J. Cole – 4 Your Eyez Only
Released: 9 December 2016
In 2016, we saw Kendrick Lamar take on elements of jazz and funk on his untitled, unmastered compilation, Childish Gambino took on George Clinton and Parliament-styled psychedelic funk, and Drake tried his hand at merging Pop with Hip-Hop and Dancehall. Unlike many of his peers, J. Cole doesn’t take too many risks or stray too far from his boom-bap roots on 4YEO.
4 Your Eyez Only is a cozy offering from J. Cole. Listeners should feel at home as J. Cole performs a few familiar signature moves including carefree tracks such as “Foldin Clothes” along with some new flavor including a two-part piano and violin serenade in “She’s Mine“, reminiscent of Mac Miller on The Divine Feminine album from a few months earlier.
Since Born Sinner my main knock on J. Cole is that he should stop seeking to produce his entire album solo. I respect it from an artistic standpoint, but I think when critics repeat the oft-heard criticism that he’s boring, they’re referring to how comfortable he sounds on each song. This is in regards to Cole’s production and delivery. After a while his songs begin to sound very linear – and not in an “he’s in his pocket” type of way like when Thug is on a London beat or YG on a Mustard beat. But in a “this sounds too easy for him” type of way.
Another knock is that Cole needs features to break the monotony of the album. Hell, even singing features would help – Cole should not be singing some of the hooks and bridges on 4YEO, like the higher notes on “Ville Mentality” and “For Whom The Bell Tolls” I appreciate that he’s trying to make the album more personal by doing this, but his singing voice is not dynamic enough for this, yet. In contrast, the Ari Lennox feature on “Change” feels refreshingly colorful after nearly 8 full songs of Cole trucking it alone. And the Chargaux feature on the title track “4 Your Eyez Only” enhances the emotion on what is arguably the best song on the album.
It’s good that J. Cole released a shorter album for the above reasons, but I feel like this project would be better received if it were even shorter. Despite being only 44 minutes, it feels like this album has a lot of filler – in reality it doesn’t because most of the songs tie into the concept – but it feels like there’s a lot of filler. There are whole songs that can be cut out (“Deja Vu“) and parts of songs that can be cut out to improve the overall playability of the album. For example, the “finger in the sky” and “club jumping don’t stop” part of the hook on “Deja Vu” could be removed completely and the whole song would benefit. And the girl’s somber anecdote about her deceased father on “Ville Mentality” breaks the vibe and tempo of an otherwise buoyant ballad about Fayetteville street woes. The relaxed reflection and hazy keys on “Ville Mentality” reminds me of Kendrick Lamar’s “Chapter Six” off his Section.80 project.
There are definitely some great moments on this album, like the Kendrick Lamar Sing About Me-esque urgency and reflection on “4 Your Eyez Only” and Cole’s floaty syllables over the piano riff on “She’s Mine, Pt. 1“, but I’m not sure if there’s a song on this project that I can play all the way through without skipping a verse, a hook, a bridge, or even an outro. Even the bouncy and hopeful track “Change” is plagued with a tearful monologue during the song’s last minute that breaks the song’s tone into two. I’m inclined to fuck with Cole’s music more times than not and I think spiritually, I’m in tact with this album, but musically, this isn’t engaging me.
The shining moment on the album is “Neighbors” where Cole delivers his best Kendrick Lamar interpretation over smacking drums. On the hook, Cole evokes the infamous Hip-Hop paranoia of his white-collar neighbors thinking he sells drugs due to this money and influence. “Neighbors” transitions into the bass guitar-driven “Foldin Clothes“, a carefree sonnet that evokes the same tropic freedom that Cole’s 2011 hit “Can’t Get Enough” did.
I appreciate J. Cole speaking on realness such as police brutality, love, and disparate situations through storytelling, but musically, this project feels flat to me in a similar way that Views by Drake did; Cole sounds restrained. Which is ironic because this is a very open and lyrically free project.
I recommend 4 Your Eyez Only to all Cole supporters and fans of boom-bap. While the album doesn’t take too many chances in terms of sound and production, it reveals maturity from Cole as a writer, producer, and as a socio-politically aware African-American male, and father in 2016.
- I forget where the “neighbors think im sellin dope” phrase in Hip-Hop comes from but that was a pretty cool interpolation by Cole on “Neighbors“.
- It’s hard to listen to “Deja Vu” because it’s all over the place. The hook is weak and idc who had the instrumental first between Cole and Bryson Tiller, but Bryson Tiller’s version (“Exchange“) is the classic and it’s usually tough to create a more memorable song than the original classic.