After a two-year hiatus, platinum-award winning artist J. Cole’s 4 Your Eyez Only Only transitions from his predictable discussions of fame and fortune to bringing his listeners into the dark and moody realism of social problems, nuanced with a sense of hope and change. He describes his new role as a husband and father and contrasts that with the life of a fictional African American man who is forced to balance a life of crime and parenthood, ultimately forcing him to leave his family.
Cole has eschewed the noise of mainstream hip hop, producing a melancholic sound with somber and organic instrumentation. The project begins with the song “For Whom the Bell Tolls”. A depressing trumpet is played in the background and bells are tenaciously shook as Cole sings “I see the rain pourin’ down…”The sorrowful mood is further conveyed in songs such as “Ville Mentality” and “4 Your Eyez Only”.
He introduces listeners to his wife and newborn daughter in the songs, “She’s Mine, Pt. 1,” “Foldin Clothes,” and “She’s Mine, Pt. 2.” After a long self-exile from social media and hip hop music, he sheds some insight on what kept him occupied. In “She’s Mine, Pt. 1”, Cole eulogizes his fiancee, and ultimately conveys what she means to him. The song is reminiscent of his much older love songs, such as “Dreams.” But orchestrally, it is very somber and deviates from the traditional hip hop sound, suggesting he has found new and authentic love. He further conveys his love for his fiancée in the song “Foldin’ Clothes,” in which he raps about the smaller things in life, such as folding clothes. In “She’s Mine, Pt. 2,” Cole sings of his new role as a father, and how precious his daughter is to him, questioning whether he is “worthy of this gift”.
Cole also illustrates the perspective of, presumptively, his fictional African American friend struggling with poverty, creating a harsh and callous mentality. This serves the purpose for his song, “Immortal,” which reverts to Cole’s usage of aggressive flow and rhymes, this time over an eerie beat, creating vivid imagery of crime, death, and drugs. He then proceeds to illustrate the callous mentality that develops as a result of such social pressures by affirming that “real” men do not break down or die from them, hence the title “Immortal.” In the outro of the song, Cole makes an insightful point from his own perspective. He remarks how so many are influenced to think that the only way to be successful is to play in the NBA, become a rapper, or deal drugs, thus restricting them from reaching their full potential. However, in his song, “Changes”, Cole provides a sense of hope and maturation for these problems.
The final song is “4 Your Eyez Only,” an emotional track with a duration of 8 minutes in which Cole reveals the purpose of the entire album. In the previous song, “Changes,” Cole reveals the name of his fictional African American friend, James Mcmillan Jr. In the majority of “4 Your Eyez Only”, Cole raps from the perspective of James, who is leaving an important message behind for his young daughter. In a pessimistic tone, he expresses how he “can’t visualize [himself] as nothing but a criminal,” and voices his premonition on how his harsh lifestyle with crime and drugs will result in his death. He also mentions how the cops have a presence in his neighborhood, which may be referencing police brutality in America. Through this verse, J. Cole reveals the true reality behind a life associated with crime, and how these lifestyles can emotionally affect men, regardless of how “real” or “immortal” they might seem. The last verse is told from Cole’s perspective, and he concludes that the album is a message left behind from James to his daughter. He finishes 4 Your Eyez Only by remarking that his father was a “real” man, not because he was involved with drugs and crime, but because of his passionate love for his daughter.
There are a few problems. The vague transitions between his perspective and James’ perspective is confusing. Throughout the album, Cole raps from James’ perspective, only to rap from his own a few lines later. His transitions are often abrupt, and it’s also difficult to distinguish them, considering both of them often talk about their daughters. This obfuscates the overall purpose and message Cole is trying to convey. Also, explicitly revealing the entire purpose of the album in an eight-minute song prevents his listeners from recognizing for themselves the album’s subtleties. Lastly, 4 Your Eyez Only is comprised of only ten songs. This may leave some fans unsatisfied, considering Cole was inactive for 2 years.
And yet, the album as a whole provides a comprehensible picture of social problems facing African Americans while revealing the positive changes in the singer’s life. Also, he finally deviates from the traditional hip-hop sound, which may please the fans who are eager for change. 4 Your Eyez Only proves itself to be a worthy album.