by Kevin Sterne
Kendrick Lamar has had a stranglehold on the internet for this past month—and the cultural zeitgeist for that matter. But with the wake of Damn. finally levelling, timing is right for other rappers to tip toe the waters. J. Cole’s camp gives us 4 Your Eyez Only, which is not new (2016), but is new on (vinyl and in stock here at Shuga Records).
Though this one doesn’t come with demos or never-heard-before easter eggs, 4 Your Eyez Only on wax is worth seeking out, if not for a memento of hip-hop’s second golden age, but for it being an album that does some heavy lifting, especially on the back end.
“Neighbors” and “Foldin Clothes” are musically dynamic, but more important, culturally critical in digestible bites. The former moves as a meditation on racial profiling while exhibiting arguably the album’s most catchy lyric: “Okay, the neighbors think I’m sellin’ dope.” The latter brings a tinge of Marvin Gaye soul to J. Cole’s inspired effort at being a better man “Baby I wanna do the right thing // Feels so much better than the wrong thing // I wanna fold clothes for you.”
The definitive stand out on the album though is “Change”—a deeply reflective narrative on the cycle of violence and crime in black communities. The song’s main character James McMillian becomes a poignant and somber symbol of this harsh reality. After a Kendrick Lamar-type flow in the early verse, the song ends in a memorial of the dead McMillian. “’Cause that was my nigga James that was slain, he was 22…’”
If “Change” is the album’s most dynamic and emotionally moving, then “Deje Vu” is it’s antithesis. It’s the mainstream winner here with its repetitive, finger-waving, big-dream anthems Aye, put two fingers in the sky if you want it and She fuck with small town niggas, I got bigger dreams. But this second line is where the song shows it’s shallow unravelling. The lyrics are mopey, and one-dimensional—more last-call-at-the-bar throwback than uplifting.
J. Cole’s fourth LP is a back-loaded affair, but these side-B tracks make up for the album’s early numbers in spades. I recommend pairing this one with Double Daisy Cutter by Half-Acre Beer Company. DDC tastes like the brew brains at Half Acre binged several cases of west-coast IPA then gave the original daisy a retry (and the same could be said of J. Cole and Chance the Rapper or Kendrick Lamar). The elder cutter is loaded with tangerine-peal and orange-rind citrus. A touch of malt balances this frothy affair, making it deceptively smooth and drinkable from first sip to last gulp. The ABV here makes this one perfect for this record. Make sure you’re on your second can by the album’s mid-way point so you can ride that buzz through the best tracks.