2016 isn't done giving just yet. Rap's signature sadboy J. Cole is back amidst rumors of retirement with his fourth record 4 Your Eyez Only, and it lives up to its expectations.
J. Cole isn't the average hip-hop artist you may be accustomed to. His style can be classified as "sleepy rap," sounding slightly distant in his delivery while still maintaining confidence and flow. There are moments on 4 Your Eyez Only that do wish they could go a little further, but J. Cole's flow is never one of them. He's always spot on with his delivery, nailing different rhythms and grooves across the record. This all becomes apparent right off the bat with 'For Whom The Bells Toll.' His vocals don't seem to be anything special, but delving into the song shows that under his smooth flow is a seething sense of anger. Elevated by the instrumental, 'For Whom The Bells Toll' rings with that subtle rage as J. Cole progresses it with great flow and fantastic melodies.
Lyricism is another one of J. Cole's strengths, and that doesn't really come as a surprise. 'Immortal' comes with a narrative of how volatile life can be. The first verse sets the song up with hope, the narrator reminiscing: "I was barely seventeen with a pocket full of hope," those dreams ultimately being crushed by the end of the track, hauntingly concluding with the lines "At the bottom and hanged / The strangest fruit that you ever seen / Ripe with pain." There are plenty of smaller moments, too, that just really mesh well with each other. The duo tracks 'She's Mine, Pt. 1' and 'She's Mine, Pt. 2' both have a dejected, depressed mood surrounding them, J. Cole's flow somber and distant, the piano instrumental making the mood even darker. While all of this sadness builds the track, J. Cole sings rather hopeful lyrics: "I've never felt so alive" resonates particularly powerfully, the stark contrast of the songs' hopeless optimism and its depressed vibe really accentuating its mood. J. Cole can also ace the lazy style flow - 'Neighbors' bashes the haters who limit his success, his laidback posture sending the message that they really don't phase him. The closing track '4 Your Eyez Only' runs for nearly nine minutes, J. Cole speaking to his newborn daughter about how life goes on. His chill flow paired with the very pure and reassuring lyrics really add some sincerity to the end of the record that otherwise felt very oppressed.
This record couldn't be complete without some fittingly great instrumentals. This record is full of them - all raw, no bullshit. There's no abuse of the Future formula - the same repetitive beat on top of the same bass synths. From beginning to end, this record is full of fantastic hip-hop instrumentals. There's lots of variation, as well, such as the 'Ville Mentality' with its sweet bluesy mood. The soundscape strongly supports the meaning for a lot of tracks, such is the case with this track. The bluesy vibe helps paint the picture of the sad childhood 'Ville' discusses. Groovy basslines and guitars are the foundations of 'Foldin Clothes,' showing that J. Cole isn't afraid to bring other elements into the record. He even furthers a rock influence, channeling his innre Radiohead in 'She's Mine, Pt. 2.' 'Change' is perhaps the ultimate example of form follows content, the driving beat and effected keyboard giving the song a sense of confidence, which is what J. Cole attempts to emulate in the track.
Maybe it isn't exactly the energetic hip-hop you're used to, but 4 Your Eyez Only is a beast of a record. It's another record without any features, as J. Cole has become known for, and it has all the tools it needs to surpass it's predecessor 2014 Forest Hills Drive. 4 Your Eyez Only is not only lyrically genius, but it has underlying groove that allows you to enjoy the messages as they come. This is hip-hop innovation. This is the stuff that can start a new era.
Favorite Tracks: She's Mine, Pt. 2; For Whom The Bells Toll, Change
Least Favorite Track: Deja Vu
Rating: 87 / 100
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