuring a #1 and arguably the biggest breakthrough of the 2010s, has some seriously high powered implications (click one then click “vote”).
2014 Forest Hills Drive by J. Cole
Since 2011, many contested that J. Cole was at the top of the so-called “new class.” The Fayetteville, North Carolina MC/producer faced tremendous pressures between his white-hot mixtape run and becoming a radio-ready star. Signed to Roc Nation by Jay Z, Cole and the general public were aware of the pressures and expectations of being the label’s first MC to make cultural impact. With that, Jermaine Cole made two acclaimed, commercially-successful albums in Cole World and Born Sinner. While each stood tall against the competition, it would be 2014 Forest Hills Drive that felt like his true, completely creatively-controlled work. Devoid of marketing, promotion, and features—this was a deliberate and orchestrated effort to reintroduce J. Cole. In doing so, it stripped away his major label and elite associations, putting all the strengths and weaknesses square on Jermaine’s shoulders. There were little to no weaknesses, as J. Cole finally arrived in making the kind of album that seemed timeless, and unrestrained.
Far from his debut, 2014… felt like a first album, in the sense that J. Cole dealt with things that predated his fame and fortune. Within, the Dreamville founder recounted losing his virginity (“Wet Dreamz”), being inspired by his mother’s work ethic (“Apparently”), and navigating puberty (“’03 Adolescence”). However, not all of the album was sheer nostalgia. “Fire Squad” was Cole letting loose, jockeying for the trophy—and presumably answering Kendrick’s “Control” bell properly. Besides Kanye, Oddisee, and Blu, none of Cole’s peers could challenge the industry on a self-produced song. 2014 Forest Hills Drive was J. Cole reverting back to the mixtape formula that ushered him in. With careful sequencing, and attention to cohesion, J. Cole refused the grandeur frequently associated with #1 Rap albums. 2014 Forest Hills Drive manifested the destiny of the wunderkind heard in the late aughts, and presented Hip-Hop’s most exciting double-threat since Kanye West. Sometimes less is more, and time may argue that despite his boisterous first two releases, when it comes to J. Cole’s truest artistic homecoming, the writing is literally on the wall.
Album Number: 3
Released: December 9, 2014
Label: Dreamville/Roc Nation/Columbia/Sony
Highest Charting Position (Top 200): #1 (certified gold, January 2015)
Song Guests: Ronald Gilmore, Nate Jones, David Linaburg, Travis Antoine, James Casey, Chargaux, T.S. Rose Desandies, Kaye Fox, Jeff Gitelman, Nuno Malo, Yolanda Renee, Carl McCormick, James Rodgers
Song Producers: (self), Willie B, !llmind, Cardiak, Ron Gilmore, Vinylz, Dre Charles, Team Titans, Nick Paradise, Phonix Beats, Dexter “Pop” Wansel, JProof, DJ Dahi, Damone Coleman, Nervous Reck
Section.80 by Kendrick Lamar
Approaching mid-2011, Kendrick Lamar was anomaly. The Compton, California’s 2010 release, Overly Dedicated broke on the Rap charts. He was appearing on LPs by Rapper Big Pooh and Tech N9ne, despite a relatively low profile beyond the blogosophere. That quickly changed with July’s Section.80. The digitally-exclusive independent project was as inventive of an album as Heads expected from Kanye West, Andre 3000, or Lil Wayne. All three of those men were clearly influential upon the 24 year-old. The Jay Rock protege formerly known as “K-Dot” revealed a CPT as treacherous as it was in N.W.A.’s verses, but stunningly more complex. Kendrick Duckworth rapped about prostitutes in search of father figures, numbed attention spans of his peers, and how Rap verses were the new Egyptian hieroglyphics. Admittedly bookish and reserved, Kendrick Lamar was the attentive young head with gang-banging uncles in and out jail. Kendrick’s narrative was too original to be inauthentic, and his opinions were too precise to be plagiarized.
With the exception of peer J. Cole’s lone beat, Section.80 was almost entirely in-house. Vocally and musically, Kendrick Lamar called upon his peers. The album was an elaborate ensemble of role-players, but only accents to Lamar’s vision. Tracks like “No Make Up” presupposed Pop placements for K-Dot, while “Rigamortus” showed a master entertainer having fun with writing and delivery. “HiiiPower” was proof that an artist with a low-profile could make a song as socially and racially uplifting as Kanye, Nas, or the like. “Poe Mans Dreams” and “Keisha’s Song” showed the externalization of Lamar’s mind. He could write about more than just his life, with a novelist’s gift for character and conflict. Kendrick was an old soul in a young man’s body. However, as Section.80 subtly suggested, K-Dot was a survivor, and an outlier in his own world. The album, which would eventually prompt Drake to seek feature work, and Dr. Dre to pull out paperwork, was a concept that never preached. As the Grammy nominations, platinum plaques, and #1 positions have since come in, nothing Kendrick Lamar is doing now isn’t already there, unassumingly, on Section.80. The Hip-Hop meritocracy appears true, when Kendrick Lamar’s story and his art are examined closely.
Album Number: 2
Released: July 2, 2011
Label: Top Dawg Entertainment
Highest Charting Position (Top 200): #113
Song Guests: ScHoolboy Q, Ab-Soul, GLC, Colin Munroe, Ashtrobot, BJ The Chicago Kid
Song Producers: Sounwave, THC, J. Cole, Willie B, Tae Beast, Tommy Black, Dave Free, Wyldfyr, Terrace Martin
So what’s the better album? Make sure you vote above.