Release Date: Dec 9, 2016
Record label: Dreamville
Genre(s): Rap, R&B
God, 4 Your Eyez Only is good.It's like a chef serving up something simple, a plateful of tomatoes, basil and buffalo mozzarella, perhaps — only the tomatoes are heirloom, the mozzarella is just the right amount of creamy and the whole dish just makes you feel generally better about life. 4 Your Eyez Only is ten tracks, no features and perfect ingredients. It's simple, confident, assured — even if the man making it goes out of his way to paint himself as conflicted and confused.Because the album is about confusion.
4 Your Eyez Only was previewed by a 40-minute documentary, filmed at the Electric Lady Studios in New York during the album recording sessions, which provides some insight into the creative process behind the record. It presents Jermaine Cole as a humble, grounded man, inquisitive in nature, grateful for his success and invested in making positive change. This suggests why so many fans have taken to him so keenly, particularly in a genre famed for its larger than life characters and bravado.
J. Cole's fourth album arrived exactly two years after 2014 Forest Hills Drive. Released on short notice and with minimal hype, it's another one without guest verses, and his leanest yet. Told in the first person, most of its tracks trace the life trajectory of Cole's slain friend, as someone who dealt drugs, changed course after falling in love, and died at the age of 22.
Initially a bright-eyed kid with dreams of being celebrated amongst Hip Hop’s elite, J. Cole claimed a double platinum certification for his last release 2014 Forest Hills Drive, thanks to the RIAA’s updated streaming metrics (and fans’ heavily vested interest). Having built a reputation for remaining quiet and off the grid until he’s prepared to speak through music, Cole’s recent 40-minute documentary served as an appetizer for his subsequent fourth LP, 4 Your Eyez Only.
Given how rare a commodity maturity so often proves in the world of hip hop, J. Cole is to be commended for coming so far so quickly. Back in 2010, on his breakout mixtape Friday Night Lights, he demonstrated immense promise, but did so imbued with no shortage of the archetypal cockiness that's part and parcel of being a young rapper; he swiftly claimed a place in the same bracket as Nas with “Villematic”, and channeled the willy-waving of his hero’s “Hate Me Now” on “Blow Up”.
The amount of pressure J. Cole presumably felt to craft a powerful follow-up to 2014’s double platinum Forest Hills Drive must have been palatable. The 31-year-old Frankfurt, Germany-born, North Carolina-based artist often comes heralded as one of his generation’s most prolific lyricists, and more times than not he delivers. On his concise new album, 4 Your Eyez Only, a 10-track reprieve from the recent trend of ridiculously bloated hip-hop releases, Cole paints a narrative from the perspective of an entirely different person, a formula he adheres to for the majority of the project.
Some time this March, a SWAT team descended on a home in a wooded, well-to-do North Carolina suburb. According to the producer Elite, helicopters vultured overhead as armed officers broke down the front door and raided the house, presumably acting on a tip from a neighbor who believed the occupants were manufacturing or selling drugs. There was no one home; masked and bulletproof-vested men kept pouring inside.
Some rappers shoot for the charts, but J. Cole has always shot for the pantheon; he wants to make records that will last forever, to be remembered as a visionary genius way ahead of the curve. “Immortal,” the second song on 4 Your Eyez Only, encapsulates his ambitions as he sees them: “To die a young legend or live a life unfulfilled.” Granted, the song's narrative is more about slinging drugs than laying bars, but it's hard not to hear it as a statement of purpose, a formal encapsulation of Cole's focused self-mythologizing.
J Cole doesn’t really want to be famous any more. This is, after all, the same rapper who once wrote: “I’m knee-deep in the game and it ain’t what I thought. ” More recently, though, he’s flirted with the idea of withdrawing from the public eye completely.
Each of J. Cole’s three major label albums to date has gone platinum, but as his online defenders will never fail to remind you, the most recent one, “2014 Forest Hills Drive,” went “platinum with no features” — that is, with no other big-name guests. The phrase became a rallying cry and eventually a meme. The subtext was that Mr.
J. Cole had a hell of a task on his hands while creating the follow-up to 2014 Forest Hills Drive. His first two albums, Cole World: The Sideline Story and Born Sinner, had plenty of good about them but not everything hit the mark. That was especially evident in his attempts at making radio singles, which wasn’t Cole’s strong suit.
The title of J. Cole’s fourth album seemingly nods to 2Pac’s fourth album, All Eyez On Me. Another commonality: both albums were released as each artist attained a new height of fame – 4 Your Eyez Only had the year’s third-biggest debut week album sales – but whereas celebrated storyteller 2Pac reveled in the spoils of fame with California Love, the North Carolina rapper focuses on working class woe.