After the huge success and accolades that came with Jermaine Cole previous album 2014 Forest Hills Drive, there was added anticipation for this album. If you haven’t read the review we did on his last album check it out here. J.Cole’s other previous works include The Warm Up, Born Sinner and Cole World:The Sideline Story. There was a documentary that was released on Tidal prior to 4 Your Eyes Only album releasing on December 9th that help gain insight to the direction of said album. This album was released on anniversary of the release of 2014 FHD which is an interesting choice, making me wonder if the albums will be similar. I will breakdown this album as normal track by track with a conclusion on the album as a whole.
“For Whom the Bell Tolls”
The name of the track gives insight or indication of a funeral setting developing a darker serious tone that engulfs you from the beginning. The first sound is a tape decks play button being pressed disclosing a nostalgic feel that some might not understand what that feeling represents. Thinking about a tape deck brings me back to my introduction to hip hop with Wu-Tang (The purple tape specifically) and Onxy, invoking wonderful memories of sitting with Steve (fake older cousin) when I lived in Boston. A crying horn as well as the core combined with the tone added to the lyrics confirms the theme as I initially thought. We know Cole is crying and in so much pain with no idea if or how he is going to get through it. Escalating even to the point of asking GOD to the contemplating of committing suicide. The penultimate line “The bell’s getting louder, louder” could symbolize him feeling death calling him or the death of someone making it hard to ignore. The addition of the violin helps tie in the end of the production. This is like an intro track because it is only a little over 2 mins.
A little more of tradition J. Cole production is heard here but still showing growth and attention to detail that is synonymous with his previous works. A riding quality to the deep bass line and the highs from the flute to balance the production. The whole concept of immortals that I took away is that he wants to make an imprint in the world in some regard. Such great Biggie, Pac and Phife have passed away but their names are used daily in conversations, some may regard that as being immortal. A line that caught my ear was “To Die a young legend/Or live a long life, unfulfilled/ ‘Cause you wanna change the world/ But while alive you never will” and it reminds me of a scene in the movie Troy where Achilles is talking to his mother about going to fight in the Trojan War. There are several sections of the production that has a female voice harmonizing that make that the spaciousness of the track seem even more open. Towards the end of the last verse J. Cole says “They tell a nigga sell dope, rap, or go to the NBA/ In that order” that foreshadows the mentality he discusses later on the album. The violins towards the ¾ mark illuminates a changing of feel engaging you even more as if saying really pay attention here is some knowledge. This is confirmed with the last word of “Listen”.
The beat might sound very familiar to any Bryson Tiller fans out there or those who heard “Exchange” or “My Boo”. There is some controversy around the production check out the Stay Woke! Podcast episode in which we discussed this very point. Once you get passed the production similarities you can hear Cole start off a little more aggressive with added confidence. The character not quite sure if it is Jermaine, a fictional character or someone he knows. The main character is lusting for a women that is already in a relationship. This track has a different drum pattern providing an environment that is less sexual and grittier in comparison to “Exchange” from TRAPSOUL Bryson Tillers album that is very good.
The keyboard is the core of the production and Cole is singing (not good) but fits the track and feel of crooning. The theme or concept is being stuck in the box and about living with the idea that your not going to make it passed 21 so you might as well go hard as you can with no regard. The little girl illuminating the killing of her father. J. Cole sings the chorus to a smooth jazz feeling production. The last line from the little girl carries the tone felt in the beginning.
“She’s Mine, Pt. 1”
This song is strictly dedicated to Jermaine’s wife and the immense amount of love he has for her. This is so personal and intimate which I found odd because he is a pretty private person. Jermaine gives us stories but usually at somewhat of an arm length distance on every other project until now. In this song he bares his soul to and for her with a brandished honest that many might shy away from. He is telling us that he is at a different stage in his life and that this is a more mature album.
Very hopefully and uplifting throughout the most of the song. The production allows for the positive environment with the sweet humming from the talented female vocals with a bass guitar as the backbone and the keyboard allowing for varied brighter spots. The message is positive in that change is possible and can be achieved through truly wanting to change within followed by putting in the work. The end of the tracks quickly becomes somber as he reveals that James was killed. James McMillan Jr. is the name that replaces a real person that was a friend of J. Cole who died at 22 from being shot.
The most trap like production on the entire album. J.Cole plays off the idea of stereotypes and generalization that society has and puts on certain people depending on several factors with one of the race. He elude to this idea on the documentary when his friends brought up a new stories regard a white teenager who killed a couple and ate part of one of their faces. The sheriff said that he was a good kid that just had a lot of issues which is fine. The point that Jermaine brings up is why not have that same thinking of giving the benefit of doubt for all people because we often see black men in particular very often viewed as a thug or in a negative light. Cole also plays on the word “Dope” as an indication of drugs but also something being good.
It is like J. Cole made a track as if he was David Ruffin. What I mean by that is a temptation vibe within the production that makes you want to dance, like really dance not twerk or grind. The strumming of the guitar develops the groove. He exudes that David Ruffin confident that is still so smooth. The first two verse are more about appreciating the real things that matter in life and that is being able to do normal things for the ones you love. This is not something new in an interview with Angie Martinez he stated this idea and how he came to the conclusion in 2014. In the last verse he still touches on this idea but branches out with the line “Niggas from the hood is the best actors/Gotta learn to speak in ways that’sunnatural/Just to make it through the job interviews” which come toward the end bring you into a different world then you felt for the first two verses.
“She’s Mine, Pt. 2”
On this track Cole shows so much vulnerability that we haven’t seen from him to this magnitude. The reason is due to the birth of his daughter. A portion of the production has his daughter cries, baby talk and ultrasound heartbeat that is symbolic in how much is intertwined and core of who he is a man. This instantly made me think of Prince’s song “Sex in the Summer” in which there was elements similar with the heartbeat.
“4 Your Eyez Only”
Story telling at highest level with a traditional hip hop production similar to several Nas tracks. The track is basically an open letter to Nina from her father James that has not only no longer here but was taken. Cole embodying James is breaking down life lessons and understandings that he would have passed down to Nina if he had the opportunity. The production is nice but subtle that allows for us to really focus on the content. Towards the end we learn that James requested Cole to record the track so his daughter could have a better understanding of her father and truly understand the love he had for her. This is a longer track running a little over 8 mins but doesn’t feel that way due to how enthralling the stories is. It is a nice way to end the track giving nostalgic hip hop production with a real story that is complementary to the tone set in the beginning provide a conclusion, a sad one but still a conclusion.
There has been mixed emotions surrounding this album 4 Your Eyez Only by J. Cole. I might be in the majority and think this is a very good well thought mature album that covers life and death as well as legacy. The production has a consistent level of quality and tone that gives a cohesive project tied together by James McMillian Jr story to his daughter. On his 2014 FHD album I stated that it had a high level of introspection and vulnerability which now has been vastly surpassed by 4YEO. I understand why some might have a hard time digesting this album because a point Effin Mattie on the Stay Woke! Podcast about this album stated “there is no turn up tracks”. For me a more laid back person that gravitates to darker moodier production this was perfect for me. This again is a mature conceptual album in the regard of the mentality of fatherhood and death reminiscent of 70-80’s albums that are intended to sit and listen. Hope you enjoyed the breakdown of J. Cole’s 4 Your Eyez Only album on thesonicbreakdown.com Let us know what you think in the comments below.