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Review: J. Cole's Album, "4 Your Eyez Only"

Updated on December 26, 2016
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Reviews are a pain-free way of combining writing, with what I love (music for eg.), in a way that generates interest.

J. Cole is Routinely Impeccable on "4 Your Eyez Only"

‘4 Your Eyez Only’ is too personal, three-dimensional and multifaceted to simply pick up and enjoy, investment is required. Centred around the life of J. Cole’s late friend, as well as the social ills that contributed to his untimely death, ‘4 Your Eyez Only’ isn’t exactly an album followers can put on in preparation for a night out.

Though ‘4 Your Eyez Only’ is never overly enjoyable, the record is expertly presented. Despite being ten tracks long, ‘4 Your Eyez Only’ feels fleshed out and realised. The album will enduringly resonate with listeners who are able to empathise with, and digest the achingly deep sentiments it so fearlessly explores.Those who can’t may find ‘4 Your Eyez Only’ a little too charged.

Dedicated to 31-year-old Cole’s long-term partner, the devoted, poetic ‘She’s Mine, Pt. 1’ can admittedly get sickly sweet. Still, throughout ‘4 Your Eyez Only’, Cole impacts in way that feels genuine. As a storyteller, the North Carolinian emcee is routinely impeccable.

Honouring A Good Friend's Final Wish

‘4 Your Eyez Only’ feels like an extended journal entry. The release is astoundingly confessional. J. Cole’s (supposedly) real-life, now-deceased childhood friend James McMillan Jr, is its central muse. During the title track’s last verse, Cole recounts receiving a phone call from James before he died.

In this phone call, James asks the rapper to tell his troubled life story to his beloved daughter, if anything were to happen to him. Unfortunately, some time after this conversation, James's questionable path ends with his demise at the age of 22. In tribute, Cole spends the majority of ‘4 Your Eyez Only’ honouring his buddy’s final wish.

Photo: Amy Harris
Photo: Amy Harris

"4 Your Eyez Only" Isn't Just Conscious, It's Personal

Like many of the year’s bigger hip-hop releases, ‘4 Your Eyez Only’ tackles institutional racism, crime and poverty in America. What makes ‘4 Your Eyez Only’ different is that the record doesn’t just comment on these issues, it makes them personal, via James’s tragic life story. Several cuts on the album feature Cole rapping directly from James’s point of view.

‘Ville Mentality’ shines a spotlight on the displaced children of those who fall victim to the prison system and life on the streets, like James did. ‘4 Your Eyez Only’ goes deep, the album’s penetrating emotional undercurrents are a true driving force.

Sidestepping the World of Celebrity

J. Cole produced many of the album’s beats himself. His undecorated, organic productions don't seem too distracted by what’s in the charts, they all straightforwardly showcase throwback elements. Still weary of the celebrity world, Cole spends most of ‘4 Your Eyez Only’ sidestepping hip-hop’s more superficial stereotypes. The rapper certainly succeeds in developing a stripped-back, pretence-free, no-frills atmosphere for the record.

Signed to Cole’s Dreamville imprint, Washington singer/songwriter Ari Lennox makes an appearance on ‘Change’, a very important precursor to the album’s title track. ‘Change’ highlights the social factors involved in James's downfall. Cole uses ‘Change’ to suggest that society’s ills won't evolve until we all individually address what’s going on inside of ourselves.

Doing Everyday Chores, For Love

The emcee demonstrates his love by doing everyday household chores for his partner on ‘Foldin’ Clothes’. ‘Foldin Clothes’ is an unpretentious love song. Yet its invigorated, sexy instrumental boasts delicious and noteworthy bass elements. Proudly relinquishing his own rap star front for the cut, Cole ends ‘Foldin Clothes’ musing on how men like James are pressured to remove their protective masks in order to function in the wider world.

The Most Laid-Back Protest Song Ever Made

‘Neighbors’ is probably the most laid-back protest song ever made. Built upon weighty hip-hop beats, the tune’s lyrics depict Cole moving to a leafy suburb in order to escape fame’s demands. “But one thing is for sure though, the fame is exhaustin’…that's why I moved away, I needed privacy” the rapper explains.

‘Neighbors’ goes on to slam the hostile local reaction to Cole’s presence. It brings attention to the various assumptions residents made about the rapper due to way he looks and the friends he invited round. As ‘Neighbors’ ends, the rapper is heard crooning, “so much for integration, don't know what I was thinkin”.

"She’s Mine, Pt. 2" Ignites Intense Speculation

Single-handily igniting unconfirmed rumours that J. Cole himself is a father, ‘She’s Mine, Pt. 2’ is a delicate, romanticised tune about becoming a parent. Ultrasound heartbeats and baby coos frolic within its background. Made more significant by the fact James also had a baby girl, the track's lyrics touchingly explore the initial sense of renewal that comes with being a daddy.

‘She’s Mine, Pt. 2’ doesn’t even work a beat, the song floats upon a bedding of muted piano accompaniment and lingering string sounds. “Catch me, I've fallen in love, for the first time”, Cole proudly proclaims at its start, before adding, “for you I drop the tough guy s**t”.

On an unrelated side note, Cole can’t help but use ‘She’s Mine, Pt. 2’ to denounce the outright consumerism hidden beneath the jolly smile of Santa Claus.

The Album's Trouble-Free, Modest Centrepiece

The album’s title track is an intelligent, thoughtful centrepiece. Cole’s concern for James, even after his passing, gives the song a special poignancy. The tune’s trouble-free, modest hip-hop production is guided by loose horn sounds that have an immediately soothing effect on the ears.

‘4 Your Eyez Only’ solemnly explores the anguish of James’s fierce struggles with the pressures of a criminal lifestyle. Cole effortlessly gels the song’s complexities together. The tune isn’t a barrel of laughs, but at just under nine-minutes long, ‘4 Your Eyez Only’ is epically executed.

Verdict: ******** 8/10

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