Instead Cole chose to go directly to his fans and skip the traditional media run and album rollout. There was one journalist on hand, every step of the way however. Before rolling out the concept for Forest Hills Drive, J. Cole reached out to Rikki Martinez, a journalist/ radio personality, who was hired to document the MC's travels as he prepared his most personal album to date.
Rikki sat with MTV News and broke down 11 of her most memorable moments from the lead-up to Cole's album release.
Visiting J. Cole's Childhood Home
"It was like going to a friend’s house. When you go in, it feels like you’re going into your family’s house. We knew it was Cole’s. It still had that feeling of him, his mom, his brother. It was just cool to see Cole’s room and his brother’s room and how different they were. Cole’s room showed us he loved rap. He had his own room for the first time and he escaped there. His brother’s room was all about low riders. He had a passion for that. So to see the contrasting views was really cool."
Listening To The Album
"He was telling me, 'I want you to enjoy it. I want you to go into it with an open mind. Just be open to it."
Watching J. Cole's Proud Mom Meet FansRoc Nation
"She liked seeing people in her house. It felt like she was back home and she was very inviting. She was taking a look around, seeing everything and she was just happy that it was happening, looking at how things turned around for her family."
Visiting Fans At Their Homes
"When we’d go visit fans, he’d take them to the side and talk to them. We’d only see the interaction. It was almost unreal. It’s their favorite artist just talking to them. He’s telling them, ‘I put my heart and soul into this. I really appreciate you listening to it.’ It was intimate. Cole had that every time we met someone. Every fan had a full story to share with him, too."
"Dalia told us about how she had a car accident. They already had R.I.P. posts on her Facebook, giving her family condolences. They didn’t know she was going to make it. Cole's music helped her out. After that, she knew life could be gone tomorrow. Cole helped her say yes to a lot of things in her life."
"When we went to Morehouse, we visited a psychology class. It had to do with his thought process with the album, with his career. He wanted to talk to students and to get their thoughts on what was going on."
Thanksgiving In London
"Before he goes into the album, he speaks about how the album came to be and what it means to him. It’s a story of trying to go out, reach fame and then finds out that it’s not what they really wanted. What they really wanted was what they had back home.
So, he tells that story on Thanksgiving. He was saying it and I just started crying. That moment, I got it. What 2014 Forest Hills Drive, that house, means to him, we all have that. So, I just started crying. It was Thanksgiving. I wasn’t at home. But hearing his story, I felt like I was at home."
J. Cole's Protests
"Him and Ib [Ibrahim Hamad], who’s his partner [at Dreamville], just wanted to go to add two more numbers to the march [in New York]. Not to add J. Cole to the march. Just two more sets of feet walking with the movement.
"He marched in D.C. too and he didn’t post anything. When you go to things like this, if your purpose is to get a look, it ends up turning on you. You don’t do that. But with Cole, like when he took the trip to Ferguson, it was because, as a human, it moved him to go out there."
The Album Release
"The album release was dope. You’d expect us to go to a club, but he just wanted to ball. They were playing ball like at 2 am, just because that’s what he felt like doing. You don’t need to be flashy to everybody. When the first week numbers were coming in, he was playing football."
Saying Thank You With The F--k Money, Spread Love Tour
"He just wanted to go around and touch fans. That’s the motto they’re living by. Money doesn’t mean anything if there’s no love in it. That’s the basis of the album and the message he wanted to spread. That was a last minute decision, too.
They said, ‘Are you down to do a bus ride?’ And we had no set-up plan. We didn’t know what we were going to do or where we were going. We’d arrive and feel it out. It was just driving around, knowing you’re going to see fans and thank them. It was a big a— thank you at the end of the day."
Watching Cole's Letterman Performance
"It was such a big moment. He was speaking for a whole population of people. You’re going on and you’re saying, ‘This is how I feel. This is how my culture is feeling right now. You need to know about it.’
To give you a perspective of who was there, there was an older man, 60. His wife was next to him. These people probably don’t know who J. Cole is. They have a perception of what rap is and then Cole comes on. You could feel your heart racing. This was a moment. When he went on and you saw the reaction."