Album Review: 4 Your Eyez Only | J. Cole

Jermaine Lamarr Cole is a once in a decade type of artist. The man is a true genius when it comes to not only composing and performing music but academics as well. Graduating high school with a 4.2 GPA and receiving a scholarship to St. John’s University are just a couple little known fact about the rapper fans call J. Cole. On December 9th 2016 Cole released his 4th album titled 4 Your Eyez Only, exactly two years after his most successful album, 2014 Forest Hills Drive. Jermaine has always been very quiet in the media but with so much going on in the last two years you would have expected him to stand up and speak out like so many other influential celebrities have. However, Cole stayed quiet and focused on his family and music. He knew that his music would have more of an impact than he would by just simply ranting. This album takes us on a journey of struggle, highs, lows, fatherhood, death, race relations and much more.

The album is only 10 songs, but it gives its listeners a full experience. Cole’s latest efforts largely take on the perspective of Cole’s late childhood friend, who asked the rapper to share his life story in the event that he died. The story of a drug dealer who tried to turn his life around after becoming a father. Cole was to tell his story in the form of an album when his daughter was old enough to appreciate it. He identifies the friend as James McMillan Jr., who was killed at age 22. The artist changed the name for the sake of privacy.

The first track on the album is titled ‘For Whom The Bells Toll’ after the novel written by Ernest Hemingway in 1940, about the Spanish Civil War. The song starts with some vocals over a jazzy beat with trumpets and bells. The entire album will have some sort of jazz element with either trumpets, brass, bells, or violines. Cole says “I’m searching and praying and hoping for something, I know I’m gon’ see it, I know that it’s coming, Lord, Lord.” He is talking about how he sees his life changing in the near future and he believes that if he stays on the same path that something good will eventually happen. Soon after he says the opposite by saying “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 is going back and forth doubting himself if his life is even worth living. Throughout the album we see that Jermaine struggles with depression and finding his purpose.  He drops a line that shows that he really feels alone,

“But what do you do when there’s no place to turn? I have no one, I’m lonely, my bridges have burnt down, Lord, Lord”.

Feeling alone is not something that only J. Cole struggles with. It is so relatable and that’s why Cole has so many loyal fans because they can actually relate to his art. It’s hard to relate to rappers that talk about millions of dollars and exotic cars that most people have never even seen in person. One of J. Cole’s biggest messages is that money cannot buy happiness as he poetically explains on the song ‘Love Yourz’. This song is a good, short 2 minute song to prep you for the rest of the album.

On the song ‘Immortal’, Cole talks about how his closet was looking broke while his friends were getting caught up with dope. The people around him were slowly getting sucked into the streets and making money while he was staying away from it and he was staying broke. Just because he wasn’t selling drugs doesn’t mean that he wasn’t surrounded by drugs and the situations that come with it. Cole lists several things that he has witnessed by saying, “I can tell you things that you probably shouldn’t know, Have you ever heard the screams when the body hit the floor?….Have you ever seen a fiend cook crack on the spoon?” It’s obvious that J. Cole has seen some pretty scary things and talks about how the people that make it out of those situations never die. They will be talked about for years after they pass.

The next track titled ‘Deja Vu’ is one that I was very excited about when I heard it. Cole raps over Bryson Tillers’ instrumental for the song ‘Exchange’. The track is about how Jermaine has his eye on a women that is at the club with her man but he doesn’t care. The fact that she has a man does not faze him. The R&B song is a shout out to guys that are usually wallflowers at social events saying, “Last call at the bar, ladies get a drink, nigga get some balls, Ain’t no tellin you gonna see that bitch tomorrow, Stop holding up the wall waiting for the right song, Better holla cause you know they bout to cut the lights on.”

The song ‘Vile Mentality’ has a deeper meaning then it seems. It gives us a key piece to the puzzle when the interlude comes up that plays the voice of a young girl talking about her father’s death. She says, “My dad, he died—he got shot ’cause his friend set him up. And I didn’t go to his funeral.”  Cole asks the question of how can he live with this evil mentality that he has? He wants to be the bigger man and let his frustrations go but it isn’t always that easy where he is from.

In the song ‘She’s Mine, Pt 1’, Cole confesses his love for his wife Melissa Heholt. Many people did not know about the secret marriage in 2015 between the two. They have actually been together for over a decade and met in college. Jermaine explains how this women has changed his life and molded him into the person that he is today. Fans can likely give Melissa a lot of credit for how successful J.Cole’s career is today.

‘Change’ is a track that shows just how quickly someone’s life change overnight. In the beginning of the song Cole is happy and confident in his relationship with God, speaking on heaven saying “See I believe if God is real, He’d never judge a man, because he knows us all and therefore He would understand”. He says that the only way that change comes is from within. The song is seeming very upbeat and positive with him rapping about how thankful he is for his life. The song takes a 180 towards the end when he begins to talk about the violent culture that has taken over our world today. Cole says,

“I reminisce back to a time where niggas threw they hands, all of a sudden niggas pop a trunk and then we scram, finger on trigger make a little nigga understand, what it’s like to finally be the motherfuckin’ man”.

Nowadays anyone can get respect if they have a gun, no matter how weak or spineless they are. Cole rushes home one night after hearing shots, the next morning he turns on the morning news to find out that it was his friend that was murdered at 22 years old. The rest of the song is a reenactment of the funeral. You can hear Cole crying in the background of the pastor, and you can also hear Cole speaking of killing the man to get revenge for his fallen friend.

‘Neighbors’ is one of Jermaine’s most interesting songs. While Cole was working on the album he needed some more privacy, some peace and quiet. He rented a house in North Carolina for all of the Dreamville artists and producers to create music in an isolated environment. It’s located in a predominantly white neighborhood and the neighbors soon became suspicious there might be drug related activity connected to the house and eventually the SWAT team was brought in to investigate. He goes on to talk about how even though he has fully paid for a house on a lake and has more money than you could imagine he still had the police raid his home simply because some neighbors thought he was up to no good because he is a black rapper. He takes the time to speak about the Trayvon Martin case and how he was racially profiled as well.

The song ‘Foldin Clothes’ is another song in which J.Cole shows his appreciation for his wife. In the song she is in her final month of pregnancy and Cole wants to do everything he can to make her life as easy as possible. Even the small things will help. He talks about being more present and appreciating the little things his life. He has a realization of how amazing his life really is, not because of the money or success but because he has his wife that loves him and he is about to start a family.

‘She’s Mine, Pt. 2’  is a song that had everyone confused from the beginning. The track is about a newborn child and how she changed his life. Everyone was confused because up until hearing this song the public was unaware that J.Cole had a child. It was quite an announcement. He again talks about how the little angel changed not only his life, but his perspective on the world. He goes on at the end of the song to say, “There is a God, it is a God, yeah it is a God, I never felt so alive, I never felt so alive”. After having his first child it has given him the confidence to believe in God again.

The final track on the project was definitely the most significant for Cole. It was the reason that the album was made. It was the fuel behind the whole process, where all of the passion came from. The song ‘4 Your Eyez Only’, named after the album is a very long and poetic story clocking in just shy of 9 minutes. He uses every second to get his story across. The story starts out with Cole talking about the situation that so many young men in poverty stricken communities find themselves in. He is talking about having to sell drugs to keep the lights on and having enough money to feed his daughter. He wants to make a decent living, he wants to earn his own money through hard work but because he has felony charges he can’t even get a job scrubbing toilets. At this point in the song just before the second verse we know that J.Cole is not talking about himself but we aren’t sure exactly who the story is about. He then says at the end of first verse,

“Play this tape for my daughter and let her know my life is on it (For your eyes) For your eyes only”

Jermaine is delivering a message for his friend James McMillan Jr., the friend mentioned throughout the album that was murdered at 22 years old. The rest of the song is a message from James for his only daughter. It is everything he wanted to say to his daughter because he knew that one day he wouldn’t have the chance to say it himself. In the final verse J.Cole comes back and speaks from his perspective again. He relieves the madness behind this song and explains that the day before James was murdered he had a feeling that he didn’t have much time. He called Jermaine and told him to write down everything that he saying. He wanted him to make a project and give it to his daughter when she was old enough for it. He goes on to repeat part of the conversation, this is what James said to Jermaine, “I got a feeling I won’t see tomorrow like the time I’m living on is borrowed. With that said, the only thing I’m proud to say, I was a father. Write my story down, and if I pass, go play it for my daughter when she ready”.

Cole then goes on to say “And so I’m leaving you this record, for your eyes only, don’t you ever scratch or disrespect it”. The young girl named Nina has to be in her teenage years at this point. He then talks about why her father did the things he did. Saying that he had no choice, he did the things he did because he loved his daughter. He was real man because he loved his daughter unconditionally.

At the end of the album, after the final note you hear the sound of a cassette tape being ejected. This has very significant value to the album. It is a very small detail that not many people have picked up on. On the opening track ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls’ we hear the click of a cassette tape entering a player. We learn through the final song that this project was meant as a departing message from James McMillan to his daughter. James asks Jermaine to “play this tape for my daughter” as the album ends. The last thing we hear is a cassette being ejected. The entire project was one cassette tape that J.Cole was playing for James’ daughter. Every single song was written through the perspective of James. Jermaine intertwined memories from both himself and James in each song. He masterminded it so that when you are listening to any of the songs on the project you would be able to imagine it as both of them at the same time. It was pure creative genius. It makes sense that the guy who went double platinum with no features would pull off a creative masterpiece like this.

9.1

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