Relentless Beats

J. Cole’s 4 Your Eyez Only: A Narrative About Life & Death

Jermaine Lamarr Cole, who just goes by J. Cole on stage, first emerged onto the scene in 2007 with his debut mixtape The Come Up. He caught the attention of industry heavyweights early on and became the first artist signed to Jay-Z‘s Roc Nation imprint in 2009. He dropped his debut album Cole World: The Sideline Story in 2011. It hit the top of the Billboard charts and went platinum, as did the two album’s following, Born Sinner, and 2014 Forest Hills Drive. 

Forest Hills Drive, which is actually where Cole grew up, is about a boy discovering his purpose, written from the perspective of a superstar rapper contemplating the facets of fame. It won the Top Rap Album at the 2015 Billboard Music Awards and received a Grammy nominated for Best Rap Album. That being said, the pressure on J. Cole to deliver on his next project was huge. Exactly two years later and with little warning, on December 9th he released his fourth studio album, 4 Your Eyez Only. 

4 Your Eyez Only is J. Cole’s most compelling work yet. It’s already reached the top of the charts, making it his fourth consecutive number one album. It doesn’t have as many heavy bass tracks as the previous album but instead acts as an interactive narrative about life and death and the journey in between. Much of it is told from the perspective of James McMillan, a friend of Cole’s who was shot at 22. He pulls from his own experiences to produce some of his best writing to date, filled with raw emotion and honesty. Life has changed dramatically for J. Cole since 2014 Forest Hills Drive; he got married and had a daughter. Despite his massive fame he’s managed to keep his personal life just that, personal. A heightened level of maturity emerges in this album showing the world a new side of Cole.

J. Cole is one of the best lyricists of our generation, and the slow, simple beats on 4 Your Eyez Only allows his verses to take center-stage. In “Ville Mentality” we hear the testimony of a young girl who lost her father to gang violence. “Change” takes you to the scene where Cole’s friend Mcmillan was shot. “Neighbors”, where the hook repeats, “I guess the neighbor’s think I’m selling dope, selling dope” references an incident from Cole’s own life, when his Dreamville home studio was raided by a SWAT team on suspicion that drugs were being sold out of his home based on a complaint from neighbors.

While most of the album focuses on the harsh realities of gang life and death, J. Cole also shows a softer side of himself.. a side consumed by love. “She’s Mine Pt. 1” talks about a romantic love and on “She’s Mine Pt. 2″ Cole sings to his daughter, “Reminisce when you came out the womb. Tears of joy I think filled up the room. You are now the reason that I fight”. He want to pay homage to his new life as a husband and father. On “Foldin’ Clothes” Cole laughs while singing about drinking almond milk, further proof of his recent domestication.

The title track, which sits just under nine minutes, is a dialogue between Cole and his passed friend’s daughter. “Write my story down and if I pass, go play it for my daughter when she ready. And so I’m leaving you this record for your eyes only” It’s an incredibly moving track that sets J. Cole’s music apart from much of the mindlessness found in today’s music.

The album, in short, is a lyrical masterpiece. All 10 tracks from 4 Your Eyez Only debuted in the top 40 of the Hot 100. “False Prophets” and “Everybody Dies”, singles released just days before the album both charted also. Cole achieved twelve Hot 100 entries in a single week, so there’s no doubt this will be another Platinum album with no features!

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