J. Cole — 4 Your Eyez Only ANALYSIS & REVIEW
Even with the fluctuations in mood and atmosphere during this album, the melodic delivery mostly stayed hot and fresh. J. Cole does an excellent job with pacing his lines and allowing the accented beats to change just enough in order to maintain energy and intrigue. “Immortal” and “Déjà vu” are both good examples of this. Overall, this was a good melody-dominated album that gave the music meaning and drive. The melody was at its best when Cole had a lot to say. He was exceptional at keeping the line going when he had to. This, coupled with the prominence of the line itself within the texture, gave us perhaps the best hip-hop track of the year in “4 Your Eyez Only”, which topped off the album incredibly well. I could easily tell which tracks Cole took the most time on to craft.
What this album didn’t do so well melodically was consistently fitting in with what the music was ultimately trying to portray. Both parts of “She’s Mine” were examples of how the melody, which lacked shape and worthwhile repetition, ended up giving off a new sense of weakness that didn’t do the music any good. It’s okay to sound weak, helpless, and too caught up in emotion to speak, but if those sentiments are echoed directly with the melodic line then music loses its special touch and becomes just a tool. The melodies in these heavier, slower songs were still present and fulfilling, but some of the meaning was lost in the rather dull portrayal. That only accounted for about ¼ of the album, though. The rest of the melodies were very well paced and great at transitioning the music from one part of the form to another. This was a job pretty well done, plus a couple of awesome bonuses.
Like a lot of new passion-filled solo artist works these days, the harmony was very meticulous yet very much in the background. Good musicians have certainly caught on to the importance that unique harmonic structures can bring to the music, and J. Cole is no exception. Throughout the album, though, it sounded like these structures were being done out of some sort of forced necessity rather than out of good creative use. The harmonies rarely ever worked in tandem with the melody, and if you think that’s just because the melody was mostly unpitched, you’re forgetting that melody also has extremely important rhythmic and pacing elements that harmony shares.
“Neighbors” was perhaps the only song that truly had a cohesive and helpful harmonic structure, which is ironic because its also one of the most static harmonies in the whole album. Static can be done quite creatively, as shown there. Other songs, especially “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and “Ville Mentality”, had a lot of odd motion going on underneath that was unable to be reciprocated by the rest of the texture. These harmonies, although cool, were constantly buried and remained rather insignificant other than the fact they sounded different than what anyone had ever done before.
Only in “Foldin Clothes” did the harmony ever rise to the forefront, and that was thanks to a particularly cool bass line. The best aspect the harmonies were that, if nothing else, they provided a coherent mood that was well reflected in its style. If the song was chill and down-to-earth, lots of jazzy 7th chords were employed. More empty harmonies were used in songs with more energy and less room to expand and develop, which makes a lot of sense. It’s simple, but still pleasing. There are more creative ways to engage the listener and pull them into a certain mood through harmony, but this album still worked well.
4 Your Eyez Only wouldn’t be much of anything if it weren’t for the incredible balance of acoustic and electronic timbres that brought out the best of both sides. There was a wonderful instrumentation of brass, strings, piano, bass, and backup vocals throughout that were used very effectively at just the right time when a change in the texture was needed. While I didn’t much care for the harmonic subtlety in this album, I very much enjoyed the timbral subtlety. This is an album for truly active ears and minds, because only those who are fully engaged with the music will be able to pick up on the small nuances in the sound that have an important effect on the music as a whole. When the beat was full and progressive, every sound worked well with each other and the music flowed smoothly. “Change” is a great example of the timbre working like clockwork.
The only big problem in the timbre was that the beat wasn’t always fully engaging and driven. If you’re going to employ an electronic beat, it should be for the right reasons, not just because that’s all you can do. A couple of songs, such as “Déjà vu” and “She’s Mine Pt. 1”, didn’t have a feeling of rhythmic solidity and motion from the beat. Solidity in this fashion isn’t always necessary, or even welcomed. The use of an electronic beat contradicts that, though, and the music didn’t have the coolness factor that it could have. That was my only major concern. It was overall a very pleasing listen with great instrumentation.
If it wasn’t for the title track, I’d say this was just another nice album with interesting stories and experiences being told through good musicality. The song “4 Your Eyez Only” alone gives this album true identity and worth, and I’m sure it will help carry this work into some well-deserved popularity. It came a little late, but after listening to this I’m still convinced that J. Cole is the best hip-hop artist of this generation not named Kendrick Lamar. This album has enough of his own voice and enough musical uniqueness to make a strong impact in the music world, and topping it off with a 9-minute, exceptional, heartfelt, and eye-opening title track greatly helps its cause.