There has been much discussion over whether “4 your eyez only” was written through the perspective of J Cole’s friend, James McMillian Jr who tragically lost his life to gun violence at the age of 22, or whether the album is allegorical for the thousands of Black Americans who have lost their lives under similar sets of circumstances. This discussion would make for a good blog post. However, to get lost in the interesting fascists of the creation of the album would be to also deviate our attention away from J Coles intention with the album, and I think J Coles’s intention is clear. J Cole is begging for us to WAKE UP in more ways than one. It’s so apparent in the ways he unapologetically attacks topics of stigmas, self-hate, and fulfilled stereotypes.
Throughout the album, Cole is painfully sympathetic to the plight of Black America, as he eloquently expresses on the ablum’s title track “4 Your Eyez Only, “I was nineteen, took me two felonies to see the trap, this crooked ass system set for me, And now I fear it’s too late for me to ever be the one that set examples that was never set for me.” There is no dispute that our prisons are disproportionally filled with Black Americans, and this systematic oppression further influence’s the cyclical condition of single mothers in Black America. Hence, why Cole draws attention to the lack of example set for him, or in this case his deceased friend, James McMillian Jr, but at the same time, understands that its not entirely James’s fault.
In “Neighbors,” my favorite track on the album, Cole brings rise to the fact, that even though he “belongs” in this white neighborhood, being that he has the money for the house (in fact his is probably paid off, unlike the rest of his neighbors), he has celebrity status, he does charitable work in the community, yet racism is inevitable and unavoidable. He raps, “Some things you can’t escape death, taxes, NRA It’s this society that make Every n***** feel like a candidate For a Trayvon kinda fate Even when your crib sit on a lake”
Cole expresses similar difficulties stemmed from black oppression on track seven, “Foldin Clothes,” “N***** from the hood is the best actors. Got learn to speak the words that’s unnatural, just to make it through the job interviews. If my n***** heard me, they’d say “damn what’s got into you”? Just trying to make it out somehow.” There is nothing tongue and cheek about this line. This mentality of having to out-perform, act the part, “be who they want you to be,” is an excruciatingly authentic feeling every Black American can relate too.
What makes this album and his thought process so complex is that in light of all of these systematically unjust circumstances Black American’s face, Cole desperately asks us to change, or at least see things from a different perspective. On “Ville Mentality” he wrestles with the idea of the sustainability of street life. And if we were being honest, it’s not sustainable. We know it, but somehow we finds ourselves glorifying this particular part of rap culture. Don’t get me wrong; stories of our lives need to be told through music. I am not in anyway delegating what can and cannot be expressed. Art is the truest expression of self, and artists should be able to tell their story. I am simply saying, we should recognize it for what it is. A “real and authentic” captured moment from the life of the artist who’s expressing him or herself. It’s not to be over sensationalized. And this might explain why J Cole has called out the “mini-me” rappers because he is fed up with their lack of authenticity, or depth for that matter. “4 Your Eyez Only” is riddled with examples of the consequences of the ideals and images we glorify. In fact, in “Change” he says it describes this mentality, by calling it “poison,” while others “call it real.”
What’s real to J Cole is what should be real to everyone. It should be real to love your wife. It should be real to take care of your family. It should be just as real to work a 9 to 5, as it is to make money in any less unconventional way. It should be real to be yourself. And it should be real to be the best you can be, as cliché as that last line was. J Cole says it best on “4 your eyez only,” speaking to the daughter of his slain friend James McMillian Jr:
“Girl your daddy was a real n****a, not ‘cuz he was cold
Not because he was the first to get some p****y twelve years old
Not because he used to come through in the Caddy on some vogues
Not because he went from bagging up them grams to serving O’s
Nah your daddy was a real n****a, not ‘cos he was hard
Not because he lived a life of crime and sat behind some bars
Not because he screamed f*** the law, although that was true
Your daddy was a real n****a ‘cuz he loved you”
For your eyes only”
Final Thoughts: Since his last drop, J Cole has transitioned to a mindset of responsibility and personal growth that his contemporaries cant quite relate too, at least not yet. J Cole delivers his 4th studio album in an unapologetic fashion and with a call to positive change that the culture has been craving whether we want to admit it or not. ~Toons