2014 Forest Hills Drive

As a journalism student at the University of Georgia, current events have always been my focus, but music was never on the top of the list of things that interested me. Music played while I studied, in my car and at parties; but I never put much critical thought into what a song sounded like or what it meant. In contrast to probably all the rest of the Hand Me the Aux team, my background is not in rap, hip-hop or EDM. I grew up listening to what my parents listened to, mostly country and rock. Much of it I still identify with – I can recognize an Allman Brothers or Steve Miller Band song a mile away. But that wasn’t my music (well, other than “Little Martha” by the Allman Brothers).

My answer to “what kind of music do you like?” was the ever-dreaded reply, “I love all kinds of music.” Most people ask you to name a few specifics; John Mayer, Coldplay and Mumford and Sons were by far my most played. I certainly did not, and still do not, care for most of what’s heard on the radio. I’ve seen John Mayer twice in concert and will see him anytime he’s in town near me. I kept up with a few favorite artists and cringingly enough, not much else. If it was new, I’d hear it at some point.

So how did I end up here? My background is in writing, but not about music. What you should know, though, is that 2015 was the first year of my life in which music played a vital role. Until Jan. 2015, I had never spent time seeking out music, especially new music, that I connected to. But with a friend’s constant agitation, my “I love all kinds of music” answer was no longer satisfactory. That was also the first friend I had who truly LOVED music. I did not, and still do not, understand how it’s possible to listen to music so constantly, keep up with all the new music or analyze music so deeply. How ever daunting the task, I started listening to some of his recommendations (To Pimp a Butterfly was the first rap album I listened to all the way through, so now you see where my roots are).

But around that same time in early 2015, it was through my own choice that I put on J. Cole’s 2014 Forest Hills Drive.

I listened once, twice, three times. I listened when I studied. I listened when I drove. I listened when I slept. Any long road trip I probably listen to the album’s entirety at least twice, and before sitting down to write this I listened again for old time’s sake. While “2014” clearly shows this album is not from 2015, it was 2015 for me. J Cole taught me to love rap music. And without this album, I would not be involved with HMTA now. I have not given up on old favorites – Mumford and Sons’ Wilder Mind is one of my favorite albums of the year. But it did not teach me anything new about music or myself.

J Cole taught me that not all rap music was impossible to sing along to (i.e. Busta Rhymes style) – “Apparently.” He taught me to appreciate beats, the music itself, not only how a tune sounded together with lyrics – “G.O.M.D.” He taught me rap music is not all meant to be listened to at a party (but he also taught me certain rap music is better than others at parties) – “No Role Modelz.” He taught me that rap music, too, can tell a whole story – “Wet Dreamz.” And he taught me rap can be deeply, truly and beautifully meaningful – “Love Yourz.”

No surprise, J Cole’s stop in Atlanta on his 2014 Forest Hills Drives Tour was the first rap concert I attended. But I was lucky enough to relive that incredible concert experience with HBO’s recent concert film "Homecoming," the culmination of a miniseries detailing the making of the album. I already loved the music, but after watching in detail how he created the album and seeing him perform the entire album, it’s difficult for me to imagine any higher bar being set.

It’s been a long, music-filled year. Each day I look forward to what new music I can find. I listen whether or not I think I’ll like it and think more critically about what it means and how I relate. I never thought music would play as large a part in my life. It’s a constant learning process; I learn something new about music and myself everyday. It’s intimidating to work with such a wise, musically-literate group of people. But as someone who’s current career path may one day place me into the middle of protests or war zones to report the news, music provides a beautiful respite.

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