J. Cole’s Message in “4 Your Eyez Only”
Jermaine Cole, who goes by J. Cole, is a popular rapper whose message transcends common tropes in mainstream rap music like getting money, women, and fame. His most recent album, “4 Your Eyez Only” was released on December 9, 2016, and it went platinum after four months, meaning he reached 1 million in combined digital and physical sales. He uses his wide platform to speak on important social issues like racism and personal struggles, such as growing up without his father present. “4 Your Eyez Only” is about the death of Cole’s childhood friend, named James McMillan Jr., who died at the age of 22. In the album, Cole discusses violence in the black community, mass incarceration, fatherhood, and marriage, among other themes.
The concept of the album is that it is for the eyes of James McMilan’s daughter so that she can understand her father’s life after he is gone. J. Cole raps from his own perspective and parallels it with the perspective of his late friend, who grew up on the streets. The song “4 Your Eyez Only” is in some parts from the viewpoint of James McMillan Jr. after he is released from prison, and it is directed to his daughter Nina. Cole, through the voice of McMilan, raps about the struggle to find employment as a convicted felon and his regret over living a life of crime. However, Cole highlights the other dimensions of his late friend’s life that led him to sell drugs at the age of 13.
Through the lyrics, “at a glance I’m a failure,/ addicted to pushing paraphernalia/But Daddy had dreams once, my eyes had a gleam once/Innocence disappeared by the age of eight years/My Pops shot up, drug-related, mama addicted/ so Granny raised me in the projects where thugs was hanging” demonstrate the difficult childhood McMilan endured and what his surroundings were. Cole describes the “cyclical nature of doing time” in prison and emphasizes that McMilan’s story is tragic, but all too common in the black community: “This perspective is a real one, another lost ‘Ville son/ I dedicate these words to you and all the other children/affected by the mass incarceration in this nation/That sent your pops to prison when he needed education.”
The album gives a voice to an often voiceless member of society: a young black felon. The perspective is refreshingly human, letting us see the person McMilan was and how he got caught up in a life of crime. The main goal of the album was, in Cole’s words, “to humanize the people that have been villainized in the media.”