Monday, December 12, 2016

J.Cole - 4 Your Eyez Only Review

I've often spoken about the importance art has on a malleable brain. While society influences art, art influences the future. Those growing up listening, watching, or reading modern pieces will tend to utilize those firmly held beliefs in the opinions that'll form their foundation. Right now, no genre of music has pushed for a better world than Hip-Hop, with Kendrick Lamar, Chance The Rapper, J.Cole, and more, offering beliefs that would've been seen as soft, weak, or corny two decades ago. This brings me to 4 Your Eyez Only, and other albums this year, like Childish Gambino's Awaken, My Love and Chance's Coloring Book. What do these three have in common? An appreciation, understanding, and acceptance of a fatherly figure in the black community, all because the lead's themselves have recently witnessed a personal birth of their own. It takes decades to alter the perception of a stereotype, and with these albums, these artists understand that, effectively making it cool to respect your young, not neglect them. About 4 Your Eyez Only though? J.Cole's fourth studio LP focuses so much on the message, drowning itself in social commentary, that the rest of the album only confirms the narrative that Cole's music works best as a sedative.

You know, the tired cliche that Cole puts listeners to sleep never sat too well with me. I understand where and why it originated, but, as someone who enjoyed both Born Sinner and 2014 Forest Hills Drive, the extreme nature of such a claim always went over my head. This is the biggest issue with Cole's latest though; it doesn't. 4 Your Eyez Only is a narrative-confirmer. A slow, quiet, dull album that acts as every Cole haters' wet dream. The issues go beyond that though. Two years ago, down to the month, Cole released 2014FHD, in much the same fashion as today, with no album singles, no features, and limited notice. As Eyez confirms, Cole hasn't evolved from that point, regressing, even so, to the days where those stereotypes began. The production is uneventful, simply cruising off outdated Conscious Rap tropes, the rhyme schemes and flows are dreadfully stale and habitual, and the hooks are repetitive, wholly lacking in the entertainment department. In almost every sense, including the political climate clouding the album's direction, Eyez is about as generic a Hip-Hop album one can muster in 2016, a year thriving with creativity.

That's truly a shame because, with 2014FHD, Cole seemed to have been making progress in almost all these aspects. Now, he's content stagnating, whilst dissing artists like Kanye West and Lil Yachty, who are in a far more creative state than him, actually intent on moving the genre forward. Deep cuts like 'Deja Vu' and 'Ville Mentality' provide no substance or necessity, acting as prototypical Cole cuts. We've heard tracks like these, or the 'She's Mine' suite, before. And when your self-prescribed closest competitor, Kendrick Lamar, made a leap, stylistically, from GKMC to TPAB, you've got to question just where exactly your headspace has been these past few years. For both 'She's Mine's,' Cole ruins potentially compelling stories with some unneeded drowsiness, going for the soft, sentimental type, resulting though, in someone who seems entirely uninterested. The bedtime rapping trope of Cole finally has circumstantial evidence with these two cuts, and others, like 'Foldin' Clothes,' which doesn't bore with monotone rapping, but rather through gushy, middle-class love ballads. Honestly, and this is a first for a Hip-Hop song, I can visibly see 'Foldin' Clothes' playing in the background of someone legitimately folding clothes. Awkward dancing included.

Considering the trudge that fulfills almost the entirety of the middle, Eyez surprisingly starts and ends on relatively strong footing. Before we dissolve into Hip-Hop monotony, 'For Whom The Bell Tolls' presents us with a collection of quaint, organic instrumentation that feels freeform and moves naturally. This fluid opener inadvertently reveals Cole's flaws as a rapper, seeing as how every verse-centic track after falls under Hip-Hop 101, showing his incapabilities to deviate from the beaten path. Rarely does he rap under unordinary pretensions, and even more rarely does he do so over atypical sonic structures. Eyez, for everything except 'For Whom,' is strictly by the books. This includes the near nine-minute title track that concludes the album. Unlike the eight songs that came before however, '4 Your Eyez Only' actually works by conforming. I compare it to the track that lent much to its creation; Kendrick's classic 'Sing About Me.' Both are storytelling behemoths from the perspectives of different characters, including one that's untimely demise led to the fruition of the song. Why exactly does 'Sing About Me' eclipse '4 Your Eyez Only' though? Because the songs around it dance over Hip-Hop sub-genres with ease, making the run-of-the-mill structure of 'Sing About Me' stand out rather than bleed in.

If there's one thing I've always respected from J. Cole, it's his passion to induce change. Even though the musical capabilities have always been relatively lacking, so much so here, I'm glad he's established a faithful following who will pick up on his progressive messages. Sure, he raps, acts, and is inspired by Hip-Hop legends, who would rather condone the violence in inner-cities than condemn them, but his ability to think beyond that, rise above it, and hell, make a song about the enjoyment of 'Foldin Clothes' in a middle-class suburb where the 'Neighbors' think you're up to no good for being black, has to be a step in the right direction. As mentioned before, the primary target of Eyez are the kids raised in troubled homes, ones whose father's were gone, either out of state, locked up, or away for eternity. Cole's final message on the title track, "your daddy was a real nigga cause he loved you," says all that was needed to be said. Sure, Cole hits us over the head, but the merits of a prominent fatherly figure by members of the Hip-Hop community can't be understated. We're in an age of change, and although Cole has languished with 4 Your Eyez Only, his message will hopefully still push on.

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