NOW PLAYING: J. Cole - 4 Your Eyez Only

“J. Cole is the definition of lowkey”

I don’t know how J. Cole did it, but he managed to have multiple major life events all in one year with little to no media coverage. Not only did he get married but he also had a child. He toured, recorded AND released an album in a way that felt a little unexpected. It was a pleasant surprise though, and I was excited as I listened to his new project, 4 Your Eyez Only, during my morning commute to work.

There was something I instantly recognized as For Whom the Bell Tolls started to play. It spoke of the anger and frustration J. Cole has with the world and the way things are. With everything that has happened in 2016, frustration has been a common theme in most album releases this year. J. Cole doesn’t disappoint in this. Throughout the album, he speaks of his disapproval of police militarization, politics and black on black crime. Each track weaves in and out of these topics effortlessly without becoming overbearing.   

As the album moves along, the mood transitions from anger to a more solemn and chill vibe. The instrumentation is more of the same. Since J. Cole is the primary producer, it carries his signature sound. There’s lots of samples, layers of strings, horn hits and haunting background vocals echoing J. Cole’s lyrics of sadness and confusion. You would think that the similarities would cause the album to become predictable but instead, it gives it a very cohesive sound.

My personal favorites of 4 Your Eyez Only all have something in common. They’re all talking about love. In She’s Mine, Pt. 1, J. Cole talks about completely baring your soul to someone, allowing them to see the good and the bad. It’s about vulnerability and how scary that can be. To many, the song may seem to be slow moving but the pulled back production really allows you to focus on the lyrics. It is the perfect ode to his wife and the song is absolutely beautiful.

Another stand out for me was Foldin Clothes. In this song, Cole stresses the importance of the “little things” and how he wants his girl to be happy so he doesn’t mind doing even the most annoying chore, folding clothes. When I heard the first few opening lines, I smiled to myself. It’s another song for Mrs. Cole! After that initial thought though, my mind started to wander and I asked myself, why do I like Hip Hop love songs so much? Well, the stereotype of a rapper, or in this case, a lyricist, is that you have to look hard or be intimidating in order to be taken seriously in Hip Hop. You can’t really show weakness, it can break holes in a rapper’s bravado. Unfortunately, love has been categorized as a weakness and meaningful love songs written by rappers are few, far and in-between. Just as I’m exploring this more in my mind, J. Cole switches up the verse and targets that same subject but takes it one step further.

“N*ggas from the hood is the best actors

We the ones that got to wear our face backwards

Put your frown on before they think you soft

Never smile long or take your defense off”

Makes you think huh?

While Cole probably will go platinum, again, with no features. He did have a few helping hands. His new signee, and DMV artist, Ari Lennox lended some supporting vocals to Change. It was a pleasant surprise hearing her on the track and I’m excited to see what Ms. Lennox has planned for 2017!

Overall, the album was short but I could go on and on about it. There’s only 10 songs and it’s barely an hour in length but the “straight to the point” approach made it easier to sink into all the little ornaments throughout the album. There’s nothing super shocking or a big veer away from what J. Cole’s been delivering since his debut, but, that’s a good thing. I enjoyed hearing his views on the world today, and getting the inside scoop on how he’s adapting to family life. Honestly, 4 Your Eyez Only was everything an album should be and I’ll definitely be listening...again, again and again.