J. Cole had a nearly impossible task on his hands. After releasing the comment section dominating, double platinum with no features classic 2014 Forest Hills Drive, everyone knew that there would be a very high bar for his next project. The "False Prophets" rapper has been touring constantly on the back of that album, but found the time to come up with a new one 4 Your Eyez Only, that has been released today.
In a world where traditional marketing cycles have been thrown out the window, J. Cole went and created one of his own. He shortened the window, understanding the shortened attention spans his listeners have. He released two songs "False Prophets" and "Everybody Dies," which caused controversy for calling out rappers ranging from potentially Kanye West to Lil Yachty. Though they didn't make the album, which makes sense since they don't fit the story he is trying to tell, it got his name back in the conversation. Nothing gets people going like some controversy.
Cole has railed against one-listen album reviews in the past, so it is only fair that we disclose that this is one of those. As time goes on, we will learn more about the each of the songs and that will help shape our understanding of each track, this album and J. Cole himself.
The rapper has become one of the elite storytellers at the higher level of hip-hop today. Whether it is his own story or somebody he knows, Cole makes the listener feel like they can relate to the story or draws them into his own compelling narrative.
Taking a peek at the tracklist, you guessed it, NO FEATURES. J. Cole wants to have complete control of the narrative on his songs and rapping every line is the best way to do that. He is even heavily involved in the production, as we have seen in his studio documentaries where he sits in on sessions with violinists and other musicians to get the perfect sound.
Cole isn't going to put out trap-beats or synth-heavy radio-friendly hits. His music is smooth, soulful and has a classic sound to it without feeling dated. On 4 Your Eyez Only, there is a bit of jazz, soul, R&B mixed into the various hip-hop beats.
"Immortal" links back to 2014 Forest Hills Drive on "Adolescence" where he asks a friend to introduce him to the drug game, but his friend tells him to stay away because Cole is going to college and has a chance at a better life. Cole explores this further throughout the album from his friend's perspective, as well as his own, looking at fatherhood, which an iTunes review says is his own child, dealing drugs and race relations in the United States.
In his Eyez documentary there is a telling moment when J. Cole talks about his status in rap. He recognizes that he is at the top of the game and he has to use that platform to say something meaningful because he may never reach that plateau again. This album is not a blatant attempt at trying to maintain his current standing or reach new heights, but rather intended to try and deliver the music he feels passionate about without thinking commercially. It has a completeness to it, telling a story, while weaving in different narratives.
Less than a day in, it is hard to tell if this eclipses 2014 Forest Hills Drive, but it is easy to stay that he did not take a large step back with 4 Your Eyez Only. J. Cole kept his level just as high. There aren't any obvious big singles (though "Neighbors" and "Deja Vu" have a chance at that) or block rocking beats, but yet another complete project.
Pick up the album here and stream it below.