A story that’s unlike all the others, as it’s one story intertwined with another, and due to its approach it’s essentially a story that’s unprecedented in hip-hop. “My story ain’t the only one I’m tryin to tell” J Cole once said, and while so many times throughout his career he’s delivered on that promise (scan his catalogue and listen closer and you’ll hear it), this album is the first time he dedicated an entire concept to it... a concept album from Cole... and this one is certain to be his most polarizing project yet. Of course that’s almost not possible, as everything J Cole does is praised by some yet disparaged by others, the latter of whom supposedly love hip-hop yet somehow… someway… and without explanation… slander Cole as if he’s not one of the three most significant emcees of the time period without question. A major artist for the hip-hop genre, in many respects the most important artist and for good reason, as he’s the one who could preserve the genre’s history while at the same time help it evolve - without compromising either it’s cultural roots or any of it’s best qualities - where in both cases J Cole is nothing less than the sheer definition.
Below is a track by track review of his latest offering 4 Your Eyez Only, his 4th studio album that to this point is arguably his best work - further indicated by how misunderstood and unappreciated it happens to be in the present moment.
For Whom The Bell Tolls
“I'm searching and praying and hoping for something, I know I'm gon' see it, I know that it's coming, Lord... Lord…. 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… 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…” A classic Cole introduction… and by now everyone should know that Cole’s introductions are often just as memorable as the records that follow, and true to form this case is no exception. First of all you have the Ernest Hemingway reference within the title… and that’s perfect… that’s exactly the symbolism/representation that Cole is aiming for - noticeably different than all the other artists in the genre. Then you have the sound of the cassette tape being inserted, symbolizing the beginning of the actual story, one that is indeed cryptic yet becomes far more apparent as the music plays on. On this track however the lyrics are clear and profound, and it’s feeling of desperation can easily be from Cole’s own perspective as much as anyone else’s, setting the tone for the blended storyline that’s taken his artistry to a new plateau. As far as the instrumental this one is provided by Elijah Scarlett, an unknown producer and student at NYU, whom now thanks to Cole has a lil more than just a dollar and a dream.
“To die a young legend or live a long life unfulfilled, cause you wanna change the world, but while alive you never will, cause they only feel you after you gone, or I've been told, and now I'm caught between bein heard and gettin old, damn…” The first official record after the intro is both dark and introspective, yet it also has Cole spittin drug raps in a way too vivid to represent himself, thus being the first moment that Cole is rapping from someone else’s perspective without any doubt. The instrumental is provided by Frank Dukes & Cardiak, and the flutes are cool but in some respects this is the least memorable on the project, yet it does provide a platform for Cole to spit gems like “Have you ever seen a fiend cook crack on the spoon? Have you ever seen a ***** that was black on the moon? Have you ever seen your brother go to prison as you cry? Have you ever seen a motherfuckin' ribbon in the sky?" - followed by ending the record with “It's that sort of thinkin that been keepin ***** chained at the bottom and hanged, the strangest fruit that you ever seen, ripe with pain, listen…” that gives this track enough redeeming qualities to save it.
“I'm staring at you from afar, I'm wondering about you, like, where you from and who you are? cause you a star—no, not the type that snort the white lines, I mean the type to light the night time, I heard you got a man, but who in their right mind letting you out the house alone? tell me is your house a home? why you in the club looking like you out to zone? now be discreet and pull out your phone and put my number in it, text a **** when your man leave you unattended, on a scale from 1 to 10 that girl's a hundred and I want it, no question, I know destiny well, and though I sin the Lord blessing me still” Cole floats on this care free record with a familiar instrumental, one that has a ton of controversy behind it - as it’s already been played a million times in the name of Bryson Tiller’s "Exchange" - and that’s because the beat was apparently stolen from the credited producers Vinylz & Boi1da by Tiller’s own production team - and now it’s inevitably impacted the reception behind Cole’s version which had an unlimited ceiling before these unfortunate events (Exchange is a Platinum hit record and the radio is married to it - don’t expect for it to be replaced by Deja Vu anytime soon). Yet once again Cole clearly has strength in his conviction as he decided to use this instrumental anyway, and he does it to great results - with an infectious hook that is an anthem in it’s own right (side note: Cole’s ability to layer his vocals in hooks & outros to alter his voice ((seen previously in Fire Squad & GOMD)) is criminally overlooked for it’s creativity, and for that matter it’s also one of the many reasons he’s able to go Double Platinum With No Features) - along with a 🔥🔥🔥 outro/bridge that will have thousands of ‘fingers in the sky’ at a music festival near you.
“Damn it, won't be long 'fore I disappear.... you call it runnin I call it escapin, start a new life in a foreign location, similar to my ***** duckin' cases, can't take the possible time that he faces… how long can I survive with this mentality?” Produced by Dreamville producers Elite & Ron Gilmore some might think of this one as filler, but keeping in mind that 4 Your Eyez Only is more like a novel than a conventional album, this one serves a purpose for the story where the protagonist (whoever it may be) is suffering from real anguish and despair - amplified by the thought of disappearing - a sentiment similar to Cole’s thoughts of retirement for whatever it’s worth. A strong chapter to the story if nothing else.
She’s Mine Pt 1
“I wanna tell the truth to you, I wanna talk about my days as a youth to you, exposing you to all my demons and the reasons I'm this way, I would like to paint a picture, but it'll take more than a day, It would take more than some years to get all over all my fears, preventing me from letting you see all of me perfectly clear” It really is incredible that Cole & Kendrick, two of the top three rap artists in the world, are not only married but have stayed true to their high school sweethearts - all the while knowing that due to their status they probably could have had a Kardashian of their choice. “I’m passing up on bad hoes… trying to be the man that she wants..." Cole has always rapped about the temptation of bein with the baddest bitches on earth, but he’s wise enough to know that what he has is more valuable - meanwhile the secrecy involved with his personal life makes him not only that much more respectable, but it also adds a certain mystique to his artistry - confirming the idea that for Cole the music has always been priority over the fame.
“yeah my chosen religion, Jesus piece frozen from sinnin', doin' dirt hoping to God he know my intentions” First of all this reminds me of 2Pac right out the gate, and with that in mind what else needs to be said? Question though, why aren’t more young artists inspired by the most iconic emcee of all time? Either way that’s all the more respect due to J Cole for being reminiscent of that classic feel, where on this particular record he floats on the first three verses that are right on time (considering this is the first time he truly snaps on the new album from a pure rapping perspective), and on the last two verses he paints the picture of the album more clearly - illustrating the final moments of a man named James - a man slain in a drive by shooting - and one whom Cole has seemingly dedicated this album to along with his daughter.
“I don't want no picture with the president, I just wanna talk to the man” could be a shot at all the artists who went to the White House to put it on the Gram, though either way an underrated storyline is Cole’s consistency in his critique of President Obama, as unlike his peers who are only inclined and equipped to offer unanimous praise - Cole notably offered a more balanced perspective in his groundbreaking Letterman performance - as well as in his brand new miscellaneous record 'High For Hours' - all the while maintaining a skepticism of the political system in general, keeping in mind the perks of his own professional relationships pales in comparison to the responsibility he has to speak on humanity. Thus leading to the true purpose of this record… J Cole’s neighbors in the suburbs of North Carolina really called the Swat Team on his studio this past year… that actually happened… but at least it spawned some great music… where Cole’s cadence and lyrics are top of the line in every way.
“I wanna fold clothes for you, I wanna make you feel good, baby I wanna do the right thing...feels so much better than the wrong thing” Produced by J Cole himself this one is an experience… a rap song about folding clothes… and somehow it’s got more life to it than a typical street record or a standard club anthem - it’s simply more genuine than that - and for that reason it feels better and it’s absolutely more fun. This is the jammmm 🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥 which can definitely cross over to different genres with a dynamic bass line (most likely provided by accredited Steve Lacy of the Internet) and classic Cole raps that range from his carefree Raisin Bran/Almond Milk raps to the more introspective “***** from the hood are the best actors” scheme that’s flawlessly placed in the outro, altogether making it one of the most memorable (and creative) records off the album.
She’s Mine Pt 2
“That’s the ego taking credit for what God made, fuck this album shit, hey mama look what God made” Dedicated to his newborn daughter this record is a continuation of She’s Mine Pt 1 dedicated to his wife, the highschool sweetheart who gave birth to their baby girl apparently a day before the new album was released. That’s good timing to say the least, and the music is from the heart and it’s perfect, which produced by Cole contains a medley of different instrumentation (a process seen in great detail in the album documentary released last month), that based on the sheer meaning of the content may be his most significant record to date. If you’ve listened to J Cole from the Come Up / Warm Up era then you know this feeling of joy was a long time coming… and for that reason this one will be preserved over time as a defining moment of one the greatest artists to ever share his life through music.
4 Your Eyez Only
"He said, ‘Listen, I got no time to dive into descriptions, but I've been having premonitions, just call it visions from the other side, 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", and so I'm leaving you this record for your eyes only, don't you ever scratch or disrespect it, this perspective is a real one, another lost 'Ville son, I dedicate these words to you and all the other children” Although there have been great storytellers in hip-hop’s decorated past (Nas, Jay, Big, Pac, Slick Rick to name a few), add J Cole’s name to that list as all nostalgia aside he is definitely on that same level, where by all accounts his pen is so descriptive that he’s undoubtedly the best author in the game. For what it’s worth there’s 4 verses and each one is better than the last, literally (verse 4 > verse 3 > verse 2 > verse 1), yet it’s all flames collectively and this record should be remembered forever. "Unlocked from the hard drive like valuable jewels" 💎💎💎💎💎💎💎💎💎💎💎💎💎💎
You know what they say about flowers… the most deserving don’t get em while they can smell em… and the same goes with respect and admiration for our greatest minds and our most brilliant creators, where no matter how unlikely it sounds the kid from Fayetteville most definitely fits that description well. After all “is this bout skills or, is this bout sales cause, either fucking way…” he hits on all cylinders and bodies the competition, where even as the groupthink that permeates on Twitter is determined to create an alternate reality, the love from the people will ultimately ensure that this history is documented correctly - even if this particular album won’t be lauded for many years to come.
It’s actually no surprise that the reception for Cole’s latest is even more divided than his previous offerings, as like stated before this album is like nothing else in hip-hop, a genre too often confined to the same repetitive concepts within the same played out approach - considering 99% of the ‘artists’ seemingly don’t have an imagination past their own Napoleon complexes. Here however Cole essentially creates a lane that allows the content to go beyond the artist’s own experiences, licensing the idea that artists can find inspiration from the world outside of their own - no different than a classic film or a novel where the direction has no limits on where the storyline can potentially go. In essence that’s what J Cole achieves with 4 Your Eyez Only, as thinking of it as a legitimate STORY is what puts it into a category of it’s own, and allows an artist like Cole to be likened less to names like Future & Lil Wayne - and likened more to names like Ernest Hemingway and Charles Dickens... and I know that's just too much for the internet to handle...
Nonetheless he's indeed the modern version of many great artists before him (hip-hop's John Lennon/Bob Dylan perhaps?), and with records like For Whom The Bell Tolls, Change, Neighbors, She’s Mine 1&2, and the epic title track - (all of which are best played in the order the album (and story) presents them) - J Cole has himself a masterpiece that per usual is ahead of it’s time - and only after he’s gone will this album ultimately get the respect it deserves.