From LordBrianJames.com :
For some of us, music is less about rhythm, melody, and dance but more about soul, passion, love, and pain. 2 years later and my soul is still thanking my heroes for teaching me how ‘To Pimp a Butterfly at 2014 Forest Hills Drive’.
Music is such an inherently complex art form that I refuse to speak for you in saying what you should like. However, I will feel free to express the lyrics of my soul and expose you to the verses that scored my survival, resilience, and being.
As a 20-year musician (as of Dec. 2015), I can tell you that music is deeper than the surface. On the surface level, music has the power to make you dance and get you moving around. Just looking at the title of your favorite song can put a smile on your face. You clock out of work for your hour long lunch break and the first thing you do before you start walking to the burger joint is pop in your ear buds to embark on a musical journey. There are also some songs that you love to hear as you get ready for a night out on the town. Those songs create an energy within you that puts you in the mood to mingle, empowering you to be the life of the party.
Music is powerful.
Or, maybe you just got out of a 4 year relationship with your cheating significant other (now ex), and the first thing you do is change your taste in music. You start to play songs dealing with break ups or songs that empower singleness and self-love. Slowly but surely the music reminds you that the world is a big place and that your heart is a gem that not everyone can handle. Even more profound is the fact that now you get to see that others are going thru the same pain as you. Then you and your favorite artists start to hurt together; a beautiful pain that hurts so good, especially with the volume on 100.
That’s because music extends so deep that it has healing power.
I’m thoroughly convinced that some of the world’s deepest wounds can be healed by some of music’s most harmonious moments. God masterfully created a collection of songs for nearly every emotion providing us with a haven for some of our darkest moments. Using the artists of the world, God paints the sun back into so many of our lives. The music isn’t just a Band-Aid nor is it just a suture but it’s the purest antidote for our sicknesses.
2014 was a year I will never forget because it was the year that pushed me to the edge. I had mustered up the courage and faith to move out of my parent’s house and I took a job nearly 600 miles away from mum and pop. The world was at my fingertips and I went a solid week feeling headstrong and confident before I began to break down. I started to realize the ‘bubble’ that I lived in prior to moving away and looked around at a world that was ready to swallow me whole. The lessons began flying into my life as strong and as disruptive as a category 5 Hurricane.
Life became dark and desolate as I began to get used to be wrong. The lessons I was learning were about dealing with people and their various deficiencies in the arena of trust and honesty. My soul began to feel pain as true love became a figment of my imagination. Years of built up depression continued to shadow my life nearly pushing me to my limit. Then, late November (2014), an artist dropped an album that dove into the topic of pure happiness. That artist developed a timeless piece of work that transcended realms of pain, sorrow and horrors of my past. That album redefined happiness and re-taught me how to smile. That artist solidified himself as a hero in my life and when I met him in 2015, I almost cried. That artist is J. Cole and that album is ‘2014 Forest Hills Drive’.
It took me about 14 months to study why my intellect reacts to certain pieces of music like it does. I specifically remember purchasing 2014 Forest Hills Drive while doing my night radio show in Buffalo and then getting off work, running to my apartment to take a listen to the album. I remember the hairs standing up all over my body as the intro of the album began to play. A raspy but strong voice repetitively asked my tired soul a question that resonated throughout my intellect, “Do you wanna be happy?” From that point on I played that album on repeat the entire night and slept with it on as well.
The gritty and dark feel of 2014 Forest Hills Drive served as a mousetrap to bait my soul back into the light. I had gotten to a point where the only things I would respond to were things that represented darkness or a somber tone. 2014 Forest Hills Drive was a unique piece of art that was able to shine light from a dark place. It was almost like a trick mirror; seemingly impossible to the naked eye.
On this album we heard J. Cole in a tone that we rarely have heard from him in the past. It was a very non-commercialized message and a rough but loving dialect that can medicate nearly any issue that life throws at us. Speaking from my behalf, the issues of poverty, inequality, distrusts in people, classicism, self-hatred and pure bliss were all covered in this 13- track masterpiece. These issues were all things that I was struggling with at that point in my life and it was both calming and refreshing to hear that this artist was well aware of the things that troubled my soul. Not only were the problems addressed but so-to were the solutions.
Harp on this:
J. Cole’s “2014 Forest Hills Drive” album either introduced you to, or reminded you of, true love. Various facets of the purest form of love were discussed whether it was talking about healthy romantic relationships versus the toxic ones or, having real friends that radiate unconditional love versus the counterfeit friends who are around for their selfish gain. His album addressed the issue of finding true love and being able to distinguish between love and lust; A blurred line that plagues my life to this very moment.
The album also taught me how to simplify my smile. Growing a spoiled kid, I got in the groove of getting what I wanted and when I wanted it. Once I became a man, Uncle Sam wasn’t as giving as my parents and I began to look around at others, allowing myself to feel down after noticing that I didn’t have what they had. I forgot how to smile because I was letting others dictate what made me happy. On 2014 Forest Hills Drive, we are taught that the key to happiness is true love. Whether you have a little or have a lot in life, as long as you are surrounded by true love, the rest are merely the details.
Part of that true love is also learning how to love yourself. On the song, ‘Love Yourz’ , Cole directly addresses the miscalculated correlation between self love and comparisons to others. “There is no such thing as a life that is better than yours,” were lyrics from the song that directly impacted my spirit. Day in and day out, we have the tendency to beat ourselves up and meditate on a disorganized set of standards to live by, in turn, never giving ourselves the credit that we deserve. The album reminds us, “You’re amazing just the way you are, be yourself and love yourself.”
At least that is what it reminded me of.
The piece itself is a trip from the darkness to the light as the beginning of the album starts off very dark and raspy while making our way to a confident and strong ending with ‘Love Yourz.’ It’s almost like one big curriculum for defining and restoring true love and happiness in our lives. I’ll be the first to admit that I was glad to be a student of the game.
Nearly 2 months had passed and my mind had begun to open up to the idea of things that made me happy. My mind began to soften up to the world while still building a fortress around my soul. While trying to fight the battle of attaining pure happiness and ignoring the strong current of the world, I was losing my mental stability, slipping from sanity.
I was leaving the studio (Yes again, I work a lot) when I saw on Twitter that an album entitled ‘To Pimp a Butterfly” had just leaked on iTunes and is available to purchase. I hurried home to make the purchase and I hit play on yet another life saving album. “Every n***a is a star,” played on repeat as the album faded in. Then I heard a voice that had been a familiar hero to my soul; Kendrick Lamar.
After nearly 2 years of not releasing any music, the west coast phenomenon Kendrick Lamar, dropped his album ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’. Even though it dropped early, the album, much like 2014 Forest Hills Drive, made history.
Now, as a musician I will say that anyone can hear the countless risks that Kendrick took when creating this piece of art, producing different sounds and feels from music that we had never heard before. Even his rhyming style was a tad bit uncanny and inconsistent. With a solid mixture of broken verses, poetry, and a painful voice, we were wooed into an abyss where healing was taken place once again. It’s very rare that we get artists who have a clear agenda that involves something other than their personal profit; Kendrick Lamar was thinking about you when he wrote ‘To Pimp a Butterfly”.
There I was, sitting in my little studio apartment on Elm Street in Downtown Buffalo, blasting Kendrick’s new album as if it were the gospel itself. The album was a quick moving album that neglected the idea of a smooth fade transition in and out of records and adopted the ideas of using the ‘theater of the mind’ to take you on a nostalgic journey to find peace.
I would say that if J. Cole’s album was for the soul, Kendrick’s album was for the spirit.
I was a conflicted individual and In this time period of my life, a lot of these mental battles were results of a spiritual warfare going on inside of me as I battled with my own morals while dealing with other’s (Or the lack thereof). Lamar mentioned a character on his album who I resonated with to the deepest degree, ‘Lucy’. He mentions the ‘Evils of Lucy’ and how those evils were attacking his soul as he embarked on a journey to find the answers to life. Those same evils haunted me but just as Kendrick went looking for answers, so did I; Through ‘To Pimp a Butterfly”. We’ll talk about those answers momentarily.
Much like Cole’s album, Kendrick attempts to replenish your mental strength and self-love, reminding you that not only is everything going to be ‘ok’ but also that you are royalty and should carry yourself as such. One of the obvious records in that regard is “I” but even if you listen to the lyrics on just about every record, he is encouraging us to unleash the inner strength that most of us don’t even know we possess.
Kendrick takes a polarizing stab at the government and the various laws that we adhere to, in an attempt to rectify the already broken relationship between African American culture and the rest of the country. I think his initial goal was to educate us on ourselves and our history while trying to ruffle the feathers of those who oppress us (Not as an entire race or culture but the individual oppressors; Not generalizing at all). Kendrick points out certain inadequacies within our government, teetering on shining a light towards the disgustingly ignored levels of classism that plagues our country. He even has a ‘surprise’ interview with Tupac Shakur at the end talking about equality in the country and discussing what is fair.
On that same ideology, Kendrick kind of defaces the value of money saying that it is not really what defines the value of our being. Essentially, we are sort of withheld from the riches and encouraged that the middle class is the ceiling but Kendrick reminds us that there is far more to life than chasing the almighty dollar. He even asks, “How Much A Dollar Cost?” His singles, ‘King Kunta’ and ‘These Walls’ both have a line in the song referencing that the “jewelry is inside of you.” Just beautiful, made me feel amazing.
I also loved how Kendrick detailed his spiritual battles and how he never looked away from the light. He references his faith in a higher being on numerous occasions throughout the album citing his faith as the hub for his inner-peace. It’s not as prevalent of a reference as on his 2012 album, “good kidd Madd City,” but nonetheless, an underlying message of faith is consistent throughout the piece.
Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly” album is a piece of art that I would pay my last $14.00 for every day if I had to. That album, along with J. Cole’s “2014 Forest Hills Drive” are both antidotes that I need daily to survive this jungle of a life.
In closing, I found those answers that I was searching for in life as the evils of lucy were surrounding me, at 2014 Forest Hills Drive. I don’t know if these two heroes did it on purpose but their albums worked synonymously with each other, rebuilding the mind, body, soul and spirit of an entire culture. Kendrick mentions, “Running back home to find the answers before he self-destructed, as the evils of lucy were all around him (You got all that?).” What if running back home meant running back to 2014 Forest Hills Drive to get the answers of self-love and pure happiness?
These two albums, ‘2014 Forest Hills Drive’ and ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’ were 2 of the bestgospel albums in my life. Think about it.
Thank you Jermaine Cole and Kendrick Lamar. Happy 31st Birthday to ‘Cole World’.