Social Media Director
December 22, 2016
Jermaine Cole, more widely known as J. Cole, is the most hippy laid back and modest rapper of our generation. In the past, he has rapped about simplistic things and connecting to his fans who live a quiet and normal life style despite his success. He was even seen recently taking the subway as opposed to having a luxurious chauffeur. He has made a lot of music discussing the simple things in life and loving what you have instead of yearning for what you don’t have. J. Cole has garnered a lot of criticism for being very “watered down” and “boring.” Earlier in his career, despite his great lyrical capability, he did come off very shy and had less character and emotion in some of his songs in his more recent projects. They can be shown in his first two albums, Coleworld: A Sideline Story and Born Sinner. These records were very simply boring and while he had a lot of lyrics, they were really shy and Cole would beat around the bush in many songs instead of diving deep into his songs to tell a story or trying to reach listeners on a personal level. It almost seemed like there was a part of Cole that he would prefer not to share with listeners and really suffered from playing way to safe instead of taking risks and telling stories about his past as a way of inspiration for listeners.
Personally, Cole was not a rapper I really cared for until the release of his previous album, 2014 Forest Hills Drive. On this record, Cole did not shy away. He was rapping way more confidently and was telling a lot of honest stories; some good, some bad, about his past. He gave messages to his fans telling them to love themselves and remember the simple things in life, a message that resonated with many listeners. Cole immediately got a whole lot of recognition after this record, and many people also took notice of the fact that he had no features. The meme “J. Cole went double platinum with no features” quickly took off and many people started to listen and appreciate him. He also saw his best first week sales as he sold a whopping 371,228 records plus streaming.
However, at the peak of his fame, it seemed as if he was done with rapping when he appeared on an interlude on the DJ Khaled record Major Key, announcing his contemplation of retirement and, as a result, causing social media to go crazy. As we know now, Cole did not retire and just before he released his album, he dropped an intriguing track called False Prophets, a song where he disses his idol, Kanye West, over his recent actions and words. He also talked to D.C rapper, Wale, who is very unappreciated as an artist. Cole told him to be happy with himself and not try to impress the critics and to simply rap what’s in his heart. The song got a crazy response on all of social media, and on December 8th, with no real warning or heads up, he released his fourth album 4 Your Eyez Only.
Listen to a snippet of False Prophets:
Eyez album sales were fantastic, as he had his best record sales of his career. Billboard reported that Eyez sold 511,000 records first week with streaming and sales. This means that J. Cole was certified gold first week and had the third-best first week album sales for hip hop and R&B behind Drake (1.04mil- VIEWS) and Beyonce (653k- Lemonade). For people who are still confused about streaming counting towards sales, 1,500 streams equals one album sale. This album was sold 51.7 million times. Divide that number by 1,500 and the amount of sales streaming added would be 118 thousand.
The album kicks off with a moody and depressing song called For Whom the Bell Tolls where Cole is talking about the issues that he going through with his situation while living in the hood. He is depressed and even considers suicide. The trumpets and bells in this intro are very apherial and interesting and will grab the intention of the listener intriguing them, which is what all intro tracks should do.
Listen to a snippet of From Whom The Bell Tolls here:
Immortal is a very smooth banger with a nice beat and incorporates some trap vibes within. In this track, Cole talks about the dangers of his city and how he has hopes to get out. However, things like gang violence, drugs, police brutality and the justice system is holding him back. He talks about some of the twisted things that go on in his city but says that this life is what “real” people do to try to gain respect. He also raps from the point of view of another person and they both think that living a life of gang violence is okay. They truly think that this lifestyle won’t cause them to die. J. Cole rapping from his friends perspective will continue as the story of the album continues. However, the track Deja Vu does not continue the story of gang violence. In fact, it opens up another story line of Cole falling love. In this song, J. Cole raps over the Bryson Tiller Exchange beat and talks about being in the club and making moves on this woman and at the end of the night getting her number. This is a decent track but the hook leaves a little bit to be desired. The song falls a little flat especially since it took the Exchange beat which was a great song by Bryson Tiller.
On Ville Mentality, it has a beautiful piano instrumental that is very light and beautiful on the ear. He talks about the dangerous mentality of gang violence and wonders how he will survive. He says in the hook, “How long can I survive with this mentality.” Cole is also breaking down and discussing his demons with this girl who is starting to love.
Which takes us to She’s mine pt 1. This track is a slow paced song where he professes his love but this song is very decent at best. I know J. Cole goes platinum with no features, but he definitely could have used one on this song. His vocals on this song are really bad and there were some cringy lyrics. But the next track Change, is a great song with a jazzy and drum beat that is really fun, despite the song ending really sad. The beat almost symbolizes innocence that J. Cole has about death and gang violence until his friend is killed at the end. The song shows a sad Cole crying at the end and finally realizing that “the only real change comes from inside.”
Neighbors is probably one of the best track with the smooth beat with a futuristic sound. He talks about his neighbors falsely accusing him of selling drugs. This beat is so intoxicating and very well produced, and talks about struggles of growing up in the hood. However Foldin’ Clothes is one of the worst tracks. It does talk about focusing on the good and simple things in his relationship with a decent uptempo beat, however it was very lazily done lyrically. At one point Cole rhymed almond milk with almond milk (struggle bar).
Listen to a snippet of Neighbors here:
She’s Mine pt. 2 is a great track in which Cole talks about the baby he just had with his wife and how beautiful she is and that he will do anything to protect.
Finally, easily the best track on the album and one of the best songs every by Cole, 4 Your Eyez Only, the story is finally wrapped up. Cole is rapping from his friends perspective as he has done many times in this record. His friend tells Cole that his life in the streets will catch up to him, and he will die. It is confirmed that he will, and Cole is telling his friends daughter about the story of her dad. He told her that her dad was a real man not because he was tough and was in a gang, but because he loved his daughter.
This album has a nice story paralleling a life in the streets and someone who made it out and did not get influenced. Cole was using his life and compared it to his friends life and showed that getting out of the hood and not getting into the gang life is a positive message for all people. This album has a very nice message and it is very uplifting with a good musical vibe. However, the album could be told a little better. Again, while Neighbors is a great track, it did not continue the story was not continued. There are also times in Foldin’ Clothes and She’s mine pt. 1, there are some lazy lyrics that really hurt the track as a whole, and that is a big problem with a ten track 44 minute album. All in all, Cole did take a risk with this album, and considering some flaws, he made arguably his best album yet. The nice beats and the positive story told makes this album worthwhile as Cole did a good job executing what he was setting out to do.
Final Score 8.2/10