Album Review

Album Review: J. Cole x 4 Your Eyez Only

(Released December 9th, 2016)

This February bet shit get scary when I fuck around and drop…

The silence heard around the world as fans waited to see what would come in the next four months. Would we get a new Cole album or maybe (finally) the myth that is a Kendrick and Cole collab? February came and went without a word from him regarding new music. So I think we all were a bit surprised when he announced this album a week before its release, followed by a documentary exclusive to Tidal that we all had access to, Cole got that power. Two songs were featured in the doc, both didn’t appear on the final cut of the album but garnered some added promotion and anticipation for what was to come. No one knew what to expect and weren’t sure what direction would be taken. But regardless, I was excited to hear new music.

This initially was going to be a general review tieing all the records together but since it’s not a fairly long album, it turned into a track by track review. Hope you enjoy! (and no “You need a certain level of intelligence to get Cole’s music” statements were made in the process!)

To Whom The Bell Tolls:

I see the rain pouring down. Before my very eyes, should come as no surprise.

The opening track is always important in my eyes. Since Born Sinner, Cole has delivered when it came to choosing how to open his albums. Whether or not he wants to set the tone in a more aggressive way or subtle, these things play apart in how the overall album will come together [most of the time]. To Whom The Bell Tolls falls into that subtle territory and has him showing off what seems to be his new favorite skill, his singing. Even though it won’t tickle some people’s fancy, I’ve grown to really be infatuated with his raspy vocals. This showcases a theme that will reoccur throughout the project and that’s the frequent thoughts of death and if living is worth it. The production is mellow and has beautiful violin and horn chords incorporated.

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

Immortal:

Things pick up with Immortal. While the bass is very subtle here, and pretty much throughout the entire album, it’s enough to nod to. The topic of death and being immortalized, shout out to the infamous RIP tees, reappear. I also appreciate the strings that come in at the tail end of the song.

Deja Vu:

This samples K.P. & Envyi‘s 1998 cut Swing My Way, put some respeck on their name! It seems as though the overall theme of production is established around this time. Instead of the boom bap beats we’re used to, every beat is drastically toned down. Once again, it’s enough to nod and bounce to, but if you manage to bust your speakers while listening to this album I hope they were cheap ones and you probably didn’t deserve them in the first place. This is a love story that takes things back to the days when Cole, or whoever’s perspective he’s rapping from, met that special person they crowned as The One.

Ville Mentality:

Production comes back around to incorporating more live instrumentation opposed to computer generated ones. Cole’s singing is also showcased again. Seemingly coming back around to moments mentioned on Forest Hills Drive and we find Jermaine wanting to get out of the mindset that’ll leave you trapped in places that don’t push for progression and evolution. There’s more of a jazz approach with this song; which is a nice touch. We also get narration from a young girl on here as well.

My dad…died, he got shot cause his friends set him up. I didn’t go to his funeral and…sometimes when I’m in my room. I get mad at my mama when she be mean to me. When she say “Clean up” I say…”I wish my dad was here”

She’s Mine, Pt. 1:

Bring on the sentimental moments. Love is all over this one. From the piano to Cole singing through his emotions about wanting to open up entirely to his partner. It’s hard to even critique this record and I personally haven’t found a fault with it.

While I’m too scared to expose myself, you know me better than I know myself

Change:

A more upbeat number, which is much appreciated at this point. A nice change up is also the additional vocals provided by Dreamville artist Ari Lennox (let me download her album). Her voice was very reminiscent of  Chrisette Michelle’s on this track and it added a nice element to the vocal arrangements. From being abusive to your partner, committing crimes and taking lives to even how God may perceive the direction you go in life and the mistakes that are made along the way is simply put into the words “The only real change comes from inside.” Basically if you continue being complacent you’ll ultimately keep running in circles wearing cement shoes. Here we also get introduced, or reintroduced, to Cole’s late friend James in the form of Cole attending his funeral. Which then ties in the theory about the parallels of their lives being covered throughout the album.

Neighbors:

Oh what a time it must be to move up in the tax bracket and relocate to a nice neighborhood where minorities aren’t really present. Only to find out Mr. Roger would prefer only one poc at a time. Instead of “You’re so tall, what team do you play for?” it’s you have to be hanging and slanging to even afford the mortgage. But I digress, back to the song. This follows the footsteps of Immortal in the sense that here we have Cole just rapping, although the flow is much more laid back than before. That subtle bounce also returns. “In the driveway there’s no rapper cars, just some shit to get from back and forth” gotta appreciate the minimalistic lifestyle.

Black in white man territory. Cops bust in with army guns, no evidence of the harm we done. Just a couple neighbors who assume we slang. Only time they see us we be in the news in chains.

Foldin Clothes:

Another slight change of pace as the beat opens with a strong bass guitar followed by some electric chords. Of course by now you know this is literally about folding laundry and not a metaphor for something else. Instead it’s his way of showing commitment and appreciation to his wife for all the things she provides for him. “I wanna do the right things, feels so much better than the wrong things” is a complete 180˚ from “What you crying for? She says you ain’t gon settle down, what you lyin for?Sidenote: I was really fighting the urge to type thangs just then.

She’s Mine, Pt. 2:

Feelings. I am in them. It opens up being led by some nice keys and then…the baby appears and messes up my whole vibe (in a good way). The heartstrings that were pulled in part one are intensified this time around. The feeling of Love reappear in the purest form possible. But no matter how pure that love is, Cole makes a point that leads us to assume his baby girl won’t be manipulated by the evils of Christmas and Black Friday, speaking some truths about both of these events but dang…can the girl get some presents? Just like for part one, it’s hard to critique this and I have no faults with either parts. I especially love the line that references him changing diapers and urging her to not go on him or he’ll be forced to be that dad who brings it up when their kids go through that rebel stage. We also get the revelation that death is no longer on his brain and the urge to live is stronger than ever before.

There is a God.

4 Your Eyez Only:

The last and longest track, almost nine minutes in length. The menacing beat accompanied by a light trumpet in the background sets the tone for a storytelling moment that ties the entire project together. If you judge solely by the talks of felony charges and drug trafficking, it becomes clear that this song, and album, isn’t entirely about Cole. Instead it shows the parallels between his life and his friend’s life, who was mentioned earlier; seemingly also tieing into ’03 Adolescence. I’m assuming that the little girl we heard on Ville Mentality is James‘ daughter, or at least a representation of her. We see how his friends life was based mostly in the streets and how once his daughter was born he wanted, and tried, to straighten out his life. But by then it was too late. Cole, who recently became a father, is now able to feel the joy that comes with being a new parent while also feeling the pain of James not having the chance to be their for his daughter and witness her grow up. This project is a way to keep his memory alive for the sake of his little girl.

Your daddy was a real nigga because he loved you.

Overall, I really enjoy listening and experiencing 4 Your Eyez Only. But, I can’t lie. Although I thought it was cool during my first listen, I initially felt very disappointed once the album went off. The laid back approach took a few spins to really set in and be appreciated for what it was. Unlike Forest Hills Drive there’s not a standout absolute banger like G.O.M.D, No Role Modelz or Wet Dreamz. But like FHD there are sentimental story telling moments that walk the same lines as ’03 Adolescence and Love Yourz, but it might take a minute for these things to catch your ear depending on if you allow it to, if you don’t that’s perfectly fine.

For me, it has replay value that matches two of my favorite ‘newer’ releases To Pimp A Butterfly and Tetsuo & Youth. Like those two projects this showcases Cole’s steady growth throughout his musical career and drifts farther and farther away from the need to cater to mainstream media, in one degree or another. I liked the incorporation of live instruments on the majority of the songs as well as the added personal touches, it seems like he’s able to stay in his shell while simultaneously coming out of it regarding the personal side of his life. The concept behind it adds another layer as well. The thought of us experiencing the birth of his first child to hearing an open letter to his friends young daughter play apart in the experience. Hopefully the growth continues from project to project when it comes to different production styles, flows and lyrics (he didn’t mention farting not one time, that I can remember). I also hope he doesn’t pull a baby Sade and disappear on us for years at a time. Once again, I really enjoyed this album. It might’ve taken three listens to get there but I got there and that’s all that matters.

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