Hip-hop, rap, a mix of blues, smooth jazz and self-ventilation are all creatively put together to complete J Cole’s fourth studio album, 4 Your Eyes Only (2016). While the album is just ten songs and 45 minutes long, it is captivating, thought provoking, smooth and soothing, and well orchestrated. After selling over a million copies with his third studio album 2014 Forest Hill (2014), winning the Billboard Music Award for Top Rap Album and the BET Hip-Hop award for Best Album of the Year with no feature artists, the expectations of this fourth album were high.
However, since 2014, J Cole has had a daughter and gotten married. Therefore, many changes have occurred in his life since his last album, and the Louisville native did not hesitate to vent on the changes in his life and how they have matured him, throughout the album. But not only does he vent on his new life, his fears, and different obstacles as a famous rapper, but also the life of others, expressing his thoughts on race, and class in America.
The album starts off strong with track “For Whom The Bell Tolls”, as Cole sings with a high voice of weariness: “I see the rain pouring down / before my very eyes / should come as no surprise”, as bell rings and jazz instruments fill and uplift the track. Cole uses this metaphor of bells throughout the song to refer to his death, as he sings:
The bells getting loud, ain’t nowhere to hide / Got nowhere to go, put away my pride / Tired of feeling low even when I’m high / Ain’t no way to live, do I wanna die? / I don’t know.
Cole’s prophecy about his death is not only present in the beginning of the album, but also at the end in final track “4 Your Eyez Only”. Cole expresses his deepest and sincere apologies in a letter to his daughter, explaining the trials and tribulations he experienced throughout his life, leading into why he couldn’t be (or is not) there for her. He raps, “That’s why I write this sonnet / If the pressure get too much for me to take and I break / Play this tape for my daughter and let her know my life is on it”. The other eight tracks on the album are all articulately different. Cole uses “Immortal” to speak on the dark past and life events that he witnessed and survived to get where he is today. He argues that he has become legendary just by writing about his pain. Whether he lives or dies before he is acknowledged for being a legend continues to linger in his mind. Regardless however, according to Cole, Real n***as don’t die”.
The “Deja Vu” track, talks about his first intimacies and deepest feelings for his wife, saying he was “feeling” her while “she f**k with small time n***as, [but he had] bigger dreams”. He insisted that she did her own thing because he could not make her any promises. “Ville Mentality”, however, takes a soothing and soulful approach to the trails and tribulations Cole has been recently dealing with as a celebrity in and away from his hometown Louisville. He lyrically expresses his mentality throughout the song, but questions how long he can survive with it in the hook of the song.
“She’s Mine Pt. 1” and “She’s Mine Pt. 2” are both very unique tracks that speak to his feelings for his wife and how he deals with their relationship internally. Change, however, is a very detailed, story-telling track about how a night of events that ended with the death of his friend James (22) changed his life.
Track 7, “Neighbors”, a song even now former President Barack Obama is a fan of, explains the hardships of the ghetto community, the discrimination he and his peers were faced with, and how he used to sell drugs in his neighborhood. It begins:
“I don’t want a picture with the president / I just want to talk to the man / speak for the boys in the bindo / and my n***a never walking again”.
The hook then wrapped up the track, as it says “okay the neighbors think I’m selling dope / selling dope”, before Cole admits, “motherf***er I am”.
“I want to fold clothes for ya / I want to make ya feel good / baby I want to do the right thing / feels so much better than the wrong thing”, is emotionally song by Cole in track 8 of the album, “Foldin Clothes”.
Again, Cole expresses his deep love for his wife and how doing the right things in life make life easier, and how the simple things mean the most to him, like saying “I love you”, he says. However, he ends the track with a third verse of self-reflection, venting to his listeners:
N***as from the hood is the best actors / We the ones that got to wear our face backwards / Put your frown on before they think you soft / Never smile long or take your defense off / Acting tough so much we start to feel hard / Live from the city where they pull cards / I got a Glock 40 and a little nine / Ready for the day a n***a pull mine / N***as from the hood is the best actors / Got learn to speak in ways that’s unnatural / Just to make it through the job interviews / If my n***as heard me, they’d say “Damn what’s gotten into you?” / Just trying to make it dog, somehow / Peaking through the blinds, I see the sun now / I see you’re still sleeping and it feels like / Maybe everything is gon’ be alright.
Cole sounds more animated, emotional, and sincere than he ever has. Is this album his best work to date? Yes. His maturity as an artist is greatly shown, and there is no question that this will be his second consecutive double-platinum album (over a million sold copies). Yes – with no features. He did it.