J. Cole, born Jermaine Lamarr Cole, came of age in Fayetteville, North Carolina, as Puffy Combs and Bad Boy Records were introducing shiny suits and millionaire opulence to hip-hop on MTV. After graduating from high school in 2003, he left Fayetteville for New York City on an academic scholarship. But he had stars in his eyes. The dream: to get a record contract like the greats before him, and become a rap star.
In 2009, two years after he graduated magna cum laude from St. John’s University, Cole completed the first stage of his dream, signing a deal that made him the first rap artist on JAY-Z’s Roc Nation imprint. Five years after his signing, on December 9, 2014, Cole released his third studio album, 2014 Forest Hills Drive, named after the address of his childhood home that he bought back from foreclosure.
The LP was a chance for the Fayetteville rapper to capitalize on the popularity and prestige he’d accumulated through his Billboard-charting records, Grammy nominations, heralded mixtapes, intimate concerts and celebrity relationships. This was Cole’s opportunity to make what Graduation was to Kanye West, what Urban Legend was to T.I. and what Come Home With Me was to Cam’Ron — an album that would help him ascend to a new level of rap stardom.