Rapper J. Cole grew up in Fayetteville, North Carolina. This week, with very little fanfare, he announced that his new album would go on sale December 9. The album is called "2014 Forest Hills Drive." The title refers to Cole's childhood home in Fayetteville.
The announcement came with a short documentary of the musician, wearing a sky-blue UNC jersey, re-visiting many of the places of his childhood.
There's the roller rink, and the game arcade, and the football field where he rapped publicly for the very first time:
Cole's family moved into the home at a pivotal time in his life.
In 2013, he told NPR that both of his parents were in the military, and that his mother left the military when she had him. His parents later divorced and the family had to move off the base. That changed everything:
"Next thing I know, we're in this trailer park," Cole said. "And when I say this trailer park, this is not like Eminem 8 Mile white trash trailer park like the stereotype you're thinking about. Nah, this is the hood, like this is the projects but just in trailer park form. So, even though I was four, I was very aware of like, 'Yo, this is so different from where we was just at.'"
"We get to the park, and I climb up the slide and they like, 'Yo,' Cole recalls. "I'm trying to slide down the slide. They like, 'Yo, whatchu doing?' I'm like, 'I'm trying to go down the slide.' And they're like, 'Yo, you gotta be in the gang to go down the slide.' These are little kids, man. And I'm like, 'Alright, whatchu gotta do to be in the gang?" They was like, "You've gotta jump off the top of the slide.'"
"So already these kids were formulating that mentality of, 'Yo, we got a little gang.' Of course it ain't that serious but it tells you where they mind was at."
The family finally moved into a larger, safer home. It's this transition that interests Cole.
"When we got there it was like ... I had my own room, my brother had his room. We had a front yard, a driveway," Cole recalls. "It was like, 'Damn we came up.'"
Cole adds that he's coming to understand the important of home, and his relationships with the people who matter in his life.
"I've gotten to this point in my career and realized that yeah, I've got a lot more dreams and I want to go further, but at the same time I don't want it if it's at the expense of my happiness," he said. "I don't want it if it's at the expense of my sanity or I have to become someone who's so out of touch with what's real. ... There's a lot of people in Hollywood right now who've been there for a long time and they've forgotten about their small-town lives because they like this life better."
Cole says he'd put on blinders for a long time, to focus on his career. He's now 29 years old, but since he signed his first record deal when he was a teenager (to Jay-Z's Roc Nation) he has not had a lot of time to invest in his relationships with those important to him, like his mother and his brother.
"Of course I love these people and they love me, and they'll forgive me. [They'll say] 'Oh I understand, you're so busy.' That might work for a while, but I'm at the point where It's like 'Nah man, I want to be a better son, [I want to] spend more time with my mom, even get to know her better at this age. I'm a grown man now, getting to know her now is way different from getting to know her when I was 15," he says. "Ultimately that's what leads to real happiness, that Hollywood ... is fake happiness."