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‘4 Your Eyez Only’ is J. Cole’s fourth studio album.
Jermaine Cole, also known as J. Cole, is a rapper defined by his drive to create meaningful, message-laden hip-hop in an age where artists like Lil Yachty and Lil Uzi Vert find success in creating fun music. J. Cole attempts to communicate stories that last with his listeners, and this is especially true on his latest album “4 Your Eyez Only.”
Unfortunately, for all the stories he tells, and no matter how informed and impassioned he is regarding the problems he tries to make sense of, that passion does not seep through to make this album an engaging, provocative listen. There is an undeniable sense that J. Cole truly knows what he is talking about, but the way in which he communicates his frustration and unhappiness is neither original nor inspiring.
For example, in “She’s Mine, Pt. 1,” the instrumental is slow and lacks any life. He attempts to sing, or more accurately, tries a singing-talking mixture that comes off as way too quiet and subdued.
There is certainly the possibility that his delivery is intentionally slow and bleak to establish his sadness about the subject, but that does not change how boring and numbing it is to sit through it.
Around the midpoint of the song, a little percussion kicks in in the background, making it seem like something will happen or he will finally burst through the wall of monotony and free his emotions, but it fades out around 25 seconds later and the slowness continues until the end of the track.
Unfortunately, slowness and quietness are present on nearly every track in the album, from its opening “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” to “Ville Mentality” to “She’s Mine, Pt. 2.”
The absolute worst song on the album and one that has made rounds on the internet as a musical punching bag is “Foldin Clothes.” The premise of the song – that J. Cole wants to ease his lover’s burden by folding clothes for her – only makes the slightest of sense if it is a sarcastic commentary on how men believe any domestic help is commendable. But folding clothes does not make you a good guy. It makes you a regular, responsible person.
With all that being said, J. Cole definitely knows how to write songs. He has an ear for music – the glistening strings, horns and jazz instrumentation throughout the album show a refined taste.
Songs like “Immortal,” “Change” and “Neighbors” have interesting instrumentals, faster paces and are alluring. Cole’s voice is still quiet and calm, but boom-bap influences (“Immortal” and “Change”) and a trap flair (“Neighbors”) are complemented by telling imagery and sharp flows to make these tracks more engaging listens.
Those songs are well-done. He is quite capable of bringing more energy and livelier paces to all his tracks, like the previous three, yet he chooses to try to sing to strip songs to their bare bones, and to convey the seriousness of social issues by sounding like being on the cusp of falling asleep.
If he wants to illuminate the direness of the situations he is writing stories about, he needs to bring more intensity. He needs to communicate more passion and flair, as he clearly has passion for the issues he raps about: racism, crime, inner city problems, incarceration and systemic injustices. He needs to make his songs faster and his delivery more energetic.
He has to combine his ear for jazz and blues and strings and horns and lovely instrumentation with louder vocals. He needs to craft songs that, atmospherically, communicate his anger and intolerance for what is wrong with the world; he cannot only write lyrics about it.
To become a truly great artist and to shed his reputation for being corny or overrated, J. Cole needs to create great songs, not just write stories. He is capable of it, but he does not do it on this album.