J. Cole’s 2014 Forest Hills Drive vs. Madvillain’s Madvillainy. 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.

Released more than 10 years apart, Madvillain’s Madvillainy and J. Cole’s 2014 Forest Hills Drive are delightful celebrations of self-sufficiency. MF DOOM and Madlib kept their groundbreaking Stones Throw Records album almost entirely in-house. For Cole, it was a similar approach—making a #1, gold-certified album void of guest MCs. A fellow MC/producer, the Roc Nation luminary kept his focus tight, as well as his circle. With Cole’s latest LP having narrowly defeated Kendrick Lamar’s Section.80, it may be facing stiffer competition in one of the three independent 2000s LPs to make Round 2. With both artists in the news lately, this one is sure to excite voters and spectators alike (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


Madvillainy by Madvillain

In the early 2000s, MF DOOM was very much a dope-MC-for-hire. Following his late 1990s career renaissance thanks to Operation Doomsday, the super-villain adopted a Tupac Shakur-like work ethic of recording, producing, and releasing albums under a plethora of aliases and guises. As many suitors came to the table to break bread, Madlib and Stones Throw Records were great fans of the former KMD front man. After coming to an agreement, the emerging MC/producer of Lootpack fame got “blunted in the bomb shelter” (Stones Throw’s studio) with DOOM. Although the album may have had modest beginnings, the synergy between the two reclusive artists cultivated new career pathways for each. Madvillainy was a tremendous merging of two esteemed talents, who celebrated ignoring convention. Despite the whimsicality, they made a remarkably soulful LP. Behind the dusty loops and drenched lyrics is an album that’s become a hallmark to each artist, a label, and a redefined Underground Hip-Hop movement in the mid-2000s. Twenty-two tracks deep, Madvillain’s lone studio album is a sum of small movements. With most songs two minutes long, this album combated the trends of the mainstream in all ways, despite its surprisingly large (eventual) profile. Songs like “Accordion” played like a profound interlude. MF DOOM, hitting the pocket of Madlib’s quirky beat, blended cartoon references with brief allusions to his own mortality. Madlib did not just play a background role in the album. Like Metal Face DOOM or Quasimoto, Madvillain stood as a character of the pair’s concoction. Instrumentals, and subdued lyrical moments showed Otis Jackson, Jr.’s sound apart from his Yesterday’s New Quintet, Quas’, or solo work. “Rainbows” were anything but straightforward, and moments that enhanced the cohesion of the stylized album without being overt. “Figaro” put DOOM in a sound that was wildly different than his own productions. As a 15-year vet was rising the ranks of MC lists, the complex rhythms of Madlib proved to be a combine drill of skill. “Fancy Clown” was a no-laughing-matter break-up track. DOOM spoke from within emotionally, as the producer made the song cry—literally. Crossover single “All Caps” transported the group back to the 1970s, rewarding fans with a song that felt like a refined Operation Doomsday holdover. In the song (and much of the album), DOOM embraced his own legend. Madlib was able to take elements of what he heard in the Fondle ‘Em Records days, and build out his motifs. While the Oxnard, California native would make albums with another NYC underground vet in Percee P, as well as Talib Kweli, Strong Arm Steady, and Guilty Simpson, Madvillainy may be his most intensive workshop. Even if its mosaic approach, short songs featured detailed sequencing, beat-flips, and nuanced accents. This unlikely pair, acting upon Madvillainy as an experimental one-off, would make career-defining chemistry together—a bomb in the shelter.

Album Number: 1 (as group)
March 24, 2004
Stones Throw Records Highest Charting Position (Top 200): #179
Song Guests:
MED, Wildchild
Song Producers:

So what’s the better album? Make sure you vote above.

Related: Ambrosia For Heads’ Finding The GOAT: The Albums