J. Cole’s 4th studio album, 4 Your Eyez Only, dropped at the very end of 2016. It’ll be surprising if any album of 2017 touches it.
Brief and beautiful, this 10-track album recounts the life of James McMillan Jr., a friend of Cole’s, who died (presumably from gang violence) at the age of 22. The album serves as a letter to McMillan’s daughter, Nina, alternating perspectives between J. Cole and McMillan himself.
While there is some back-and-forth surrounding the album’s true meaning, the piece is indisputably very different from anything Cole has released so far. Critics have commented on the lack of “A Tale of 2 Citiez” (2014 Forest Hills Drive) and “Mr. Nice Watch” (Cole World: A Sideline Story)-style songs. These hype tracks have been replaced by slower, more meaning-rich songs that relay stories.
On Eyez, the documentary of the making of his new work, J. Cole inadvertently acknowledges some of these concerns.
“You get to this height or this level in your career in terms of platform. Who’s to say the next one—the next one might go down. It could go up. You’re never guaranteed to be this high again. So while I’m here, let me use this opportunity to say the realist shit I have ever said, in case next time that shit down here, when I got to the top of the mountain, this is what the fuck I’m gonna say.”
Who knows where on the mountain J. Cole is going to be by the time he conceptualizes his next collective. Wherever he is, I am sure he will know exactly what to say.