Album Review: 4 Your Eyes Only
By Cynthia Dominguez, Clarion Staff
Jermaine Lamarr Cole, better known by his stage name J. Cole, released his fourth studio album 4 Your Eyes Only in December. The hip-hop album reached impressive positions on the charts, marking the achievement of Cole’s fourth number one album. The album contains songs reminiscent of Cole’s previous work containing intricate background vocals, captivating hooks, and striking lyrics.
Cole began writing lyrics and sharing his creations on Internet forums in his young teens, seeking a way into the hip-hop world. That work would eventually take him to Roc Nation where he was signed as a recording artist in 2009. J. Cole would go on to release four number one albums with two of his albums 2014 Forest Hills Drive and 4 Your Eyes Only reaching the milestone of number one album without any featured artist. 4 Your Eyes Only kept the familiar style identifiable with J. Cole while providing an intriguing narrative, making the album stand out from his previous works.
The album pulled J. Cole fans into researching theories to find the truth behind the main narrative of the album. The album begins with the melodic “For Whom the Bell Trolls” depicting J. Cole reaching out for answers regarding mortality, beginning the album with a juxtaposition of an exciting melody and melancholy lyrics. J. Cole continues this trend throughout the album, often following intensely honest verses with catchy hooks or grand, confident verses. The narrative continues with various time-jumps that depict the life of a character named James who lives a life of poverty, resorting to selling drugs before settling down and starting a family with his daughter whom the album is dedicated to. The character was revealed by representatives of J. Cole to have been a real friend of J. Cole, increasing the impact of the album for fans.
Cole takes the narrative of his late friend to truly demonstrate the complexity of a person’s life, channeling both outspoken and more intimate aspects of life with the confident song “Immortal” while taking a much softer approach with the middle song of the album “She’s Mine, Pt. 1”. The single of the album “Deja Vu” with less than charming lyrics, “I heard you got a man/But who in their right mind letting you out the house alone?” and repetitive instrumentation proves to be the low point of the album. The second half of the album delves almost completely into the struggles of racial profiling, police brutality, and poverty among African Americans. The highlight, a melody rich, dynamic “Change”, in which J. Cole touches on the common struggles among African Americans and later, in a break from the characterization of the narrative with the lyrics, “I’m in awe, after all the fame I felt/I evolved, I no longer bury demons/I be a vessel for the truth until I’m barely breathing/I’m singing.”
The impact of the album lyrically can be almost consistent among listeners with J. Cole’s in-your-face nature, making his message clear. With generally positive reactions, the lyrical content and album itself demonstrates J. Cole’s purpose for the album was not for praise or positive acceptance. J. Cole takes an evidently different approach with 4 Your Eyes Only with the outspoken and forthright depiction of common, often dismissed struggles of African American men and women, creating an extremely raw and emotional piece of music, standing out from other hip hop albums.