Coming off the heels of the critically acclaimed “2014 Forest Hills Drive,” I assumed it would be a bit longer before we heard anything from J. Cole.
On that album, the rapper made a name for himself, going double platinum without a feature. He broke streaming records and sold more than 350,000 copies in his first week.
But there's no time for rest in today's world. Last week, Cole released a new album, "4 Your Eyez Only." On it, he digs deep, telling the story of his fallen friend James McMillan Jr.
From the introduction, “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” Cole makes it clear that this is not going to be a high energy/party album. He’s searching for something — his own happiness perhaps.
The introduction of McMillan comes on the next song, “Immortal.” It’s here that the story of life and death begins. Cole is telling the story to McMillan's daughter.
On “Change,” Cole raps of McMillan's funeral and seeing the initial news of his death. On “Vile Mentality,” Cole raps from the daughter's perspective to speak about her slain father. On the album’s last song, McMillan says his greatest fear is having his daughter see that he was killed on the news — a fear that came true.
For every project he releases, Cole becomes a better producer and storyteller. Though veiled as a concept album, Cole addresses violence, life, death, and the absurdity of the hip hop world. It fits right alongside his discography, even if the album feels like too quick a listen.
Like many of the best albums of 2016, "4 Your Eyez Only" taps into the fears and anxieties we have all felt this year. It may not have the force of "2014 Forest Hills Drive," but this is a highly personal set, confirming Cole's status as one of the best young rappers out there.