By Karina Gonzalez, Daniela Ramos, Mitchelle Aguilar
Dreamville Records founder and rapper J Cole has penetrated a rather new yet familiar form of artistry through his new album 4 Your Eyez Only.
The album, and all of its gloomy glory, is entirely different from his usual albums like: Cole World: The Sideline Story, Born Sinner and 2014 Forest Hills Drive. However, the content in this album is still J. Cole. In this piece, Cole creates a narrative meant for his most loyal fans.
The beats and messages in this album completely juxtapose the current new wave of rap music. This choice in authenticity may essentially drive away younger viewers who are at different point in their lives than those who can connect with the growth of J Cole and his music.
The narrative told in 4 Your Eyez Only, revolves the struggles and aspirations of a young black man as he grows and brings new life into the world. J Cole’s narrative technique to writing this album unconsciously created a conceptual album that, without being listened to cohesively, doesn’t tie together well alone.
A synopsis of each song in order:
For Whom the Bell Tolls: In the intro song of 4 Your Eyez Only, Cole introduces a character who’s battling the struggle of not belonging to someone or something. This character, who’s later introduced as James McMillan, is a reflection of the many young black men who also feel the same troubles. The title of this song is a form of foreshadow for death. Usually, bells toll for funerals.
Immortal: Further emphasizing the adolescent uncertainty felt in For Whom the Bell Tolls, “17 with a dollar and a dream” shows the hopefulness of youth in America. However, the rest of the song is a reflection of the meaning of death. “To die a young legend or live a long life,” is an inner struggle that young kids from the hood struggle with daily. Dying a young legend would, at least, allow for their voices to be heard but it is death so the thought is only relatively appealing.
Deja vu: Cole continues to follow the life of James McMillain as he falls for a woman whose beauty mesmerizes. The initial connection felt is almost incomparable. The story continues to describe the girl as someone who is not available but still willing. “She f*** with small town n*****, I got bigger dreams” shows how he is different from her boyfriend. “Is your house a home,” emphasizes the discomfort she feels in her own relationship. The echo voice in the song goes on to encourage the speaker to make his move and get the “promised land.”
Vile mentality: In this song, James is talking to J Cole as he expresses the fear that he will soon die. “Won’t be long before I disappear,” opens up a whole new mood for the entire album. The echo voice here is that of an older version of James’ daughter. She is having a conversation with someone about how she didn’t go to her father’s funeral and throws it in her mother’s face when she is punished. “I wish my dad was here,” ends the song and leaves us with an understanding of James’ daughter’s feelings.
She’s Mine Pt. 1: Cole highlights the joy’s of parenting and love when he describes James’ first encounter with his daughter. “I never felt so alive,” distinctively reflects how proud parents feels to see their child. “I don’t wanna die ‘cause now you’re here and I want to be right by your side,” introduces a shift in the main character’s ideals on life after meeting the love of his life (his daughter) for the first time.
Change: “Growing and getting older everyday,” reflects on the growth both J Cole and James felt. “To see a million before I see a casket” ties back to the Immortal where he wad “17 with a dollar and a dream.” Cole’s aspirations have now gotten bigger after the fame. He’s grown and he’s proud that regardless of how big the change was he remained true to his humble beginnings. The echo is this song, however, first introduces the death of James at 22. “22 year old black male, suspect,” shows a parallel of James’ lifes to Cole’s, they both came from the same place and took two different paths. His intuition that there will be “better days” is completely shot down in this part of the book.
Neighbors: “16 should have came with a coffin” infers that most young black men are killed or die at the hands of the hood. In the song, Cole talks about how he’s moved away from the hood but his new neighbors think he’s selling drugs in order to afford his home. This song is a reflection of the institutionalized prejudice America has against minority men who can’t be seen making it without doing something illegal.
Folding Clothes: This song goes back to the love story introduced in Deja Vu, he is happy because he has finally found a girl he loves who he just wants to “fold clothes for” and be decent for. This is another sign of maturity in the album that expresses how J Cole feels that “the right things feel so much better than the wrong things”
She’s Mine Pt. 2: This development of part one just further describes the love James’ feels for his daughter. Cole also goes on to make a commentary on the way big corporations feed off the poor and other social issues that have erupted.
4 your eyez only: The final song on the album, also the song with the most lyrical thought, serves as a closing made by Cole and the character of James. As James says goodbye to his daughter through the song, Cole promised that he will keep hold of it until it was absolutely needed for her eyes only. Since James has died, the album has been able to be reopened and used to show his daughter that no matter what his father loved her more than he had ever loved anything else.