Album Review: J. Cole, ‘4 Your Eyez Only’

Written by Angelo Gingerelli

Two years ago J. Cole released an album with no lead single, no promotional campaign, no songs aimed at radio/clubs and no guest appearances that promptly “went platinum with no features” and was immediately placed in the conversation for best rap album of the decade. While the impact and quality of 2014 Forest Hills Dr. is undeniable, the question remains…can he do it again?

4 Your Eyez Only follows the same blueprint as 2014 Forest Hills Dr. with a short track list, no guest verses, no obvious hit songs and almost no promotion leading up to its’ release. While this is a refreshing approach for launching an album, it somewhat works against Eyez… because it forces listeners to automatically compare it to J. Cole’s last classic collection, and while this album is absolutely worth your time, it doesn’t quite live up to his last effort.

Lyrically and thematically, J. Cole continues to be a trendsetter with his “everyman” persona and ability to convey complicated messages without being overly complicated or confusing in his verses. This is best displayed on tracks like “Déjà vu” “Ville Mentality” and “Change” that all deal with subject matter not often heard in commercial Hip-Hop. The project’s one shortcoming is the production, whereas J. Cole’s past projects had a variety of soundscapes (club, street, one-for-the-ladies, etc.), all of the beats here are melodic and contemplative. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, there’s no high-powered tracks like “Fire Squad” or “G.O.M.D.” to break up the monotony or give the album a needed shot of adrenaline.

4 Your Eyez Only also represents a huge leap in maturity for J. Cole. Where his last project had tracks about losing his virginity (“Wet Dreamz”) Eyez… has songs about being in a committed relationship (“She’s Mine Parts 1 & 2” and “Foldin’ Clothes”…Yes, three songs about the same thing on a ten track album is excessive). And songs focusing on his own teenage struggles like “’03 Adolescence” have been replaced by the title track that acts as a message to his daughter in case he’s unable to see her grow up.

Where this album fits in J. Cole’s impressive catalog is hard to say, but with the two year lifespan of 2014 Forrest Hills Drive (it’s songs are still in heavy rotation at radio), it would be a mistake to classify it as a triumph or failure until fans have time to digest the project. Also, this album sees J. Cole fully mature into a man in a way only a few rap artists (Nas, Jay-Z) have been able to do successfully and while this seems like a massive departure from the adolescent themes on his last release, when listened to in the context of his entire catalog is actually plays out as a Quentin Tarrentino-like biography where all the chapters are present, but are told in a more compelling order than a linear story. His classic mixtape Friday Night Lights told the story of Cole’s come-up in the rap game, his first two major releases Cole World: The Sideline Story and Born Sinner showed him celebrating the “Rap Life,” his next release 2014 Forrest Hills Drive went back in time to his teenage years and showed the events and circumstances that shaped one of the best MC’s of the decade and this latest release fast forwards to an artist at the absolute top of his game that is confident in his position and has shifted his focus from making hits to making timeless music, being a good family man and becoming a role model.

While 4 Your Eyez Only may not have the immediate impact of 2014 Forrest Hills Dr. it is a great record and shows the continued evolution of one of this generation’s most talented, fearless and innovative artists.

Best Songs: “Immortal,” “Neighbors,” “4 Your Eyez Only”
Perfect For: Your Headphones
Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Angelo Gingerelli has been contributing to The Pop Break since 2015 and writing about pop culture since 2009. A Jersey shore native, Gingerelli is a writer, stand-up comic, hip-hop head, sneaker enthusiast, comic book fan, husband, father and supporter of the local arts scene. He likes debating the best rappers of all time, hates discussing why things were better in the “Good Ol’ Days” and loves beating The Pop Break staff at fantasy football. You can catch up with Angelo on Twitter/IG at @Mr5thRound, at his website or interviewing rising stars in NJ’s Hip-Hop scene on “The A&R Podcast” (iTunes/SoundCloud).