By Octavia Hutson
J. Cole released his highly anticipated fourth studio album 4 Your Eyez Only this past Friday at midnight.
Cole has been relatively quiet since the release, and success, of 2014 Forest Hills Drive, which went platinum with no features. He reemerged in 2015 with features on Janet Jackson’s “No Sleeep” and Jeremih’s “Planez,” but then promptly disappeared, leaving his fans questioning when they would be graced with his presence.
Today’s hip-hop fans have grown increasingly frustrated with the turn the music has taken with the emergence of rappers like Lil Yatchy and Lil Uzi Vert. Those same fans look to rappers like Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole to provide relief from today’s ‘mumble rap’ sound.
Well, J. Cole is back, and his fans will not be disappointed.
Cole stirred the pot with two singles released earlier this week, “False Prophets” and “everybody dies;” neither is included on the album, but both shine light on his relationship with rappers Kanye West and Wale, while making it clear that he does not necessarily care for the new generation of rappers that continue to emerge within this ‘mumble rap’ era of hip-hop.
Fans latched on to the singles, suspecting that the content matter of these singles would be reminiscent of what Cole plans to present to audiences worldwide within his album. They were only halfway right.
The album begins with Cole contemplating suicide on the opening track “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” as he can be heard saying: “Tired of feeling low / Even when I’m high / Do I wanna live / Do I wanna die / I don’t know.” While many would be quick to assume Cole is speaking on his own life—it is well known that he opts to live a relatively quiet life free of much press and social media—the second track, “Immortal,” makes it apparent this album is more than 10 tracks about Cole’s life: this is a work about someone else’s.
4 Your Eyez Only is a story told in musical format. It has a clear beginning, middle and end in which Cole narrates a young man’s life in the hood. He begins wondering what his life really is and if it’s even worth living, to expressing his fearlessness and bravery, lamenting that “if they want a n— they gon have to send a SWAT team.”
As the album progresses, the young man meets a girl in “Deja Vu” who causes him to rethink his life on “Ville Mentality.” He wonders how long he will survive with his current mindset, and as he falls in love with his female companion, he realizes he has more to live for than the streets and selling drugs as he has a daughter on the way in “Change.”
Perhaps the standout track on this album is “Foldin Clothes.” Cole expresses his desire to help his lady do the simple tasks, such as laundry, and even expresses surprise at the fact that he now drinks Almond Milk.
The song stands out for more reasons than one as Cole speaks hard truth with the lines: “N—s from the hood is the best actors / Gotta learn to speak in ways that’s unnatural / Just to make it through the job interviews if my n—s heard me they’d say damn what’s gotten in to you?” The young man tries to escape the life of drugs and violence, but finds it hard to try and escape his situation without compromising himself.
As the album draws to an end, the young man has the chance to see the birth of his daughter, but eventually turns back to life on the streets, seeing no other way to make ends meet for his family. The album ends with Cole narrating a letter of sorts to the young girl from her father when she is old enough to understand, explaining his life and expressing why he’s not around to watch her grow and mature into a beautiful woman.
There is no doubt Cole’s fans will appreciate the rapper’s knack for storytelling as he narrates a situation many painfully relate to: the desire to escape the troubles of the hood and live a better life, but also knowing the rest of the world will always judge one for their past mistakes and the color of their skin. It’s a reality even African-American college students know all too well. Too often do African-American students who return home from their colleges and universities hear from their hometown peers that they’ve changed and that they’ve become submissive to the same system that seeks to oppress them, when the reality is most see college as their way out to provide a better life for their families.
This is an album not about the rap game and its current state of emergency, but about what it means to survive in a world where it seems the masses are hell bent on holding one back. This is an album about the trials and tribulations of a man trying to find success without having to resort to drugs or violence. This is an album that accurately highlights the limited choices people within communities have and sheds light on the fact that is not as easy as people make it seem for one to just up and walk away from a world they no longer want to be a part of.
4 Your Eyez Only may be one of J. Cole’s best work yet, and as the rapper continues to spend his time in the shadows choosing to interact with everyday people and fans on a more personal level, it is only expected that his music becomes more grounded in sound and that he’ll continue his skills in storytelling to narrate even more gripping stories of those he can so easily relate to.
One thing is for sure: even one who is not a fan of J. Cole can appreciate the truth behind his words. 4 Your Eyez Only may not be an instant classic, but it is an album that will surely be talked about for years to come.
Octavia Hutson is a senior English major and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.