On “4 Your Eyez Only,” J. Cole returns to narrate the story of a fallen friend. There was no big marketing scheme for the LP, just a documentary illustrating the intimate writing process of an MC who’s done biting his tongue. As fans like to tout, his last album went triple platinum with no features, and it’s becoming clear that J. Cole’s own hand, is the hand that feeds.
Listening to the two singles that prequel the album, many thought a flurry of punches would continue to be thrown due to a couple of subliminal jabs. The first non-album single, “False Prophets” is a cool and collected track that resonates easy on the ears. Cole uses a previous Joey Badass beat to stir the pot with a subtle reference of how one of his hip-hop heroes has fallen from the small pocket grace he once proclaimed.
“Due to the days that he caught our hearts. He’s fallin’ apart, but we deny it. Justifying that half-ass shit he dropped, we always buy it. When he tell us he a genius but it’s clearer lately. It’s been hard for him to look into the mirror lately. There was a time when this nigga was my hero, maybe”
Though Cole has never clarified the perception, many believe that the bars on “False Prophets” were delivered for Kanye West. We’ve never known how much Ye has impacted Cole’s career individually, but it’s hard to ignore Ye’s impact on the current climate of Hip-Hop. Cole has made it clear in the past that he still holds his childlike essence of memories regarding the MC’s he looked up to prior to his footing in hip-hop. On his 2013 LP “Born Sinner,” Cole admits the feeling of falling short of Nas’s glorious expectations regarding the radio single “Work Out,” which appeared on his debut album, “Sideline Story.” Though “Work Out” was Cole’s biggest radio single at the time, Nas knew he was lyrically capable of much more.
“Jeter under pressure, made the biggest hit of my career. But at first, that wasn’t clear, niggas had no idea. Dion called me when it dropped, sounded sad but sincere. Told me Nas heard your single and he hate that shit, Said you the one, yo why you make that shit? I can’t believe I let Nas down”
But, there’s more to the story of Jermaine Cole these days than pointing a finger. He’s welcomed a daughter to the world, and somewhere along the way to being one of the most well known MC’s in the game, he’s lost a good friend. That’s the story J. Cole is telling on “4 Your Eyez Only.”
If the lyrics are the story, then the instrumentation is the setting. Cole’s words glisten over many shades of live instruments throughout the album. It seems as if Cole uses his own voice to tell someone else’s story. On the album’s title track “4 Your Eyez Only,” the vivid storytelling lays the groundwork for messages that were meant for someone to read later on in a time of despair. Messages that will reach the ear when the author is no longer writing them.
“If the pressure get too much for me to take and I break. Play this tape for my daughter and let her know my life is on it. (For your eyes) Let her know my life is on it”
Contemplation settles throughout the coming of age realizations on the LP. On “Change,” his lyrics bare witness to a story that could serve true for any black male bracing adulthood or a new born child, but it also sadly points to a life that did not fare so well. The song closes with Cole somberly reporting the death of a friend.
“Cause I’m running too. I made it home, I woke up and turned on the morning news. Overcame with a feeling I can’t explain. ‘Cause that was my nigga James that was slain, he was 22.”
On “4 Your Eyes Only” illustrated vulnerabilities reflect a father who finally juggles the realization of life and death once he awaits the precious love a child. The illustrations are cryptic, but they make sense knowing Cole is now responsible for a life outside of his own.