J. Cole Goes Deep and Personal on ‘4 Your Eyez Only’
J. Cole delivers a deep, meaningful, and personal effort on his fourth studio album, ‘4 Your Eyez Only.’ ‘4 Your Eyez Only’ has no guest features.
J. Cole “beats to his own drummer.” He’s not left field, but as a rapper, he’s unafraid to be nonconformist. Cole isn’t known for his club bangers, but rather deeper rap containing stories and lyrics with more substance. Interestingly he’s commercially successful, yet somewhat underrated, lacking hits on the Billboard Hot 100. On his fourth album, 4 Your Eyez Only, he isn’t focused on charting a breakthrough hit. If anything, it’s the least commercial effort of his career. Despite this, it is a meaningful effort, jam-packed with introspection and socially-driven messaging.
“For Whom the Bell Tolls”
4 Your Eyez Only kicks off morbidly with “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” Chilling, dramatic, and jazzy, Cole sings and pop-raps here, contemplating the worth of life:
“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, I don’t know.”
Cole returns to traditional, quick-paced rap on “Immortal.” Here, he contrasts morbidity (initially) with resolve: “Real n*ggas don’t die / form with the plot / one-seven-forty-five.” Throughout the course of “Immortal,” he covers hustling, specifically cocaine. This serves as sort of the lot in life for black males. At the end, he returns to the issue of death, with the bigger picture in mind socially:
“They tellin’ n*ggas sell dope, rap or go to NBA, in that order / it’s that sort of thinkin’ that been keepin’ n*ggas chained / at the bottom and hanged / the strangest fruit that you ever seen / ripe with pain, listen…”
“Déjà Vu” exemplifies the J. Cole sound in regards to production – nothing too flashy, but still packs a punch. The listener’s mind instantly goes to Bryson Tiller hit “Exchange,” which samples the same song. He dabbles in love here, questioning if the opportunity is worthwhile. He is aligned with ambition, while she may be willing to settle essentially: “She f*ck with small town n*ggas, I got bigger dreams.” He likes her, but ultimately questions the success of the relationship.
“How long can I survive with this mentality,” Cole asks on “Ville Mentality.” Once more, J. Cole dabbles in death, stretching beyond physical death. He is clearly concerned, iterating lyric, “Damn it, won’t be long ‘fore I disappear” four consecutive times. On the second verse, he seems concerned about maintain strength, even should he die, fade, or otherwise (“Dirt on my name, never”).
The thoughtful, romantic “She’s Mine, Pt. 1” is incredibly low-key. At the same time, it’s lush thanks to emotional strings and soulful backing vocals. Even given its restraint, Cole packs a punch:
“Every time you got to sleep you look like you in Heaven / plus the head game is stronger than a few Excedrin / you shine just like the patent leather on my new 11s / you read me like a book like I’m the Bible, you the reverend.”
“Change” prudently picks up the pace, buttressed by a hard-hitting beat. While there’s more oomph as far as the approach, the messaging remains deep – socially-conscious. “Change” seems plays on its title, whether its money, internal betterment, or social change. Ultimately, this particular song is jam-packed, including Cole mourning a friend, James McMillan, Jr. “Neighbors,” like “Change,” is drenched in notable social issues. He tackles the perception that black males only fit a certain mold (“Okay, the neighbors think I’m sellin’ dope…”).
On the groovy, thoughtful “Foldin Clothes,” Cole shares his devotion to his wife, who was pregnant when this song was recorded. Ultimately, he’s willing to do anything to please the love of his life. At the end, however, he shifts from his wife to the socially-conscious:
“N*ggas 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…”
Penultimate record “She’s Mine, Pt. 2” follows up an earlier song of the same title. This time, it’s directed towards his newborn daughter. Like the extended “Note to Myself” from 2014 Forest Hills Drive, title track “4 Your Eyez Only” is lengthy, nearing nine minutes in duration. Despite its length, it is wise, reflective, and uplifting among other characterizations.
All in all, J. Cole delivers another award-winning album with 4 Your Eyez Only. Despite the fact that there are no guest features, there don’t need to be on this particular album. This is a personal, incredibly authentic offering that requires a couple of listens to completely sink in. While 4 Your Eyez Only may not be his best album, it is by all means his most personal and thoughtful.
Gems: “Immortal,” “Change,” “Neighbors” & “Foldin Clothes”