Fayetteville rapper and Dreamville Records founder, J. Cole tells a powerful story on his newest album, 4 Your Eyez Only. The album differs from Cole's previous releases– The Sideline Story, Born Sinner and 2014 Forest Hills Drive– but make no mistake; this is J. Cole at his finest.
4 Your Eyez Only showcases the life and the legacy of Cole’s childhood friend, James McMillan Jr. — Wanna be rapper gone drug dealer — who serves as a symbol for the struggles faced by black America.
Before passing away, McMillan entrusted his life and his legacy to J. Cole. He wanted his family, his friends and the world to know that he was more than just a black man in America.
The patchwork of stories about McMillan’s life begins with the song “Immortality” in which McMillan examines the meaning of mortality, “To die a young legend or live a long life unfulfilled? Cause they only feel you after you gone, or I've been told. And now I'm caught between bein' heard and gettin' old.” It is clear that McMillan wants to do more than simply exist. After all, he is an idealist. Unfortunately, this is an unideal world.
“She’s Mine Pt. 1” serves as a celebration for both Cole and McMillan’s first loves. "I never felt so alive," Cole hums, his voice cracking with passion.
“Change” addresses the concept of trusting God’s plan, as well as loving your brothers and sisters, “See, I believe if God is real, he'd never judge a man. Because he knows us all and therefore he would understand.”
"Neighbors" tells the unfortunate tale of racism and discrimination, “Some things you can't escape: Death, taxes, and a racist society that make every n*gga feel like a candidate for a Trayvon kinda fate. Even when your crib sit on a lake. Even when your plaques hang on a wall. Even when the president jam your tape.”
“She’s Mine Pt. 2” serves as a celebration of the birth of both Cole and McMillan’s daughters. The men have fallen in love a second time, “I wanna cry, and I ain't even tryna fight it. Don’t wanna die, cause now you're here. And I just wanna be right by your side.”
The tragic title track, “4 Your Eyez Only” comes at the end of the album. In it, it’s learned that the songs just heard are a father's message to his daughter in case he ends up dead, "My worst fear is that one day you come home from school and see your father's face while hearing 'bout tragedy on the news/I got the strangest feeling your Daddy gonna lose his life soon/And sadly, if you're listening now, it must mean it's true.”
In addition to speaking to McMillan’s daughter, Cole speaks to Black America. “I dedicate these words to you and all the other children affected by the mass incarceration in this nation. That sent your pops to prison when he needed education.”
From encountering ghetto violence, to suffering inescapable racial prejudices, to dealing with death and mortality, 4 Your Eyez Only takes listeners on a track-by- track journey from the perspective of a black individual in America. Though somber and serious, this album contains some of the best rapping Cole has ever committed to tape.