With J. Cole’s previous album Forest Hills Drive: 2014 racking up the charts and being the first album/artist to hit platinum/double platinum in over 25 years without any features, there had been some giant steps to fill with for the rapper’s newest album. With the release of 4 Your Eyez Only Cole world fans are introduced to a different type of Cole of sorts, a more serious Cole. Many fans anticipated an album filled with high tempo songs, and songs that allow them to get “hyped” too such as his album 2 years prior. Instead fans were given a 10 track, more melodic, some-what slow paced Cole. Once again with no features, the Fayetteville native rapper focuses more on the lyrics rather than the beats. With most of the album being filled with jazz tempos, slow, mellow beats which is something that seems to be lacking in the hip-hop world, and some high tempo beats, Jermaine can emphasize more on his words and their meanings without any beats overpowering his voice in this narrative album.
Many fans try to argue that Cole’s album is boring and too slow paced, that it isn’t anything like his last one due to the lack of his deep bass beats. However, others argue back that this isn’t the point that Cole is trying to make. The reason as to why Jermaine’s album lacks the heavy bass beats is because it is meant as a narrative album. Cole’s album tells the story of an black man as he goes through different stages and situations in his life, some say that the album is about Cole’s friend James who died while other say that in a way it is about Cole as well due to the parallels with both of their experiences. Listeners aren’t truly aware of the exact information until they get to the very last track on the album titled, “4 Your Eyez Only.” Listeners are taken on a journey of hopelessness, struggles, first loves, death, and much more.
The album starts off with the track For Whom the Bell Tolls which begins the story which the narrator saying that he can see the rain pouring down on him as he asks God what he’s supposed to do when he no longer feels like he should live on. The main thought that comes out of the chorus is that he isn’t sure of how he is supposed to live this life that he’s living but at the same time he isn’t sure if he truly wants to die. The song gives way to the second track of the album, Immortals.
“Immortals” takes the listener into the narrator’s childhood and what he went through living a life of dealing drugs having to handle coping with death at such a young age. “Immortals” is the first track off the album that gives listeners some heavy beats to go with his rapping. The track starts off with talking about at seventeen he’s had to handle things that many people shouldn’t know such has hearing the screams of people dying & keeping a constant eye out for cops. With the hook of the album having the line “real n***as don’t lie, form at the plot,” the narrator is trying to say that the people who are killed by the streets aren’t dead in the eyes and hearts of their loved ones. They will always remember him for what he did in the hood community.
With “Déjà vu,” “She’s Mine Pt.1,” and “She’s Mine Pt.2” we get a glimpse at Cole rapping/singing about what it’s like to fall in love as he enters adulthood. In Déjà Vu, we see Cole meeting a girl and we see that he becomes infatuated with her right away and is upset when she is introduced as his friends significant other. Cole raps about how he isn’t sure if he believes in love at first sight but that when he sees her, he feels as if he’s loved her before he even knew her but at the same time he feels as if he’s stuck in some dream. As the song progresses, Jermaine raps that he can see that this woman is willing to leave her guy for him but he tells her that even though he knows that she’s perfect for him that he doesn’t want her to wait for him while he is still trying to attempt his “Dollar and a Dream.” In She’s Mine Pt.1 Cole gives us another slow beat as he talks about how he’s finally found love and he retracts his earlier statement about wanting to die because he now has something to live for. Cole sings about how alive she makes him feel and how he believes her when she says that she’ll be there for him and that she loves him. He doesn’t want her to ever let him go. With She’s Mine Pt.2 we’re given the same beat in a way but the sound of an infant’s cry is added in the background. Listeners find out that the narrator has had a child and she is now the second thing he ever thinks about/cares about. With this child, the narrator has another reason to stay alive because he has someone who needs him and wants him. As he sings about his daughter being the reason he now fights in the world, he starts question if he is worthy enough of her, if he is strong enough for her. In verse two, Cole switches the lines originally sung in She’s Mine pt.1. He puts “(She’s mine) don’t you, catch me. I’ve fallen in love for the first time.” He’s saying that he doesn’t want anyone to catch him as he falls in love for the very first time again with his newborn, instead he wants to be engulfed by this paternal side.
Ville Mentality is the track that listeners begin to question who this album is truly about due to the young girl’s vocal narration in the interlude as she says that her father died because his friends set him up and she wasn’t allowed to go to his funeral. This track tells the listener that Cole is tired of having to constantly have this “hood” mentality of having to ‘kill-or-be-killed.’ The first verse is soft as Cole raps about constantly being hit up when people want something from him and that soon he’s just going to escape & start a new life with his family. In the second verse, his voice hardens as he states that he’s never going to get played or give up his pride, show pain or have anyone speak ill of his name.
Change is the track that finally introduces us to Cole’s friend James McMillan who has died in a shooting. He’s tell us about his changes that he had gone through while growing up into the man he is today. He speaks about in all the darkness he’s gone through that the intuition he has within him and the belief that he has in God are what gets him through the days, which leads him to believe that there are better days ahead. The hook of the song states that even know they want to change that the only change that is true is the change that occurs on the inside of your soul. As the song goes into the fourth verse, Cole goes into detail about the sounds of guns going off and a body hitting the floor only to realize that the body had been that of his friend 22-year-old James McMillan jr. The outro of the song is Cole giving what sounds like a eulogy for James as he speaks about how there’s another tragedy in this black community and that they as a group need to do better to make sure that this doesn’t happen to anyone else again.
Neighbors may be the only song off the album that is about Cole himself. It tells the story about the house he has back home in North Carolina was used for his production team telling how his neighbors called the swat team on his house because they thought that he was growing/selling dope, i.e., weed. Cole states that his neighbors believe him to be selling dope because of the giant backyard, the constant number of uber cars to pick up and drop off his friends, and due to all his friends constantly standing outside in the front yard smoking cigars filled with weed. The song stays at a slow tempo until it reaches the chorus that states, “I guess the neighbors think I’m selling dope,” and ends with Cole stating that he is as the dope is his music. Cole states that no matter what happens that for right now he will always live in a prejudiced world, and with this he ends the track stating that he’s moving back to the Southside. Even though he says this now, in the title-track he states that he is having second doubts about his original thoughts about segregation because if it wasn’t for that then his father would have never met his white mother.
Folding Clothes starts off with a nice easy going beat that leads into the hook of the song, “I want to fold clothes for you, I want to make you feel good.” Many question Cole’s artistry with this song because what the song is basically Cole singing about he just wants to help his girl lessen her work load and making her feel better by folding clothes for her. While many other rappers talk about making their girls feel good by sexually pleasing them or buying them expensive things, Cole talks about making his girl feel good in a way that is respectful to her. Cole just wants to show that he loves his girl and that he wants to do the right thing for her even if that means folding clothes for her, sitting at home watching Netflix, & drinking almond milk. He says that it’s the simple things that matter, the simple things that say “I love you.” This song shows how Cole differs from many other hip-hop artist today.
The last song on the album, which happens to be the title-track, is the song that ties the entire album together and explains any questions that listeners had. The album is meant as an afterlife message to the newborn daughter of Cole and retells the life and memories of his deceased friend James McMillan jr for McMillan’s daughter. The album starts off by telling the story of his friend who fell into the worlds temptations and how he attempted to stay on the right path to live a good life. In the first few verses of the song, Cole starts rapping from McMillan’s perspective for his daughter going into the last verse as he speaks form his own point of view and includes dialogue between himself and McMillan. The dialogue reveals that the entire album is about McMillan’s life instead of his own even though there are some parallels between Cole and McMillan’s lives. The dialogue between the two reveal that the album is meant for his eyes his right now and for his daughters, but he was still unable to get out of the ville mentality. He tells McMillan’s daughter that, he wasn’t a real one because he was cold or lived a life of crime, he states that he was a real one he because he loved her.
4 Your Eyez Only was not meant to be a “hype” mainstream album. It was meant to be a narrative album that tells the story of Cole’s friend. It is meant to be taken seriously and to be listened to closely to get the messages that are shown throughout the album. It tells the story of a man feeling hopeless, falling in love, changing oneself from a different point of view. Many people won’t care for the album since it is not what they are used to listening to today because it lacks the deep bass beats and mainstream lyrics that the hip-hop world is surrounded by. Cole showed the world that there’s more to hip-hop than just constant misunderstood rapping, he showed us that there is still hope for real music.