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REVIEW: J. COLE, ‘4 YOUR EYEZ ONLY’

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J. Cole
4 Your Eyez Only
Dreamville


Features forgone, Fayetteville’s Jermaine Cole returns to the hip-hop scene once more to spin his yarn. Similarly to 2014 Forest Hills Drive, Cole’s double-platinum 2014 release, 4 Your Eyez Only tells a story the length of the album. This time, though, his genius is less derived from the insane imagery his lyrics evoke. Well, actually, that’s still there. This is still J. Cole. But, he tells someone else’s story on Eyez. In doing so, he creates some of his most personal stories yet. At ten songs, Eyez dazzles with storytelling rivaling rap’s most iconic names.

“Click,” Eyez begins with the sound of a tape recorder. “I see the rain coming down,” Cole sings on “For Whom The Bell Toll.” Bells ring in the background, how appropriate. The album gets a charge with the tracks that follow. “Immortal” sees Cole harnessing that near-perfect ability to recount. The beat hits hard, something like “No Role Modelz,” but less so. Listen for the dollar and a dream line. Bryson Tiller’s “Exchange” gets a remix on the next song, “Deja Vu.” This one recalls the likes of “2 Citiez.” It gets docked a couple points for the Tiller origins, but make no mistake, Cole rebuilds this song from the ground up. “Ville Mentality” opens with more soulful notes for Cole. This is where the duality of Eyez becomes evident, thanks to some sound bites of a young girl venting about her absent father and critical mother. “She’s Mine Pt. 1” carries the same emotional gravity as its predecessor. “Tired of feeling low even when I’m high. Ain’t no way to live, do I wanna die?” The Carolina rapper’s skills for reflection gleam here.

Entering the last half of Eyez, “Change” introduces the tragedy of the album. Undertones of growth and adaptation are present. It isn’t until the end that our guide reveals his friend James, the second perspective from whom this story is told, died in a shooting soon after fathering a child. “Neighbors” is the only song to break from the central story arc on Eyez. It chronicles a recent experience in Cole’s life when his neighbors suspected him of selling drugs out of a North Carolina house. Really, he was using it as a studio. “Neighbors” doesn’t miss, but it also interrupts the narrative that J. Cole has so intimately delineated up to this point. Why? “Foldin Clothes” blurs the line slightly between James and Jermaine. From which perspective is this song sung? He sings about helping his pregnant wife. James or Jermaine, this is Cole singing what he knows: the conflict between the hardened, street-bred nature of himself and the loving counterpart his woman has nurtured. Public knowledge suggests J. Cole doesn’t have any kids, so the implication on “She’s Mine Pt. 2” is that we’ve stayed in the mindset of James. “She’s Mine Pts.1 & 2” are both love stories, the latter of which is dedicated to the protagonist’s daughter. It hits harder than “Pt. 1” only because of the way it compounds the album’s final act, “4 Your Eyez Only.” At almost nine minutes, the title track is the epilogue to the story of both James and Jermaine. In two halves, Cole finalizes each dialogue: one between himself and James, and the other between James and his daughter. It perfectly encompasses the album’s strength, which is Cole’s ability to tell two stories that are almost identical, if not for how they end. With one last “click,” the album dies.

On his fourth studio album, J. Cole deviates from his normal storytelling antics. He manages to sing and rap of his own tribulations, all the while seamlessly painting a portrait of his friend, James. Like always, every ounce of himself was poured into the album. Every song has some sort of production credit for Cole. Casual fans might want more chart-toppers like “No Role Modelz,” and “Power Trip,” but what’s offered here is something far more satisfying. For anyone without plans this holiday season, I suggest taking a trip to Dreamville.

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