In all honesty, I feel let down by Eyez. As a J Cole fan since 2009’s The Warm Up, I cannot say that Eyez stacks up to his previous efforts.
Eyez has a lot going for it. The instrumentation is lush; from the strings to the trumpets one cannot fault the production quality. From the bold trap hit “Immortal” to the minimalist masterpiece on the title track to the gentle vocal-driven melodies seen on She Mine Pt.1 & 2, Eyez is both an instrumental and melodic success.
Cole also stays somewhat true to his lyrical reputation; telling stories of family, friends and strangers in the context of the ever-important issues facing the black community. “Foldin Clothes,” despite a lackluster execution, remains a heartwarming praise of a working class, non-gendered simple love. One cannot resist a smile when Cole charismatically raps: “with bananas and some almond milk/I never thought I’d see the day I’m drinking almond milk”.
However, his scope seems somewhat ambitions for a 10 track project. On Immortal Cole talks drugs and witnessing murders. Ville Mentality mentions thirsty girls, while on She’s Mine Pt. 1 he heartwarmingly swoons over a much-loved partner. While the album’s theme of fatherhood is made clear in the final track, the first half of the album seemingly dilutes Cole’s focus.
However, we can tell that this is not Cole’s most free, most sincere voice. Elite, the executive producer of the album, was quoted saying the album is mostly “from a perspective that is not J. Cole’s.” The bars seems both scarce and comparatively unmoving. One can think about the expressive power of Dreams or Love Yourz, which seem to be in a different league to much of this album (perhaps with the exception of the title track). Eyez just does not have the quantity of quality bars we have seen before, and even the better lines don’t seem to hit as hard.
Finally, the album seems unavoidably derivative. I still cannot believe that Deja Vu uses a an indiscernibly similar beat to Bryson Tiller’s Exchange, the latter of which far outlines the former. From the black and white artwork to the subject matter to the storytelling technique to the eight minute title track album closer, one cannot help but find a lot in common between Eyez and Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly. For someone that brilliantly criticized Drake on False Prophets (lyrically second only to the title track), Cole seems to lack an authenticity and, unfortunately, makes us doubt whether he can “hear his hold shit and… can top it”.
4 Your Eyez Only is undoubtedly a conscious, well-produced album that we will listen to many times over. But as hip hop’s savior, we all know Cole can do significantly better.
Nick Mileti is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.