Powerful and Influential is the two words I’d use to describe the J Cole’s newest offering “4 Your Eyes Only”. It’s been a matter of days since one of the most anticipated albums of the year was released.
In each of Coles efforts: “Cole World” (2011), “Born Sinner” (2013), “Forest Hills” (2014). We’ve seen and felt J’s evolution. He unapologetically expresses the pitfalls and his distaste for fame and celebrity. His core fans will swallow this whole and others will be confused and frustrated with his realness.
Parallels will inevitably be drawn with Kendrick Lamar as his opener “For Whom The Bells Tolls” is a crescendo of stoked up frustration and angst. This is J before he got on the road to success as he expresses doubt, worry and trepidation of his current situation. As he sings “I see rain, pouring down, before my very eyes, I see as no surprise”. He’s supported by a brilliant array live instruments that complement his raw soul.
Cole’s able to get into the skin of the people on this earth who really are up against it. The hopeless inner city dweller who has very little option but a life of crime. In “Immortal” he far from glamorises the fast life that some live. The black American experience is captured unsparingly as he raps” Have you ever seen a fiend cook crack on a spoon, Have you ever seen a N****** that was black on the moon, have you ever seen your brother go to prison as he cried, Have you a mother fucking ribbon in the sky, No”. A menacing 808 with a haunting minimalistic vocals works with him impressively on this.
J Cole, is starting to develop this wonderful gift of capturing two different songs in one as displayed on “Déjà vu”. During the rap verse he articulates his larger focus as he muses about a hot lady who’s caught his eye who happens to be with one dimensional man. It’s all clever and suave as he captures the essence meeting that special woman. When the chorus kicks in we get into the club banger territory. Cole, turns aggressively raucous and gruff as he sing “Club jumping don’t stop, Off top but you know we only go to two clock, put your mother fucking hood up”. Brilliantly capturing the scene where these two souls meet. Cole, is clever with this one. The vocals that play throughout are lifted from the 1998 smash from KP & Envi’s, genre bending “ Swing My Way (1998)”.
A peaceful jazz riff brings in “Vile Mentality” which is in stark contrast to the mood that Cole embodies with his melodic references. He talks on the trials and tribulations of this modern world. The trust issues that arise from being a successful rapper. Cole, is so honest with his portrayals of fleeting fame and how it could all be over tomorrow. The master stroke is Cole letting the track breathe whilst allowing what sounds like a girl no older than 10 who talks emotionally about her father being locked up.
“She’s Mine Pt. 1” finds Cole as open as he’s ever been emotionally as he sings his opening line “I never felt so alive”. It’s a love song that takes on an extra depth just because it’s a rapper. The topic of love scares 99% of rappers to death. Not, Cole as he gets into meat of it as he talks about honest, trust & longevity in his relationship. Another Jazz enthused arrangement fits Cole’s delivery like a glove.
“My intuition is telling me there be better days” Is how ‘Change’ kicks off. The track has that uplifting spiritual summer production quality. An unnamed female vocalist at this time really seasons the joint with those soulful echoes of days gone by. This is J Cole at his narrative best as he depicts the struggle to fly mentally and achieve those dreams when you haven’t been given the platform as some more privileged folk. “I know your desperate for a change let the pen glide, but the only real change comes from inside”. Just different gravy as Cole captures your soul on for over 5 minutes. The track closes with another black man slain captured by in a news account.
“Neighbors” is soaked in irony as Cole, talks us through a new home he’s purchased in a nice suburb with the purpose of making it a refuge for budding creatives. Unfortunately, as the chorus chimes “I think the neighbours think I’m selling dope”. Again bringing to the fore the question of stereo typing and racial profiling. Cole, paints a clear outline of the fact that even when you’re a successful artist your colour can still be a negative factor. Bass heavy but with enough layers, this reflective sparse production gives Cole, the space to just breathe on it.
Simplicity is genius, Cole had a massive creative burst when he came up with “Foldin Clothes”. The action is turned into a symbol of love and intention. This soulful upbeat beauty has Cole giving us positive imagery of relationships. From Netflix and chill to sharing breakfast on a bright morning. It’s a bright hopeful moment on an album filled with the somewhat bleak experience of the world as Cole has felt it.
The compositions on ‘She’s Mine Pt 2’ are detailed and open you for the real feeling Cole conveys with the depth of his emotion. The live instrumentation are exquisite and allows Cole to get into the meat and bones of the love he’s lucky to have found in his daughter. Cole even finds the space within the track speak on mass incarceration and also stick it to the all-encompassing corporations for their sheer greed. You feel Cole’s found a unique niche on this song as he simply does his thing which can’t really be classified or categorised.
Session musicians are again to the fore on the final cut on the album ‘4 Your Eyez Only’. Cole’s personality shines superbly as his narrative qualities are there for you to see and hear. In this track we find him chronicling the black American experience from many different angles and perspectives. Touching in his portrayal of a person who has left prison and is unable to move on due to his past. Even more visually stunning is when Cole places himself in the shoes of a good friend and speaks direct to himself describing the life of crime he’s been leading that will soon probably find himself in prison. He asks Cole to get an important message to his daughter if he dies. Just different class the boy is right up there amongst the best.
DISTRACT RATING: 9 / 10
Editor: Adrian Richard