4 Your Eyez Only

4 Your Eyez Only

During the making of 4 Your Eyez Only, J. Cole experienced firsthand some of the racism and social unease that would fuel his fourth studio album. The rapper had begun work on 4 Your Eyez Only by renting a house in an affluent neighborhood in North Carolina, where he holed up in order to write and record tracks . But some nosy neighbors eventually called the police, suspecting the house—which was being frequented by predominantly Black music-makers—was being used as a drug den. A SWAT raid followed, resulting in the discovery of nothing more than a makeshift recording studio. The racially charged incident eventually inspired a single—titled “Neighbors,” of course—and Cole even wound up incorporating surveillance footage of the raid into his subsequent tour. But the majority of 4 Your Eyez Only—which topped the charts upon its release in 2016—focuses on a fictitious drug-dealer named James, who was inspired by two men Cole grew up with in Fayetteville, NC. From the ominous album opener, “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” it’s clear that James’ story is a sobering one, and that Cole is trying to humanize the plight of millions of young Americans who are so often scapegoated in the media. And, in many ways, 4 Your Eyez Only is a clear-cut conscious hip-hop project, with cuts like “Immortal” and “Change” addressing systemic forces of oppression. But elsewhere on the album, such tracks as “Deja Vu” and “Foldin Clothes” take a lighter approach, mulling over the connections between platonic love, almond milk, and clean laundry. “She’s Mine, Pt. 2,” meanwhile, focuses on the bliss of fatherhood. Although the cards are clearly stacked against James, 4 Your Eyez Only remains an inspiring love letter to Cole’s own daughter—as well as an eye-opening message for his listeners.

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