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“For Your Eyez Only” Album Review

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In J. Cole’s newest project For Your Eyez Only, the Roc Nation rapper tries to weave together two separate narratives: the life story of his friend James McMillan and how Cole’s perspective has changed through his experiences with love. The album takes form as a message from Cole at McMillan’s request to Nina, James’ daughter, that tells the story, regrets, and lessons of her father, a young man who left this world too soon due to drug violence in the North Carolina projects. While the task Cole takes on has incredible depth and weight, the execution lacks cohesiveness, detail, organization, and creativity for most of the project. For Your Eyez Only, promises to deliver an emotional and powerful message, but mucks up the delivery with unnecessary lyrics and superfluous songs.

From the first track, “For Whom the Bell Tolls”, Cole sets the dark and painful mood of the narrative of the record. The inescapable trap of selling drugs and the violence that emerges from it breaks down the will of the individual to aspire for more, compounding vice upon vice. Cole does successfully set the tone for half the album in this track, using the “rain falling” before his very eyes and “bells getting too loud” to set the chilling, traumatic scene of a funeral, playing to the McMillan narrative.

As the record continues, Cole attempts to introduce a second focus, love, but fails to effectively synthesize his two subjects. Generic beats, the constant shifting between McMillan’s story and Cole’s personal one, and often lazy lyrics depreciates the significance of the story Cole strives to tell. In “Ville Mentality” Cole drifts from the initial narrative, although the beat and vocals of the track lends itself to the desolation and pain of McMillan’s story. Cole also lacks the vocal range he attempts to reach in the track, causing an unnecessary distraction. In “She’s Mine, Pt. 1” Cole digresses from the McMillan’s story entirely to portray a love story from his youth. “Neighbors”, while a very vocally and lyrically pleasing song, lacks a defining personality in its beat, leaving the listener to discern the urgency of its message. The constant swerve from the main narrative so articulately displayed in the first two tracks is too overwhelming a distraction and picks away from McMillan’s dying request; the two different narratives conflict each other rather than complement one another.

None of the poorer tracks of the album even compare to the abomination that is track eight, “Foldin Clothes”,  where Cole expresses all the small changes he makes in his life to help pregnant wife. Beyond the seemingly random digression from McMillan’s narrative, Cole’s obvious and shallow lyrics (“Baby I wanna do the right thing, feels so much better than the wrong thing”) in the hook weakens the message. The lyrical shortcomings of the track are paired with awkward instrumentals that paint a completely different emotional picture from the rest of the album, shifting from the passionate emotion of the previous tracks to a casual, almost relaxed tone that seems out of place from the rest of the album, leaving the message and narrative of the album muddled.

The saving grace of the middle section of Eyez is the sixth track, “Change”. A song that plays to both of the conflicting narratives, Cole explains that true personal change can only come from within the individual, not from the lyrics of an artist or the words of a critic. The track applies this philosophy to the change that McMillan wish he had made prior to his death, and the change that Cole had to realize to escape the grim realities that haunt his hometown of Fayetteville, North Carolina. Lyrically, the track is clever and perceptive, and the beat establishes a hopeful attitude that encompasses the philosophy that Cole is portraying. The track seems as though it would have been better suited toward the end of the album, but the universal message that Cole is trying to convey makes the song versatile enough to carry the middle section of the record.

Where Eyez draws its most emotionally impactful and effective images is during the last two tracks, “She’s Mine, Pt. 2” and “For Your Eyez Only”. The former of the two relates Cole’s feelings as a father to how McMillan feels about his own daughter.  With “For Your Eyez Only,” Cole truly saves his best for last. Rapping one half of the song channelling the voice of McMillan and the other half rapping as himself, Cole recounts the night before her father passed to Nina. In his most emotionally charged verse on the album, Cole raps from the perspective of McMillan. “My worst fear is one day that you come home from school/And see your father face while hearing ’bout tragedy on news/I got the strangest feeling your daddy gonna lose his life soon/And sadly if you’re listening now it must mean it’s true,” he says. McMillan wants his daughter to be everything he couldn’t be, he wants his last words to her to have meaning that will impact her and lead her to a more prosperous life.

Cole’s half of the song focuses more on how much he reveres McMillan for leaving this message to Nina. “Your daddy was real… ‘cause he loved you,” Cole tells her in the last verse on the album. Unequivocally the best track on the album, Cole offers a perfect summation to his main narrative with an emotionally straining track that ties together the bond between father and daughter. Cole uses this narrative to describe the tragedy that occurs all too often in the North Carolina projects where he grew up, as well as the unimaginable struggle that Nina is going through, without her father’s help.

Overall, the disorganized and confused nature of the record detracts from the message Cole is trying to convey. The emotionally powerful beginning and end of the record are outweighed by the lyrically and sonically lacking tracks that make up most of the album. His constant diversions and digressions from one plot to the other (that for most of the record seem completely distant) are bothersome and poorly delivered, and therefore each individual narrative carries less influence over the listener. An overall misfire for Jermaine Lamarr Cole, the Fayetteville rapper struggles to control the two narratives for much of the album, and the message of allowing others to help you find internal change becomes cluttered and marginalized.

Album Rating: 3/5

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