The announcement of J Cole’s new album came completely and utterly out of nowhere. After dropping the single ‘False Prophets’ (which never appeared on ‘4 Your Eyez Only’) earlier in December, Cole set his extremely dedicated fan base ablaze with excitement. What they were gifted with, is a lyrically heartfelt and instrumentally thoughtful fourth studio album from the 31 year old producer and rapper. ‘4 Your Eyez Only’ is a highly personal effort, from the famously private Cole. There are surprising revelations a-plenty in the album, and just as many moments of poignant expression for those unfamiliar with his previous work. When Cole says “This is a meditation from me” he really does mean it; both in the context of the track ‘Foldin’ Clothes’ and in the context of the whole album, which sees him reflecting on his life and relationships.
Cole’s strength has always been in his instrumentation. Swaying between meandering violins and heavy hi-hats, his music has always had an awareness of how versatile hip hop is and has always been. Make no mistake, this is not a club record by any means. It is interesting, that ‘4 Your Eyez Only’ has so much space in its composition. Cole’s lush instrumentation has plenty of room to breathe, and his verses reverberate beautifully inside each of the albums tracks. ‘She’s Mine Part 2’ (And 1) are excellent examples of this; by using very few instruments, there is room too pause and reflect both for the listener and for Cole.
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There are also glimmers of Good Kid M.A.A.D City in Cole’s production. From the harmonised vocal chorus in ‘She’s Mine Part 1’ to the thoughtful and oddly melancholy orchestration in ‘Vile Mentality’, there are whispers of ‘Sing For Me, I’m Dying of Thirst’ from Kendrick Lamar’s seminal album. Much like ‘…M.A.A.D City’, Cole’s production in ‘F4 Your Eyez Only’ seems to exist in some sort of golden hour, where jazz and funk influenced grooves carry some sort of magical weight too them. Bass is an element which is has been understandably described to death in music writing; but there is something infectiously intimate and groovy in tracks such as ‘Neighbours’ that demands a mention here.
J Cole is on the up and up. Understated, poignant and truly talented, he is a truly fascinating recording artist. With a light and airy track listing, ‘4 Your Eyez Only’ is most certainly worth a deep listen, both for his fans, and late comers to his music.