10 Songs, 44 Minutes

EDITORS’ NOTES

4 Your Eyez Only plunges deep into J. Cole’s soul. You can clearly hear it in his voice—pleading, testifying, on the verge of cracking. At center stage with no featured guests, the North Carolina rapper speaks out on social ills, black lives, and doing the right thing in a world of wrong. The music is settled, filled with jazz touches and strings, allowing the words to become the focus. “Neighbors” and “Change” examine imbalances and tension affecting communities of color. “Foldin Clothes” shows that even benign acts can be a source of joy. The two-part suite “She’s Mine” may be the most important songs he’s written, as Cole finds himself overcome by a strange feeling: hope.

EDITORS’ NOTES

4 Your Eyez Only plunges deep into J. Cole’s soul. You can clearly hear it in his voice—pleading, testifying, on the verge of cracking. At center stage with no featured guests, the North Carolina rapper speaks out on social ills, black lives, and doing the right thing in a world of wrong. The music is settled, filled with jazz touches and strings, allowing the words to become the focus. “Neighbors” and “Change” examine imbalances and tension affecting communities of color. “Foldin Clothes” shows that even benign acts can be a source of joy. The two-part suite “She’s Mine” may be the most important songs he’s written, as Cole finds himself overcome by a strange feeling: hope.

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About J. Cole

Raised on 2Pac, Biggie, Nas, and JAY-Z, J. Cole emerged in the 2010s as a kind of torchbearer for serious hip-hop. He takes on capital-T topics with an earnestness—and moral imperative—that most rappers seem to avoid. A North Carolina native (born in Frankfurt, West Germany, in 1985), Cole moved to New York City on scholarship to St. John’s University, graduating magna cum laude while making beats on the side, at one point waiting outside JAY-Z’s studio for three hours to give him a CD. Jay dismissed him initially, but circled back a year or so later on the strength of Cole’s mixtapes, making him the first signee to the Roc Nation label. Cole’s since gone on to release a string of ambitious, increasingly confident albums, often meditating on single subjects at length: 2018’s KOD, for example, offered a sustained look at addiction, while several songs on 2016’s 4 Your Eyez Only were written from the perspective of a friend killed in his early twenties after leaving the drug game—a composite of people Cole knew from childhood. Despite the gravity of his subjects (and his sobering delivery), Cole—like his occasional collaborator Kendrick Lamar—is the rare artist who's managed to reconcile the conscious with the commercial, balancing his conceptual side with giant singles like “Work Out,” “Deja Vu,” and “ATM.”

HOMETOWN
Frankfurt, Germany
BORN
January 28, 1985

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