By Jasmine Green
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — On Jan. 9, HBO premiered the “J. Cole Forest Hills Drive: Homecoming” concert documentary after teasing fans for weeks. Directed by Scott Lazer, the 90-minute special is the fifth and final installment of HBO’s “Road to Homecoming” series, with half-hour segments feeding hungry fans with glimpses of the rapper’s life on his recent “Forest Hills Drive” tour.
The Fayetteville, North Carolina native sold out the Crown Coliseum in his hometown, a venue that’s only seen the likes of “hockey and Tyler Perry” according to a fan featured in the film. Dressed down in a black tee, basketball shorts, and pair of Jordan 1s, Cole effortlessly shut down the stage as he performed each song from his Grammy-nominated album “2014 Forest Hills Drive”, as well as his classic throwbacks “Lights Please” and “Power Trip”, with guest performances from Hov and Drizzy.
While Cole gifted his hometown with unmatchable energy and authenticity, the focal point of the documentary was not the concert. In fact, it wasn’t even about the music.
Described in the press release as “part concert film, part backstage pass,” it comes at no surprise that a solid album, performed live by a solid artist, would produce a (you guessed it) solid concert film. But subtract the music, and you’ll still be able to appreciate “Homecoming” for the nostalgic, inspirational work of art that it is. Cole’s performances are intertwined with vignettes of Fayetteville life, broadening the scope of the film and building a storyline outside of the music.
“I feel like Fayetteville is a microcosm of America,” says Cole of the starkly different perceptions of the town. “You got people struggling and suffering on one side of town, and on the other side of town, they’re totally oblivious.”
An upbeat resident featured in the film described Fayetteville as a wonderful place to live in, a description juxtaposed against a group of women detailing the senseless crime that plagues the town. Plenty of opinions fill the spectrum in-between, but Cole’s voice triumphs over all.
He intimately reveals what Fayetteville, flaws and all, means to him and why selling out the Crown meant more than selling out the entertainment mecca, Madison Square Garden.
“The opportunity is in your mentality. Knowing what I know now, I didn’t necessarily have to leave [Fayetteville], to do what I did, I just had to switch my mentality.” Cole has cracked the code on snapping out of the small town mentality that tends to cloud a dreamer’s judgement. The lessons learned and accolades earned were immortalized on stage for viewers and Fayetteville to see.
“That tells you how real a man can be, when he can say ‘I’m not going to change, I will be humble to myself and my city,’” said one resident of Cole’s tireless homage. “As an artist and as a person.”
The film skillfully treads the border between “moving documentary” and “after-school special”.
The sentiment expressed throughout is the importance of making something of yourself whilst still holding on to your roots — in other words, how to not go Hollywood. Only in a refreshing, extremely personal light, is this message able to effectively reach viewers without sounding cliché. Cole brings us, not only into his world, but the world of Fayetteville residents, past and present. The stories weave together to paint a picture of resilience — “Fayettenam” is not perfect, but artists like J. Cole make sure that it is not forgotten.