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The day after his third album, 2014 Forest Hills Drive, was released, J. Cole spoke to Microphone Check hosts Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Frannie Kelley. It was the morning before he performed “Be Free,” the song he made about Michael Brown, on Letterman. Cole said he was nervous about it, but apparently not so worried that he would change his clothes. He wore the same hoodie for this interview that he did on TV. The conversation –- Mic Check’s second with Cole — reveals a person newly comfortable with himself, his abilities and what needs to be done.
2014 will and should be remembered as a year of blockbuster independent hip-hop albums. The lack of any major releases from Jay Z, Nas, Kanye West or Drake, the stalling of Lil Wayne’s next and supposed last solo album, and noticeably weak efforts from 50 Cent and Eminem, among other name-brand artists, left a clear opening for albums like Run The Jewels 2 and Pharaohe Monch’s PTSD. Keeping with that theme, the types of places that best encapsulate hip-hop culture were in full effect—cities and neighborhoods with diverse ethnicities and strong working-class roots, Detroit and East Oakland among them.
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