J Cole Excels on ‘4 Your Eyez Only’

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Cole has always been transparent about his love and respect for his craft. He famously had no features on his platinum-selling Forest Hills Drive, and has had a hand in producing most of the music in his catalog, including his latest offering 4 Your Eyez Only.

In addition to bringing on other talented musicians through live musical sessions. The album is sonically reminiscent of hip hop groups like Pharcyde and Tribe Called Quest, whose music was rife with jazz influence. Take the lush piano and strings which capture Cole’s melancholy mood in “Ville Mentality,” or the soulful soundscape heard throughout “Foldin Clothes.”

Cole’s introspection is what makes him a stellar storyteller, whether he’s weaving his own narrative or someone else’s. On “Neighbors,” he recounts an experience that happened to his Dreamville team after renting a house in an affluent, predominantly white neighborhood. While he was away, his neighbors accused him and his team of selling/growing marijuana- this claim led to an ultimately futile drug raid.

Beyond the face value narrative, the track–and most of the album–is about escaping the demons that follow fame and living a reclusive life. The irony is that the reclusion he sought couldn’t guard him from the harsh realities of racism, as he notes: “I can’t sleep cause I’m paranoid/ Black in a white man territory.”

4 Your Eyez Only is full of narratives like this, akin to a series of journal entries where the 31year-old rapper is allowing his fans more insight into his career development and increasing insecurities.  In  “She’s Mine Part 1,” he says “Yeah, I wanna tell the truth to you/I wanna talk about my days as youth to you/Exposing to you all my demons and the reasons I’m this way.”

While the album is colored with songs that bring to life the societal issues plaguing people of color, Cole still manages to radiate a sense of hopefulness. This is most evident in the up tempo “Change” featuring Dreamville artist Ari Lennox, where he recognizes that “the only real change comes from inside.” Cole continuously lets us in on the inside of his mind, which is why 4 Your Eyez is a pleasant reprieve from the trite sounds that are pervasive in rap music today.

Asha Atkins