The past year and a half has been a big one for J. Cole and the whole Dreamville Records crew. We got a collaborative mixtape to introduce the team to our music libraries as well as a freshman records from new signees Bas and Cozz. If I am being completely honest, I hadn’t heard about each album until well after they were out and I still regret that to this day. Why? The fact that it was each of their first albums becomes irrelevant once you press play. Both albums were so incredibly produced and guided under Cole’s expert workmanship that they sounded like veteran projects. Bas released an incredibly fun and playful album in accordance with his style that ended up being one of last year’s most fun listens while Cozz pushed out an album that was ominously produced and tragically realistic. Needless to say, I was incredibly excited to see what was next to come from the group who seemed to be inept at making poor quality music.
It was then I realized that Omen, who had appeared on Cole’s mixtapes and the Revenge Of The Dreamers mixtape, had yet to put out his first LP. So when news came that his album, Elephant Eyes was damn near finished and even called “classic” by Cole himself on the last track of Forest Hills Drive, I was unprepared to say the least. I had gotten relatively acquainted with Omen’s music, style and production. It only took about one or two songs to deliberate that the man was very talented, even producing a huge portion of his own stuff to the point that one of the first artists I drew comparisons to was Cole.
And wow, Cole’s statement is not far off from the truth. Elephant Eyes is a great body of work, on the better side of what has been released so far this year. It travels forward like many first albums do; an artist’s acquainting listeners to their life. The very first track, ‘Motion Picture’ opens with a uniquely chime and drum filled bass that sounds even better when you bob your head along with it. Lyrically, the first line alone lets you know what to expect from the emcee.
“Populate my flow with concentrated growth”
Omen is concerned with evaluating his growth as an individual throughout his writing. Not long after he hit you with a clever double entendre about his lack of concern for money and women in high school and how that has changed now. The album is really a showcase of his fears and a way he feel comfortable communicating them. By the end of the album comes to a close you will have heard plenty of references to his shy personality in person and yet he is pouring it all out on the track which is heartfelt and adds to the experience in a dynamic way.
The next topic explored on track two, ‘LoveDrug’, is our society’s seeming addiction to social media and the necessity to be noticed. It has been a huge topic in the last couple years but has rarely been addressed within hip-hop so completely. His rhythm and flow are perfectly synched with that of the beat and lead the way to a simple, meaningful chorus that works greatly. I would even go as far to say that overall the choruses are some of the catchiest I’ve heard this year and not the slightest bit cliche. A complete surprise and joy to hear from an artist so focused on telling a good story. By the time you get to the title track ‘Elephant Eyes’, Omen has established himself as a visual person. His depictions are vivid, down to pointing out a new haircut a fling of his got recently. The elephant eyes are a reference to the fact that he has seen so much in his life and never forgets.
His song about a lack of his birth father in his life is incredibly uplifting. It is able to establish what a life without a father could be like and then moves into the reality that there are plenty of other father figures in his life. It will likely draw in tons of listeners due to its natural relatability. A simple boom-bap beat suffices as Omen lays down his bars and belts out his chorus. The songs are examples of Omen not knowing what position to take in this confusing world. Should he conform with society, be himself, believe what he hears or develop his own beliefs? ‘Sketches of Paranoia’ is a great example of this occurrence. It features fellow Dreamville member Bas and they both battle the idea of either themselves being crazy or everyone around them.
At times the production gets jazzy, others it has roots in heavy boom-bap but regardless, it always fits. His reference to foolish pride on J. Cole’s track ‘Enchanted’ expanded into a full length song here. It is much more poetically spoken than the surrounding music on the project. It explores his personality transitions throughout school and ends on a bar explaining that once, people stopped fighting with their fists, they fought with guns and he was not about to let his pride get him killed so he would change his ways. From there we go to a very well produced and interesting song, ‘Big Shadows’. It has Omen explaining his relationship and connection to J. Cole who he sounds both eternally grateful for and yet covered up by. He refers back to his foolish pride when he talks about hating when people would call him Cole’s prodigy. The third verse he leaves himself with another question about what to do and how to interpret his fame. It is an interesting way to pay respects and at the same time question the methods of the person who helped get you where you are.
The whole album sounds like one huge depiction of how life can be looked at differently as things happen throughout it. The song ‘Things Change’ with the man himself J. Cole, illustrates a sense of acceptance of the fact that things won’t always be the same and your question of “why?’ won’t always be answered. It is another boom-bap style beat with an entrancing voice present in the background speaking the song title. The last song ends positively speaking about women who it seems like Omen has had more trouble than ease with throughout his story. The sample infused beat is infectious and has Omen speaking some very solid truth on the chorus. “Nothing makes a man feel better than a woman.” I have thought about this statement and have yet to dispute it. Good call Omen, hope you don’t mind if I steal that line for a future conversation.
By the end of the album, you feel like you are hearing a much more confident Omen than the shy, closed-off artist we got in the beginning. It shows progression, not only in music but in his number one concern, personal growth. He is more accepting of the randomness of life and seems more comfortable about who he is. The ability to hear a definite growth and transition in thought process is what pushes the project past being a collection of songs about one’s life. The artists involved with Dreamville records seem to be writing an elaborate collaborative book and this is one of the best chapters yet.