Written by Dorica Santos
On the second year anniversary of Forest Hill Drive, J Cole surprised fans with a new album, 4 Your Eyez Only, and of course we all went a bit crazy. It was like the feeling of your crush messaging you back after desperately waiting an age. Before the album drop, Cole released two tracks and a visual to get us in the mood: False Prophets, Everybody Dies and Eyez respectively.
The album is made up of ten tracks, which have a combination of soul, jazz and hip-hop that balances with Cole’s powerful and meaningful lyrics. The album ultimately tells the life of Cole’s late friend, James McMillan Jr, and how they had similar paths but one led to death. Cole discusses topics concerning race, death, life, family and most importantly, love.
Death is the main theme in the song, Immortally, where Cole quotes Tupac’s Real Niggaz Don’t Die, and highlights the issue of legends not being valued until they are gone. In the song he questions what it really means to live and how he doesn’t sometimes see the negative nor the positive things. In the last verse Cole doesn’t hold back to discuss racial issues and how the black community does not realise their true potential as they are limited to thinking that “dope, rap or go to NBA” is their only way to be successful.
Deja Vu is about love at first sight and the thoughts that that go through your mind when you meet the one. Unfortunately, the true value of the song was overshadowed by the drama of the backing being stolen from Bryson Tiller’s song, Exchange. There has been lots of back and forth tweets from producers Vinylz, Boi-1da and Foregin Teck, nonetheless as Cole’s producer, Vinylz, tweeted, “It ain’t about the money and placements, it’s the principle.” Slowly moving back to topic, in this romantic track Cole doesn’t forget what he wishes to achieve and states how the girl only “fuck with small town niggas, I got bigger dreams,” implying that he hopes the girl will see his potential and is willing to love him and grow with him as well as support him with his dreams.
Throughout the album, Cole refers to James and you can even hear a snippet of James’ young daughter, Nina, in Ville Mentality, speaking about the death of the her father and the relationship she has with her mother. We also come across another love song, She’s Mine pt 1 which Cole dedicates to his wife as well as Nina’s mother, letting them know what both men [Cole and McMillan] think of them and will always think of them no matter where they are.
Unlike most the songs heard earlier in the album, Change, has an upbeat tempo alongside the beautiful vocals of Ari Lennox. Cole describes his progression from a boy to a man and everything he went through. He lets listeners know that people have a bad past and it can shape who they are, however despite that, they can let the past not define whom they are, thus, “only change comes from inside.” Personally, the song reminds me of Love Yourz from FHS, where Cole constantly reminds listeners to stop letting everything around them define their happiness, because in reality only they can define their own happiness.
At the end of the song, the enlightening instrumental is contrasted with tragic death of McMillan Jr and a wave negativity slowly drifts in and leads you to the next track, Neighbours. Cole realises that despite his success and hard work, he is still finding trouble because of his race and background.
Now here comes the big surprise: Cole is a father. In She’s Mine pt 2, the same instrumental for She Mine’s pt 1 is used, however it is not dedicated to his wife, it is dedicated to his newborn daughter. Admittedly, Cole’s singing isn’t the best out there, yet there is a wholesomeness to it. Infact, Cole” Yet, in the bridge, Cole questions if he is worthy of his daughter, which I can’t help to flashback to Lost Ones, where Cole questions how he can bring a child into the world. Nonetheless, the song captures Cole’s new role as a father and ultimately a sense of freedom and happiness that he has been searching for most his life.
As someone who has listened to J Cole since 2008, it is refreshing to see how much he has evolved and I feel honoured that he has shared his life with us. Cole is a lyrical genius, who has taught us many valuable lessons about life and they way we should think. No, he hasn’t told us what to do, he has simply allowed us to listen to what he went through and its up to us what to make of it.
4 Your Eyez Only is a beautiful and heartfelt album that will make listeners wonder about the world we live in and what we want to do with our lives. I can’t honestly say how long it’ll be until Cole comes back, but I am confident that he will remain a legend in our eyes.
Listen to J Cole’s False Prophets here: