Final Rating – 8/10
North Carolina rapper and Dreamville figurehead, J. Cole, dropped his highly anticipated album, 4 Your Eyez Only. Jermaine Cole’s fourth commercial project followed his massive success with the release of 2014 Forest Hills Drive, which went double platinum with no features. J. Cole released this album with multiple parallels to his last release as he waited until late in the year to release the album and t’d up the release with a duo of diss tracks and releasing the album shortly after. One thing I find intriguing about Cole is his lack of social media prescience and his ability to captivate the world without reaching out too much. Upon his release of 4 Your Eyez Only, Cole released a short documentary containing two tracks, false prophets, and everybody dies. These tracks however, didn’t make it on to the album but after a listen, you can see how it wouldn’t have fit within the story J. Cole is trying to portray.
The album takes place as he’s talking to the daughter of his deceased friend whom he now has to care for. Following the short intro track that features some beautiful horns and some decent vocals from Cole, the album breaks through with the banger of a track, Immortal, which features a hypnotic melody, big bass, and grimy lyrics describing the gang violence and drug abuse he witnessed as an adolescent. This whole album is generally low key consisting of a blend of jazz beats accompanied by tracks with nocturnal, spacey trap beats. As lyrical as this album is, it still contains multiple filler lyrics that don’t mean anything or add any importance to the song like on Deja Vu he repeats “put your finger in the sky if you want it” before diving into a love song. As catchy and as memorable as Deja Vu is, it doesn’t seem to fit into the story that J. Cole is telling. These filler lyrics stick out most on the song Foldin’ Clothes when he says that he wants to do the right thing because it feels so much better than the wrong thing. This doesn’t, however, ruin the album. It still carries a lot of meaning and has many touching moments, one of the most beautiful moments are on the songs She’s Mine, Pt 1 and Pt 2, when he dives into details of caring for this child and you hear a baby’s cry in the background. J. Cole sings throughout most of these two songs, which has its pros and cons as you can feel the emotion in his voice and it does add more of a personal experience to the song, but J. Cole’s voice can sometimes be strained or whiney. Mostly throughout the album Cole’s singing is quite beautiful the only exception being on the intro of Vile Mentality when the prolonged notes that Cole sings just sound atrocious.
If it’s not broken, don’t fix it. Cole stuck to the method that made him a double-platinum artist by having no features on his latest project. It makes sense with the story that J. Cole would only want his voice on this album with it being so personal, but some of these songs would’ve benefitted from a feature from maybe Miguel or Matthew Santos to sing a hook on a song or two. With that being said, a feature would not have fit on such a personal album.
Neighbors is one of the stand out songs on the album that describes moving out of the hood into a presumably predominantly white neighbourhood, and the fact that just because he’s African-American, the neighbours think he’s selling drugs. This song along with Deja Vu are songs that don’t seem to fit into the album’s story as you listen through, but the 8-minute long closing track, 4 Your Eyez Only, goes into a tremendous amount of detail and explains why all these songs fit together under one album.
This album left me in awe and the amount of detail that Cole divulges is incredible. What he describes on this piece of art is touching, mortifying, and it leaves the listener in shock. What this album lacks, it more than makes up for in meaning, lyrical ability, and the ability to captivate the listener with an incredible tale of loss, hardships, and love and perseverance through difficult times.