Do you want to be happy? Do you want to be free?
Act I: Innocence
EXT: J. Cole’s Home (2014 Forest Hills Drive, Fayetteville North Carolina) - Night
A two story home is illuminated underneath the moonlight. It’s rather simple, the lawn is tended to, instead of a car there’s a bicycle in the driveway, the kind of modest home you expect to find in a small town. On this night there’s a peculiar man perched on top of the roof like a gargoyle. He sits still, appearing to be lost in thought. He snaps from his trance when a car drives by, honking and yelling about loving him. He smirks, waving, carefully maneuvering to re-enter the home through a window as the camera moves toward the door, entering inside.
INT: Inside home
A light piano plays as the camera zooms around the empty living room, a for sale sign leans against the all-white wall. There’s nothing indicating that anyone has lived here in some time, but it’s clean, well kept. Up the steps, onto the second floor, there’s light seeping from a cracked door. Upon entering you see a man laying on the bed jotting thoughts into a notebook. His face is hidden. *Play The Intro*
It’s the only room in the home that’s furnished, it’s rather messy. A cereal bowl sits by the bed, shirts are sprawled on the floor, there are posters of '90s rap albums and basketball players covering an entire wall. A handful of shirts are hung on a rack. There’s a tiny TV, a cassette player, and an analog beat machine giving off a nostalgic feel, it’s a room that is strongly reminiscent of simpler times. The man leans forward, finally showing his young but mature face, flashing a cheesy grin confidently presenting his million dollar crooked smile. He flashes the composition notebook to the camera revealing the lyrics that have been sung in the background. While it’s written in ink, there’s a specific line highlighted, “You take the time to look behind and say, “Look where I came, look how far I done came” They say that dreams come true, when they do it’s a beautiful thing. Do you wanna be happy?”. Slowly the scene fades out as his cellphone rings and a woman’s voice can be heard screaming, “Happy Birthday.”
INT: J. Cole’s Birthday Party (2014 Forest Hills Drive, Fayetteville North Carolina) - Night
The empty living room is now full of people, balloons and decoration covers the once white plain walls, it’s a party. This isn’t the birthday party you expect from a big time rapper, it’s rather small, intimate, only his close family and friends are with him. A giant cake is rolled out with 30 candles. Cole closes his eyes as they sing happy birthday and he starts to get lost in thought. *Play January 28th*.
He starts mentally shuffling through his life, looking back on the years. Thinking of all the highlights and lows. There’s a realization that this is the first birthday in his childhood home since he graduated high school in 2003. "What did I use to wish for?" he thinks to himself? He chuckles. “Every birthday I would wish to make a million dollars from a rap tune.” His eyes open and he blows out the candles, the screen goes black.
INT: U.S. Army base in Frankfurt, Germany - Day
The cries of a baby are heard as a doctor’s voice exclaims, “It’s a boy!” The doctor turns around to ask if the man wants to hold his son but the man who was just behind him is nowhere to be found. He would never be found again. The doctor hands the baby to the mother. She holds him tenderly as if he’s the most precious jewel on Earth. When asked about his name, she pauses before saying, “Jermaine Lamarr Cole. My little king.”
Cut To: Int Math Classroom, Circa 2003 - Day
A loud smack awakes a young Jermaine from his daydream. The baby is now a boy, not yet a man. He’s staring into the eyes of his math teacher, who leans forward and requests that Mr. Cole come up front to work out the problem on the board. The class chuckles, Jermaine declines, sinking into his seat, knowing that standing was the last thing he wanted to do. He looks over to his right and catches the eye of the girl from his dream. Ever since Megan moved to the desk next to his he’s had difficulty focusing. Long hair, brown skin, big booty, gorgeous. She’s the one, the one he had to have. Months of note passing and wet dreaming pass by, until the question of sex finally appeared between exchanging of homework and jokes from The Simpsons. He keeps his nervousness below the surface, replying with boastful brags to give off the illusion that he’s an experienced lover. Keeping secret that he’s a virgin and hasn’t been in pussy since the day he came out one. Before he knows it there’s a date set. Oh shit.
INT: J. Cole’s Home - Day
A Monday through Friday montage of clips showing the callow Jermaine preparing for his first sexual experience. The clips capture the awkwardness of buying his first pack of condoms, sneaking to watch porn with the volume down, stressing about busting too quick. A combination of Carlton meets Will, more awkward than smooth but still charming.
INT: Megan’s House - Night
The day arrives and he’s sitting on her plump, pink queen size bed. Much like his room, she has a cassette player, tapes, posters, your average '90s girl bedroom. She sits down beside him and he silently prays she doesn’t notice his sweaty palms and trembling knees. *Play Wet Dreamz*.
A fairly intense scene where they look into each other eyes as she confesses to being a virgin. The screen fades out before revealing if they went all the way.
INT: J. Cole’s Home - Day
Jermaine sits on the roof, writing into a composition notebook. Similar to the one that is seen in the movie’s beginning. It’s poetic but stylized as a rap verse revealing a bit of depth to his character. His withered shoes and tattered clothes help illustrate his hardship and why he’s so hungry for wealth. He wants the finer things that life has to offer. The scene ends with him slamming the notebook closed.
EXT: Terry Sanford High School - Day
It’s the end of the day, the bell rings letting the students out, Jermaine starts to head home but before leaving witnesses his friend, Vince, selling drugs in the hallway. This isn’t new, they grew up together but on two totally different sides of the Ville. Vince was the hustler. Jermaine notices the stack of hundreds bulging from within his pocket. It’s a giant wad, he’s getting money, the opposite of Jermaine’s anorexic pockets.
INT: J. Cole’s Home - Day
Jermaine grabs his mom’s keys after rushing home and heads out immediately, going to visit Vince. He pulls up to Vince's house, a home quietly falling apart, the grass needs to be cut. Vince comes out of the front door and sits with Cole in the car, which remains parked in the driveway. *Play 03' Adolescence*.
INT: J. Cole’s Home - Night
After getting back from Vince house, Jermaine walks in and notices the paper and skims through it. Stopping when he sees a familiar face, his friend Eddie. He knew Eddie for years, he was a good kid, innocent, would rather hit the books then hit a person but here he is in the newspaper for murder. He’s shocked but also coming to terms that anybody can be a killer if pushed. Just hours before he was ready to deal drugs for riches. He heads to bed with a heavy heart.
INT: J. Cole’s Dream - Night *Play Tale of Two Citiez*
Dream sequence. There’s a couple walking home, the street is mostly empty and there’s only one street light keeping the area from being pitch black. An all black Escalade speeds up on them, the window lets down, and a man holding a shotgun is demanding their wallet and purse. You notice that it’s Jermaine who is holding the gun. When the man hesitates to give up his nice watch, a gunshot is heard.
Jermaine wakes up from the nightmare, realizing that if he didn’t leave the Ville that the temptation of fast money would eventually entice him. He gets down on his knees and prays to God. “Your wish is my command" is repeated as the scene fades out
INT: Boarding Airplane to Hollywood - Day
After graduating, Jermaine decides not to pursue his education despite being accepted to St. John’s University in New York. He takes the little money he received for finishing high school and buys a one-way ticket to Hollywood. He’s going to make his dreams of rap and riches come true. He’s excited but conflicted, the second verse represents a girl that could either be an actual woman or a personification of the Ville but there’s a brief moment of remorse. The plane takes off, he takes a deep breath, trying to prepare for whatever will happen next. *Play St. Tropes*.
Act II: Hollywood Cole
10 Years Later
INT: Hollywood, Condo - Day Time
The scene opens in a luxurious condo, the kind of place fit for a king. The walls are covered with plaques and magazine covers, indicating that he is no longer Jermaine but J. Cole and he’s successful in Hollywood. Now an established rapper, he has a bit of fame and some riches. *Play G.O.M.D*.
He takes a call from home. He gets into a heated argument with whoever is on the line, being called Hollywood sets him over the edge. He spazzes about putting the city on the map and how he’ll come back with the burner for anyone suggesting he can’t come back and visit his home town. This turns into a tangent about all the girls he has, all the homies that will ride, and that jealousy is the reason why there are haters back at home. He appears more arrogant than he was before, it’s easy to assume that he’s been corrupted by his new life. “Get off my dick” he yells before hanging up.
After hanging up, he inhales, closes his eyes, you see how deeply hurt Cole is by the allegations. He's conflicted, even asking God if he’s changed but promises not to tell anyone. The introspective reflection puts him in an emotion space, he starts to reminisce about a woman that he is in a relationship with. Again, the confliction of wanting this woman, wanting her kids, but still enthralled by the allure of groupies and women throwing themselves at him. It’s the internal struggle for wanting love and wanting lust. You can’t have both.
INT: Famous Hollywood Club - Night
J. Cole is in the club, living the life of a B-class celebrity. He seeps back into his arrogance, in these of settings it’s easy for an ego to be inflated. Showcasing the imbalance that he is struggling with. Bottle popping, champagne waterfalls, fully immersed in the night life when he really wants to hear songs about love and send emojis to the girl he was thinking about earlier in the day.
INT: Hollywood, Condo - Day Time
Cole’s phone rings as a re-run of The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air plays on his plasma screen. It’s the fifth missed call. The woman, his girlfriend, is reacting to the breakup text that he sent a few hours ago. He’s occupied with a bombshell so breathtaking he makes a man call his girlfriend and breakup without a second thought. *Play No Role Modelz*
His relationship with women has obviously become twisted. He sees women as phony, opportunists that will sleep with anyone to reach the next plateau. You’re in a city where everyone is an actress, model, singer, you need a defense mechanism or else you’ll be taken advantage of. That’s why he looks back on the past, on the women from the '90s as symbols of goddesses instead of the reality show women that he continues to meet. Saving them is loving them and they don’t want love, they don’t want to be saved.
Act III: Clarity
INT: Hollywood, Condo - Nighttime *Play Hello*
Alone in his condo, a drunk J. Cole calls an old flame and begins spilling his soul before she can even respond. While talking to this woman from his past, he’s realizing things about himself. This is drunk clarity. Slowly coming to the realization that he has all these things but doesn’t truly have a home, all these women but he’s been neglecting love and the woman that he believed would end up as his wife has moved on. Even though she isn’t responding, he continues to think back about how he became this man. "Reflection brings regrets, don't it?" The woman never responds; it’s possible that he was too drunk to properly dial her number. Before blacking out he realizes what he has to do.
INT: Boarding Airplane To Fayetteville North Carolina - Day Time *Play Apparently*
While on a plane back home, he pulls out his notebook and starts writing like a man possessed. Word after word fills his notebook. He looks as relaxed as we've seen him in a long time, even with his long frame folded into a coach seat. He closes his eyes, the smallest smile on his face. Every mile away from Hollywood is a mile closer to the person he wants to be, surrounded by the people who love him.
INT: J. Cole's Home (2014 Forest Hills Drive, Fayetteville North Carolina) - Day *Play Love Yourz*
J. Cole signs the papers to buy back his old home on the kitchen counter, his mother fighting back tears. All those years of struggling, the foreclosure, it's over, not because the home's been returned but because Cole has. He now knows what no one ever told him. That it’s not about what you don’t have, but discovering that all you really need is love and happiness. It took leaving to realize that. It took returning to make things right.
*Roll Credits, PlayNotes To Self*
It wasn’t until Cole said that this album was made to be a soundtrack to a movie in his HBO documentary that I truly noticed how much it's structured like a linear narrative. If you connect the dots, it’s a rather fluid story about a child that wanted riches through rap, went to Hollywood to acquire them, but after obtaining that dollar and accomplishing the dream, he still wasn't happy. Happiness, freedom, love, lust, riches, poverty, these are all recurring themes but they really fit together when viewed as one long story. But if there's a hitch in the album, something preventing the movie from fully coming to life in your mind, it's that Cole makes it a bit difficult to follow the timeline, and the differences between J. Cole the artist and J. Cole the character in this "movie" can become convoluted.
For example, a lot of the album has to do with looking back while moving forward. “January 28th” should be the birth of the character but it’s not, the verses are all based in the present - it’s not until the very end of the song that we hear the laughter of a baby. And what’s particularly important about “Wet Dreamz” is that the story about his first time shows that there is a separation from the actual J. Cole (he previously told the "real," and far different, story in "Too Deep For the Intro."). This Jermaine in math class is a character. The same goes for "Apparently," when Cole says he was chasing panties in New York City (like the real Cole) instead of L.A., like the Cole character we'd been listening to. While both Cole’s have similar backgrounds, right down to the same birthday and home address, they're not one and the same.
Still, the narrative flow largely still works...except when he follows “A Tale Of 2 Citiez” with “Firing Squad.” “Firing Squad” references Iggy and Macklemore, which puts the song in the in present tense. He jumps from being a child with rap dreams to being the rapper who is GRAMMY nominated, just to jump back to “St. Tropez” as a reference to moving toward Hollywood. If you take out “Firing Squad,” “St. Tropez” is a good transition from being an aspiring artist in the Ville to making it to Hollywood. If Cole was truly attempting to create a movie, "Firing Squad" should have come somewhere around "Hello" and "Apparently," when he's an accomplished rapper realizing just how fake and empty the music industry is.
In a way, I see this as his 8 Mile (or even Childish Gambino'sBecause the Internet film). Eminem isn’t B. Rabbit, but you can draw some parallels between the actor and character. The same can be said for Cole, this album might feel autobiographical, but it’s based off true events with a touch of fiction. Even with the flaws, though, the development of his character between the three acts is really impressive, and as often as I've played this album since it dropped, the story of Hollywood Cole has left me with a new found appreciation of the album.
Cole could easily take 2014 Forest Hills Drive to the big screen. He's already been on HBO once this year, now all he needs is a talented screenwriter who leaves his home in Atlanta and his job rap blogging to chase the bright movie lights of Hollywood.
By Yoh, aka Hollywood Yoh, aka @Yoh31
Photo Credit: JColeMusic.com