After making an announcement via social media December 1st coming off the success of his last effort, the critically acclaimed, double platinum-certified 2014 Forest Hills Drive, and two years exactly to the date nonetheless, J. Cole has released his highly anticipated 4th studio album 4 Your Eyez Only. Once again, this time around Cole has opted to make his album a solo endeavor, with absolutely no guest features or appearances throughout the album’s 10 track entirety. A rarity and a welcomed break from the norm, given today’s Hip-Hop scene where albums are often overrun by featured guests and performers.
Breaking away from 2014 Forest Hills Drive, 4 Your Eyez Only is a decidedly quieter, much more introspective and intimate journey than its highly acclaimed predecessor. This time around here, Cole takes a conceptual approach to the album, supposedly performing through the perspective of a friend who was killed in streets, where Cole lives on to share his friend’s life and story to his daughter 4 her eyes only. At just a mere 10 tracks in length, Cole wastes no time diving straight into the album as he explores subject matter ranging from prejudice and systematic racism in U.S. society, Intra-communal violence and even the experiences of adapting to married life and becoming a father amongst others. In contrast to 2014 Forest Hills Drive, 4 Your Eyez Only draws much of its power and resonance from its intimacy and sincerity which go hand in hand with the album’s low key but emotionally riveting production. The lions share of the album’s production, respectively is provided mostly by J. Cole himself but also assisted by the likes of Boi-1da, Cardiac, Elite, Frank Dukes, Ron Gilmore, and Vinylz as well, on select tracks. That being said, even though a variety of producers assisted in the production of specific songs, 4 Your Eyez Only is a concise, cohesive work and doesn’t fall victim to sounding like a glorified mixtape, which many albums on the shorter end of the spectrum in terms of length tend to do.
Some fans and listeners have critiqued Cole for the album’s brevity and lack of any guest appearances whatsoever, and the fact that “Everybody Dies and “False Prophets” which came out prior to the album’s release is noticeably absent. However this being said, one has to give J. Cole respect where respect is due. Dropping not one, but two major studio albums over the course of two years with absolutely no features is an unprecedented rarity, and a bold, potentially risky artistic position for an artist to take in today’s current Hip-Hop scene largely built around hype and novelty. In a moment in time, where seemingly every emcee has practically every flavor of the month, here-today-gone-tomorrow cross over pop artist and run-of-the-mill mumble rapper under the sun featured on their album; J. Cole dares drop the cacophony that more often than not embodies a majority of today’s modern Hip-Hop production and takes listeners on an intimate and emotional journey reflective of his own life and experiences that most performers are unwilling to dive into or divulge to their audiences. Indeed, 4 Your Eyez Only is a more laid back, quieter offering in stark contrast to the overproduced noise that largely dominated the airwaves today and begs for repeat listens from fans and music lovers alike.
At a length of just under a mere 43 minutes 4 Your Eyez Only is a brief, but, an immensely satisfying, honest exploration into the life of a man which parallels the actual growth and evolution of Cole himself. Despite its short run time, 4 Your Eyez Only is a calculated, meticulously plotted project devoid of any filler and intent on making sure every song hits its intended target, with each track telling a specific piece of a story like chapters in a biography. The warm and at times, jazzy production with warm Rhodes keys, smooth trumpets and grand string arrangements showcased throughout much of the album has a somber yet inviting sound to it that not only welcomes the listener to become invested in the story that Cole has to tell but beautifully compliments Cole’s razor-sharp lyricism which seemingly knows no bounds and only seems to get better with each release.
With albums like 4 Your Eyez Only as proof, it’s no surprise that veterans and legends in the industry such as A Tribe Called Quest have cited artist like J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar and Joey BadA$$ by name as the torchbearers and leaders of a new generation of socially aware, enlightened, uplifting and introspective Hip-Hop. Over the past several years J.Cole has grown as an emcee and an individual as well which is proudly displayed front and center here on this album. If 4 Your Eyez Only is any indication, there’s a good chance we will continue to get top-notch, quality music from J. Cole for many years to come.
4 Your Eyez Only available now in stores everywhere and to stream on Tidal, Spotify, Apple Music & iTunes.