Album Review: 4 Your Eyez Only

James Santoro, Staff Writer

In his highly anticipated 2016 release, J. Cole brings his trademark authenticity and passion to a far more poignant album with 4 Your Eyez Only. Unlike his albums of the past, Cole compiled this work as an extended story about the injustice African Americans face in modern society.  Clearly, this album is charged with frustration and anger, but Cole expertly balances such rough realism with romantic songs like “She’s Mine Part 1” and “Deja Vu”. These songs include an unprecedented combination of legitimate vocals with rhythm and true rap; many of the interchanges bear striking resemblance to some of Drake’s hit songs.

The incredible thing about J. Cole is that he manages to remain so refreshingly genuine in all of his work while still maintaining the pure rhythm and beats of traditional rap. In the final song on the album, and in my opinion the overall best, “4 Your Eyez Only” (which bears the same name as the album title), Cole takes the listener on an eight minute journey through his entire life. He begins with his difficult beginnings in the projects, transitioning to his father’s death through drug violence and his difficulties in escaping that world. Every line speaks such stunning truth as he acknowledges his own shortcomings and provides advice for future generations. At times, he sacrifices the perfect rhyme in order to solidify his message; he tells a heart-wrenching story, and the beat simply serves as his medium.

The song entitled “Change” employs an innovative new technique that J. Cole pioneers in this album. Towards the end of the song, Cole plays the same beat with a slightly slower tempo and adds dialogue of a priest giving opening remarks at a teenager’s funeral. While Cole himself speaks the dialogue, he mimics a priest perfectly, at one point begging the people in the community to change their violent ways. He later uses this technique in “Immortal”, where he plays a recording of a child talking about the loss of her father. Every time I hear it, I think about the racial divide in our country, and about the cyclical poverty and violent culture that plague lower-income communities. This is the true purpose of art. With every word, every line, every beat, every song, J. Cole expresses his message and inspires people to reflect.

At first, listen to this album for Cole’s melodiously raspy voice and for his phenomenal ability to alternate between tempos, beats, and styles. Enjoy his variety and his unparalleled ability to make the most meaningless phrases seem moving. But then, listen to his words. Listen to his pain and his frustration and his desperation. Listen to the struggle of thousands of people in the projects across the United States and the agonizing cries of newly fatherless children.

Hear his plea to the world.