'4 Your Eyez Only' marks J. Cole's return after his triumphant LP two years ago; he is one of the leading writers of the new generation of MC's who pride themselves on technical ability, and in a genre where simplicity and a lack of any thought-provoking content have become overwhelmingly commonplace, the return of the Dreamville representative sent the hip-hop sphere into a frenzy. With a tracklist of only ten songs, the concise LP was an incredibly strong end to the year for Cole, and was a late contender for any self-respecting rap fan's album of the year.
Cole, half-sung, opens the LP by crooning "I see the rain pouring down, before my very eyes" on the brilliant 'For Whom The Bell Tolls', and this melodic, soulful approach runs for the duration of '4 Your Eyez Only'; the North Carolina lyricist's focus on mature, classy hip-hop is once again made clear from the first few minutes of the album, much like his revered '2014 Forest Hills Drive' project. The low, hard-hitting bass of 'Immortal' is matched with subtle vocals and textured production, and Cole's ability to switch between an aggressive, enthusiastic approach and a calm, collected presence makes his material diverse in both sound and in the audience it attracts.
'Deja Vu' is a sure-fire radio hit, complete with knocking drums, catchy hook and cheesy sample, but it is executed flawlessly; Cole's penchant for commercially viable material is unrivalled, but he never sacrifices his integrity or authenticity by churning out formulaic, simplified throwaways. The subtlety on 'She's Mine Pt. 1' makes it a highlight of the LP, and the restrained production and vocal performances from J. Cole are unique and instantly recognisable; with effortless cool and confidence he drops reflective introspection, and it results in an absorbing, encapsulating cut.
The album isn't without it's potential for hit singles; the thumping 'Neighbours' (based on a true story about the police being called to Cole's house back in early 2016), complete with its trap-esque hook, is a mainstay on the new-school fan's iPod, and the funky 'Foldin Clothes', with its groovy bassline and crisp percussion, is another easily accessible cut. '4 Your Eyez Only's penultimate track 'She's Mine Pt. 2' is ambitious and minimalistic, and that first description can certainly be used for the LP's nine-minute long finale. Serving as an explanation and culmination of the complex, moving story that has run through the album, the production is first-class and the descriptive lyricism is vivid, emotive and exciting, and Cole does a fantastic job in holding your attention for the full length of the closing track.
Too many people throw around sentences like 'hip-hop is dead' or a similar phrase, and an album like J. Cole's '4 Your Eyez Only' prove that the reality could not be further from that notion. This LP is lyrical, musical and intelligently administered, with diverse sonics and accomplished, experienced penmanship from front to back. MC's like Cole are making sure that hip-hop aficionados are still stocked with albums that display depth and dexterity, and his ever-growing reputation means that he deservedly stands at the forefront of masterful and polished rap music in 2016.