J. Cole’s album 2014 Forest Hills Drive was a high water mark for the Fayetteville, North Carolina rapper in terms of exposure and sales, spawning not only a live album but also a successful world tour and a documentary film based around the award winning, double platinum record. So what does one do after reaching such high heights? What’s the next move for a young rapper whose biggest studio full-length LP garnered attention, in part, for not including any guest appearances? If you’re J. Cole, you do the unexpected and drop a concept record on the world.
4 Your Eyez Only finds Cole telling a forty-five minute, ten song tale about the lives of what may be two different men, or perhaps the same man given two different circumstances. Much like the character in poet Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken”, 4 Your Eyez Only finds a man given two options. Unlike Frost’s poem, however, Cole’s narrative splits as the album’s tracks alternately tell the tale of each man’s life journey through ups and downs, love and loss, birth and death.
Similar to 2014 Forest Hills Drive, Cole again decides to go it alone, declining the inclusion of featured performers. This may be one of the only similarities between the two records, though as fans expecting anything as hard-hitting as Forest Hills’ “Fire Squad” or as sexy as “Wet Dreamz” may be disappointed. 4 Your Eyez Only is a decidedly much more mellow affair with only a couple tracks finding a danceable groove, namely the optimistic “Change” and a celebration of domestic bliss titled “Foldin Clothes”.
The overall low-key tonal shift on the album is somewhat forgivable if only because the album’s narrative isn’t exactly one of an upbeat nature. Still, those familiar with Jermaine’s heavier jams and trademark dynamic lyrical flow will most certainly notice them missing. While 4 Your Eyez Only’s prose works well as a sociology lesson told through a somewhat compelling arc, the record lacks any significant standout moments musically, and because of this the entire affair becomes stale after only a couple listens.