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The Beat Breakdown: with Devin Morgan ’15, Men’s Soccer

Edited by Hannah Sawyer

It doesn’t take a couple of (million) headphone commercials to understand the significance music has on sports. Bob Marley was recognized as an excellent soccer (erm, football) player, Bubba Watson hosts an annual hip-hop bash, and even 2 Chainz (a performer we shall reluctantly consider as an artist) attended college on a basketball scholarship. With this connection in mind, BRSN asked various Big Red athletes to review some of their favorite music albums. We received an interesting collection that we’ll be releasing throughout the semester.

Kicking off our series is Cornell men’s soccer defender and senior captain, Devin Morgan ’15. He provides a witty review of the rapper J. Cole’s latest album, 2014 Forest Hills Drive.

Hey everybody, I’m Devin Morgan.  I just finished my senior season with the Cornell’s men’s soccer team this past semester and BRSN asked me to do an album review.  I’ve never done one of these before, but I have an affinity for hip hop music, so I think I can lend a (slightly) reputable voice.

Like many of you, I’m sure, who have gotten the chance to listen to J. Cole’s newest project, 2014 Forest Hills Drive, I may have downloaded it online.  Not because I couldn’t afford to drop the $9.99, just that the money spent on this album could go to a more notable cause…namely, seven Insomnia chocolate chunk cookies.  However, that’s beside the point; let’s get to this album review.

J. Cole has put together the reputation of rapping about the modern-day problems of young men attempting to reach their dreams for a while now…

“January 28th”

Wow, what a beat…but in classic J. Cole form, he has to throw a corny line a couple of bars in (“flow bananas here, peel this back”).  And he wonders why he’s stuck behind Drake & Kendrick (more on that later) in terms of rap’s young-yet-established hierarchy.  It’s hard to appreciate Cole raps when he spews immature rhymes while speaking of a friend who got caught by a stray bullet.

Despite my harshness over a single bar, the production on this is exquisite.  Cole covers topics that are consistent with previous works, including the price of a black man’s life and the saturation of crappy hip hop infiltrating the air waves and corrupting the influence of real spittahs. He forays into a new one of not letting listeners taint his soul.  This shows some growth from Cole as he’s been criticized in the past for being a slave to his label, infamously pouring out his feelings on the track “Let Nas Down.”  Maybe Forest Hills is a reflection of how Cole has become his own man, or perhaps Cole has been let off his leash by Roc Nation.  Either way, it’s a positive thing for all Cole fans.  Additionally, a nice little nod to Tupac by replacing the “S’s” with “Z’s” on the track list.

Now, back to the Drake & Kendrick references.  The direct quote is, “You might be Drizzy Drake or Kendrick Lamar, check the birthdate…you ain’t the god, nah, you ain’t the god…Cole the god…”  Really, Cole, you’re the god?  You put out an album that is peppered with weak vocals and the typical J. Cole self doubt and consider yourself a “god.”  The reason Kanye West can get away with it is because Kanye’s level of confidence is very, VERY obvious on all fronts, whether it be music, fashion, or his lady #COMINGHOMERIGHTNOW.  Come on, Cole, as fans we know where you’re at, but do you?  You have a song about losing your virginity, for Christ’s sake.  That’s some personal stuff, and as fans we love you for that, but please don’t front like you’re really in these streets (see “A Tale of 2 Citiez”).  Drake gets away with his fake tough-guy act because his music, if we’re being honest, is consistently better than Cole’s.  More than any other rapper, Cole would definitely benefit from collaborations with some real singers (for example, the last 45 seconds of “A Tale of Two Citiez”).  Not to say Cole can’t hold a tune well enough to do justice to a song, just that the hooks on “03’ Adolescence” and “St. Tropez” could be strengthened tremendously.

Best Line: “Cole is the hypnotist, control the game – whenever he snap, that’s every track…”  The man turned “every” into a three syllable word…bravo, Cole.

Now for the positives of this album, of which there are many.  The “Intro” track was beautiful (as well as the video).  Cole’s message here, asking his audience and himself if they want to be happy, resonates through his tone on the track with the fun-loving nature of a kid riding his bike around the city.

“03’ Adolescence”

The first verse chronicles Cole’s shyness when talking about “the baddest girl in the city” and his acknowledgement that he can tough it out in the present, but may regret it four years from now.  Sometimes we forget that Cole is one of a select few big-time rappers to graduate from college. He understands the sad and sometimes harsh misgivings of trying to romantically embed yourself into another’s life. The second verse goes over Cole’s attempt to break into the drug game but is quickly stopped by his friend who explains that he looks up to Cole and it shouldn’t be the other way around.  Cole is saying that despite growing up without a father he still managed to prosper and encourages anybody listening in a similar scenario to do the same.

“A Tale of Two Citiez”

“Oh snap!” is a phrase similar to what I said when this beat dropped 20 seconds in.  This is the type of track that makes you want to fight someone for no good reason.  The song first documents how Cole’s boy got robbed.  Cole asks himself if that’s really such a bad thing and by hook number two we know the answer.  The line “Tired of seeing [guys] flaunt, I want to flaunt too” is the embodiment of the substantive rappers (Cole, Logic, etc) versus the all-flash rappers (Yo Gotti, Birdman, etc). There will never be another point while listening to this album that you get more hype.

“St. Tropez”

Very laid-back beat, something you’ll listen to on a long bus ride. “He’s on his way, bout to get paid, on his way to Hollywood,” Cole says.  More than anything on this track, you’ll notice the connection between Cole’s “it’s hard for me to smile” and the sad violin that plays a little more than halfway through the track.


It’s no coincidence that in the opening lines the rapper now refers to himself as “Hollywood Cole,” as, in the previous track, he was “on his way to Hollywood.”  Rappers are starting to weave song themes and concepts from track to track more often nowadays (which is awesome).  This track will make you laugh with quite a few joke (not entirely sure?) lines. It serves as a bit of lyrical onslaught to his opponents/haters, who he encourages to stay away from his boxer briefs.

Yet the real essence of this song is love, which Cole says isn’t talked about anymore.  Cole even addresses the exact moment in his lyrics: “This is the part that the thugs skip.”  Cole proceeds to describe how, in every location he goes–whether east, south, or west–he is, in fact, the best.

“No Role Modelz”

It’s an interesting start to this song, as Cole sends a shout-out to Uncle Phil (RIP) from “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.”  As many of you reading this know, Will Smith, played by…Will Smith in the famous show, grew up without a father and was told to live with his auntie in Bel-Air by his scared mother, who thought growing up in their neighborhood was too dangerous.  Uncle Phil was an excellent father figure to Will, and Cole finds similarities between himself and Smith’s character on the show.  The song title indicates the empty space that a father figure would normally occupy (at least for Cole).  You have to respect Cole for the little things on this track.  Listen closely and you’ll hear “searching for my memory” played back again to signify how deeply he’s checking his past for any semblance of a role model.  Cole has some witty wordplay on this track, but the chorus is so freaking bad that it spoils it for me.  It is as if Cole presents you with a steak dinner, spits on it, and leaves as he says, “Enjoy.”  Unfortunately, that’s still steak and a brother’s gotta eat!  The funniest part of this track has to be the George W. Bush quote.  Question to Cole: What hoops do you have to jump through to clear a George W. Bush sample?  This track attempts to have a rousing, pump-your-fist vibe, but the content drags it down toward the latter part of the song, where Cole claims that all he has left are chicks from reality shows after becoming a B-list celebrity.  Cole: you’re young, (moderately) rich, and black.  Strive for something a little better then, my dude.

“Love Yourz”

The combination of simple piano chords and the drum beat makes this track sonically gorgeous (gorges, or nah?).  In the final track of the album, Cole speaks on the importance of loving your own life and that it is the journey that we should appreciate.  Cole also tackles the repulsiveness of consumerism and the hidden ugliness of success (a path Cole went down with Roc Nation when he struggled to release the kinds of records he wanted in the timeframe he needed…for more on that, Youtube his talk at Harvard). “There’s beauty in the struggle” is a trope that’s been covered millions of times but probably not much better than in this song.  It is a fitting conclusion to a good year and a good album.


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