J. Cole Listens, Lets the People Speak in ‘4 Your Eyez Only’ Film
J. Cole returned to HBO Saturday night (April 15) with J. Cole: 4 Your Eyez Only, A Dreamville Film, a film that complements his fourth studio album of the same name. Cole is as reserved and shielded as modern rappers come, stepping into the forefront once every few years with a new idea, a new album and as it's developing, new work behind the camera as well.
Following last year's Forest Hills Drive Homecoming Concert, the rapper's scope broadens in 4 Your Eyez Only. He touches on recovery, integration and injustice, all discussed in places like Baton Rogue, Atlanta and Ferguson. The rapper's hometown of Fayetteville, N.C. is featured as well, as is his father's hometown of Jonesboro, Ark., the past and present treated with equal care. The themes covered on 4 Your Eyez Only are embodied onscreen while Cole displays his handle across multiple platforms as the context and framework of his piece grows.
As director and a narrator of sorts, performing album cuts in short vignettes throughout, Cole is rarely the film's central character, his camera instead focusing on the community members, headlines and arguments that capture his larger story. It is in this way that Cole the artist plays with form like Beyonce with Lemonade or ScHoolboy Q's cohesive The Blank Face LP videos; multiple pieces come together as one.
"Its going to be a brand new house on the inside," a Baton Rouge woman says as she gives a tour of her flood-damaged home, "and I’m going to have everything my way.” It's true of Cole and his art as well, the rapper telling The New York Times that his album's goal was “to humanize the people that have been villainized in the media.” As to what constitutes an album, or where the boundaries of one body of work end and another begin, a definition seems ever-changing.
For J. Cole, 4 Your Eyez Only represents further proof of concept though, as he celebrates his fourth consecutive platinum album the same month his film debuts on HBO. In December of 2016, he released the film Eyez, along with the album, the 4 Your Eyez Only visual component of similar length, adding to the rapper's growing multi-media catalog.
Whether it's police raiding his home on false suspicions or footage of Cole himself reacting to news of tragedy, 4 Your Eyez Only lends further body to not only a singular piece of work but to the expanding ambition and understanding of his work as filmmaker.
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