Monday, December 12, 2016

4 Your Eyez Only - J. Cole

While hip-hop is not the normal genre that I tend to review albums in, it is definitely a genre I enjoy and stay up to date on. Ever since my freshman year roommate introduced me to "Work Out", I've delved into J. Cole's albums and anticipated each new one with much enthusiasm. His last album, 2014 Forest Hills Drive, had some incredible stand out tracks; from the now overplayed "No Role Modelz" to the revealing and personal "Wet Dreamz", J. Cole created a album full of anthems and radio hits while still crafting great lines and thoughtful raps. 4 Your Eyez Only continues the same direction lyrically, but takes a different approach instrumentally. Subdued is an appropriate word, with the beats becoming much more of a background instead of a focal point and full of jazzy tones and instruments. J. Cole moves from the confidence and occasional swagger of his last album and into a place of passion, vulnerability, and sorrow. According to his producer, Elite, the lyrical content and focus is not necessarily J. Cole's own perspective, but of the people around him. It's important to note that, as he is not always rapping about his own struggles, but instead bringing to light the struggles of people whose voice might not necessarily be heard by such a wide audience.

Now, with all that in mind, the album takes a bit of an adjustment when listening to, especially after his last album. This isn't the type of record that you'll play to pump yourself up, but the type that works very well for late night drives and calm moments of solitude. In the wake of the type of year 2016 has been, this album is a great summary to the struggles of various peoples. From the corruption of the justice system to the hypocrisy and shallowness of the rap game, J. Cole offers great perspectives from within these communities. Stand out tracks like "Immortal", "Change",  and "Neighbors" all highlight issues that J. Cole excels at bringing the spotlight to with his storytelling skills. "Deja Vu" is both satirical and ironic, with a sample of Bryson Tiller's "Exchange" driving the track about a certain girl at the club, which seems to call out all the other rappers that use this sort of content to sell records while doing the same thing (the song is currently the most popular song of the album and on Apple Music overall). Songs like "She's Mine Pt 1& 2" and "Foldin Clothes" go a different route, focusing on the important people in J. Cole's life and how his love for others drives him to prioritize others and their needs above his own. The title track ends the album with an almost 9 minute long post-death monologue spoken to a daughter, although whether it's his own or a close friend is a bit hazy. Throughout the album, the number of shifts in perspectives and personas can become a bit confusing, requiring a few listens to be able to pick apart the different directions the album takes.

Overall, this album is not J. Cole's best, but it is a worth addition to his repertoire. The shifting of perspectives and taking on of different personas to relay their stories is both a strength and weakness of the album. It's both his most sincere and forced album yet, with his own voice becoming hard to discern amongst the adopted ones. The timing is great, with the issues addressed still being very relevant, from the Black Lives Matter movement to the issues of mass incarceration of African Americans. His jabs at other rappers, also highlighted in pre-album singles False Prophets and  Everybody Dies, are appreciated (at least by me), controversial (unsurprisingly), and hypocritical (at times). This album and the production direction reveals a lack of substance in a lot of the songs that are currently hits in the rap game (a sentiment I have expressed for a while now). This album may not produce the radio hits of his last one, but J. Cole retains his status as one of the best rappers of today and continues to stick to his values and ideals.

Overall Rating: 3.5/5

Recommended Tracks: "Change", "Immortal", "Neighbors", "Foldin Clothes".

Related Artists: Kendrick Lamar, Childish Gambino, Logic.