J. Cole's Gift 4 Your Eyes Only
It's been two years since we've last heard from Jermaine Cole. Aside from being spotted at a few protests & a documentary that surprisingly popped up on Tidal last week, J. Cole has been relatively hidden from public eye; not too much of a surprise, however, as Jermaine did mention that after the release of 2014 Forest Hills Drive, he was planning to take a hiatus from music. Rumors of a secret wedding with his longtime girlfriend randomly popped up on social media but Jermaine wisely didn't add fuel to those fires. Throughout all of their careers, this is how the Dreamville machine has always operated. They would much rather let the music do the talking. But only when it was the right time, and, for Cole, that moment is now.
4 Your Eyez Only opens with a hauntingly titled intro track, For Whom the Bell Tolls that finds Cole “searching and praying and hoping for something,” but unsure of what exactly. A perfectly produced introspective track engulfs Cole’s voice in the record, just as the bell is that he’s rapping about. “I have no one, I’m lonely, my bridges have burned, Lord. The bells getting loud, ain’t nowhere to hide, got nowhere to go…” sounds as if Cole is searching for the very thing that he’s also running from, a feeling some of us can relate to when we’ve recognized what our destiny is but are still afraid of seeing it come to fruition.
Cole doesn’t let the feeling last long, though, as Immortal quickly changes gears and focuses his bittersweet thoughts on the friends and familiar faces that have fallen along the way of Cole’s success but are still very much with him on his journey. All the while, Cole acknowledges that he might not have the impact he’s hoping to have as long as he’s alive and well on this planet. “To die a young legend or live a long life unfulfilled. Cause you want to change the world but while alive you never will…” even taking a page from his mentor’s book, “Cause they only feel you after you gone, or I’ve been told.” Immortal also finds Cole reflecting on recent thoughts about death; not in a suicidal type of way, but with the events that have unfolded throughout 2015 and 2016, death is a thought that many people feel is potentially one decision away.
Déjà Vu may sound familiar to some as it contains the same sample that can be heard in Bryson Tiller’s hit Exchange but dives into different subject matter. Much like a few other songs in Cole’s catalog, Déjà Vu finds him imagining how a conversation with the apple of his eye would go. “I’m staring at you from afar, I’m wondering about you like, where you from and who you are. Cause you a star.” We’ve all been there. Too afraid to go speak to the person we keep locking eyes with across the room so rather than actually going to speak with them, we fantasize about the conversation. However, by the end of the song, Cole acknowledges that the woman he’s been constantly thinking about might not be the one for him. “I know you were made for me but, darling, don’t you wait for me. Cause I can see the promise land but I can’t do no promising.” Damn.
Cole changes course yet again for Ville Mentality as the production chooses a soulful sound for the backdrop of track number four. Creatives will be able to relate to much of this song, especially as Cole repeats for four bars, “Damn, it won’t be long ‘til I disappear. Damn, it won’t be long ‘fore I disappear.” The song sounds like it was one of the earlier songs recorded during Cole’s hiatus, as the song finds him constantly asking himself if he’s really made for the music business and celebrity that comes along with it. If he is, it sounds like it’s taking quite the toll on the Fayetteville native.
Continuing the soulful vibe, Cole uses She’s Mine, Pt. 1 to describe the feeling that is being in love and he nails it perfectly. We’ve all been there before. Laying next to the person we find ourselves admitting to the universe that this is the person we are in love with and even finding ourselves wanting to tell them all of our deepest, darkest secrets, stories we have of growing up, and how we came to be the person we are today. Cole apparently feels the same as he raps, “I want to talk about my days as a youth to you. Exposing you to all my demons, and the reasons I’m this way. I would like to paint a picture but it will take more than a day.” Yeah, that pretty much sums it up. “I’ve never felt so alive,” indeed.
Change could possibly be my favorite song on 4 Your Eyez Only, as much of what Cole is rapping about are thoughts I’ve had a lot these past couple of months. “My intuition is telling me there will be better days. I sit in silence and find whenever I meditate, my fears alleviate, my tears evaporate, my faith don’t deviate, ideas don’t have a date.” Yeah, all that. Cole seems to take the sixth song on the album as his opportunity to do some retrospective thinking about the path he’s taken in life and just how much he’s changed since his Warm Up days. This is usually the time of year that many of us find ourselves doing the same. With two weeks left in this wild and crazy and frightening ride that 2016 has been, many of us will find ourselves in a lot of introspection in the coming days leading into 2017. I would suggest listening to this song more than a few times if you are one of those people, as Cole’s storytelling ability seemingly finds a way to tell his story at the same time that he’s telling yours.
While J. Cole has become a worldwide name, Jermaine Cole stills feels as if he won’t be accepted by his peers back home, as well as the connotation that comes with many successful black men and women, and he uses Neighbors as his canvas to tell you why. “Some things you can’t escape: death, taxes, NRA. It’s this society that makes every ni**a feel like a candidate for a Trayvon kind of fate. Even when your crib sit on a lake. Even when your plaques hang on a wall. Even when the president jams your tape.” If there’s anything this past year has taught us all, it’s that prejudice and racism in America is still very much alive. In fact, it hasn’t really gone anywhere.
Foldin Clothes finds Cole once again speaking about the feeling of being in love and wanting to make sure he’s always doing right by his lady. “I see a lot on your plate. Nine months with that weight. I know you tired so I wonder how I can help.” More than likely, this is something all of us men need to take a step back and wonder if these are things we’re doing in our relationships. Despite our best efforts, it’s easy to sometimes forget about the feelings of our significant other and getting lost in the mix of life. I think Cole said it best, “If I can make life easier, the way you do mine. Save you some time. Alleviate a bit of stress from your mind…Then I should do it, cause heaven only knows how much you have done it for me. Now I see it’s the simple things.”
Like I said earlier, a couple rumors have swirled around the Internets about Jermaine and he has yet to confirm or deny any of them, until now, I think. She’s Mine, Pt. 2 appears to have Cole speaking to his daughter, almost as if he’s peering over her cradle as he raps to her. “One day when you’re gonna want to get your way. Yeah, I’ll have fun with that. Reminisce when you came out the womb. Tears of joy, I think, filled up the room. You are now the reason that I fight.” There’s no doubt in my mind that becoming a father is a remarkably beautiful, yet terrifying, feeling. Truth be told, it’s my biggest feat in life. Death, getting old, all of that other shit? Nope. Having a daughter and/or son? It truly terrifies me. However, if there’s one thing She’s Mine, Pt. 2 does for me is give me hope.
As Cole prepares to close the booklet of his fourth album, the title track of the album serves as his exclamation point on everything he’s been saying throughout. It’s unclear whom Cole is speaking to on 4 Your Eyez Only but maybe he’s not speaking to one particular person. Maybe he’s speaking to all of us. More than likely, he’s speaking his newborn daughter. The saying goes, “hindsight is 20/20,” and that still holds true to this day. Cole dives in and out of first and third-person perspectives throughout the final track of the album, delving into stories of his past. As the third verse comes to a close, it becomes clear that Jermaine has been talking to his daughter for the whole album.
4 Your Eyez Only feels like Jermaine’s first gift to his daughter. Almost as if it’s an audiobook of “how to navigate the world.” You can even hear the button being pushed at the beginning and end of the album as if he’s playing it for his daughter for this first time as he sits in the rocking chair in the corner of the room. J. Cole’s growth from album to album might be the best we’ve seen from any artist in this new generation of music. Even if this becomes another J. Cole album that social media idiots crack repeated and recycled jokes about, I pray that we can all agree on this:
This is the most beautiful piece of music that J. Cole has ever created.