One person that was noticeably absent from the music conversation in 2016 was J. Cole, who didn't make much of a peep outside of the occasional collaborations he's done ("Jermaine's Interlude" on DJ Khaled's Major Key, Spillage Village's "Can't Call It"). However, that all changed last week when the Roc Nation star unexpectedly announced the release date for his highly anticipated fourth studio album, 4 Your Eyez Only.
This marks Cole's first solo release since dropping his critically acclaimed LP, 2014 Forest Hills Drive, two years ago. The Dreamville Records leader had previously hinted at dropping a new album in 2016, but as the year progressed, many fans assumed they would have to wait until next year to take another stroll through Jermaine Cole's world. However, the increasingly insular MC decided to crash the party with what has instantly been touted as arguably the biggest rap release of the fourth quarter. Now J. Cole has the full attention of the rap world in the palm of his hand.
Although much of the details and minutiae surrounding 4 Your Eyez Only have yet to be unveiled -- producers, guest appearances and the official tracklist -- we've managed to glean quite a bit of information from Cole's Eyez documentary, which was released this past week. The visual gives fans a glimpse of the creation of 4 Your Eyez Only, as well as the rhymer's artistic sate of mind heading into what is looking like the definitive release of his career thus far. Here is a rundown of all the interesting tidbits we know about J. Cole's 4 Your Eyez Only album thus far.
A Portion of 4 Your Eyez Only Was Recorded at Electric Lady Studios
J. Cole is one of the more astute students of hip-hop history, so it is no surprise that he would choose the hallowed ground that is Electric Lady Studio as one of the locations to cultivate his fourth studio album. The famed studio was built by Jimi Hendrix in 1970. Throughout the documentary, J. Cole and his team are captured engaging, brainstorming and recording where rap legends like The Roots, Common, J Dilla and others cooked up some of their definitive contributions to the genre.
"False Prophets" Is the De Facto Single
One moment from the Eyez documentary that has already stirred up much conversation and debate is the visual for "False Prophets," the first full-length track released from Cole to give fans a taste of what they can expect from 4 Your Eyez Only. The song, which features a jazzy soundbed, will not appear on the album, but was released with the intention of creating additional anticipation for the final product. J. Cole and Dreamville President Ibrahim Hamad both agree that "when you do lead with a song, that song becomes an automatic standout because it's the first thing they get, so it's like it becomes the message or the theme."
"Immortal" Will Be Included
"Immortal" is another song that J. Cole mentions in the Eyez doc. The track seems like it will land on the 4 Your Eyez Only final tracklist since the Dreamville team feel it will be a fan favorite once it's unleashed to the masses.
"Everybody Dies" to Be a Major Part of J. Cole's Performances
The MC makes mention of an interlude titled "Everybody Dies" in the documentary, which he speculates may be the first song he performs when he begins touring after 4 Your Eyez Only is released. He then gives viewers a preview of the song, which finds him taking the record industry, media outlets and his rap peers to task with a flurry of scathing bars. Featuring a sample of Minnie Ripperton's "Come Inside My Love," "Everybody Dies" will not appear on 4 Your Eyez Only, but is surely an apt selection to get the crowd going whenever Cole steps on stage to rock the mic.
J. Cole Plays Guitar and Piano While Recording
The majority of J. Cole's acclaim has come from his proficiency as a lyricist and hit-maker, but it's easy to overlook his talent as a producer, which sets him apart from many of his peers and counterparts. But from the looks of Eyez, Cole has not settled for being a mere beatmaker; he's stepped into the role of being a full-fledged musician. Scenes capture him playing the piano and guitar during recording sessions for the album. This is just one of the many revelations to turn into a teachable moment for fans as they learn about the extent of his superior craftsmanship as an artist.
This Will Be J. Cole's Most Honest Album to Date
Cole is one of rap's more emotionally poignant artists since arriving on the scene, but it has often felt as if he slightly toes the line between fully speaking his mind and keeping the peace. One example can be his "Firing Squad" qualifier "I'm just kidding," which a segment of rap fans took issue with -- they were disappointed in how he toed the line. But according to his new documentary, he has few inhibitions as an artist and feels that now is the opportune time to spill his thoughts and let the chips fall where they may.
“First of all, you get to this height or this level of your career, in terms of platform, who’s to say the next one, the next one might go down, it could go up,” he says. “You’re never guaranteed to be this high again. And while I’m here, let me use this opportunity to say the realest shit I’ve ever said.”
And if tracks like "Everybody Dies" and "False Prophets" are any indication, 4 Your Eyez Only is sure to ruffle more than a few feathers.
Dreamville Signee Ari Lennox May Make an Appearance
While transforming himself from a prized rookie into a certified superstar, J. Cole has also quietly made inroads as a record label boss with his Dreamville imprint. Rounding out the label's roster with rising talent like Bas, Cozz and Omen, J. Cole has continued to expand his roster, introducing singer Ari Lennox last year. She appears in the Eyez doc providing vocals for an unspecified song that was recorded for the album. While we're unsure if that specific contribution will make it onto the final tracklist, the odds that Cole will utilize the soulful songstress from Washington D.C. in some way on 4 Your Eyez Only is close to a sure thing.
"Real Niggas" Could Be Cut From the Final Tracklist
One song recorded for 4 Your Eyez Only that may miss the final cut is "Real Niggas," which J. Cole makes mention of during the documentary. Originally slated to appear near the end of the album to give it boost in terms of energy and tempo, it seems from the way Cole references the track's placement in the past tense ("We had 'Real Niggas' on there") that it will not be included on the final version of the album that will be unveiled on Dec. 9. However, cutting room material has a way of making its way into the hands of the fans one way or another, so we can only hope that "Real Niggaz" will surface one day.
"Neighbors" Is Likely a Standout
Another track that J. Cole says could lead his performances is "The Neighbors." Hamad gives his opinion that it could be one of the highlights or trademarks of his live show, reasoning, "Just off the concept, I feel like 'The Neighbors' could be one." He references potential standout offerings from 4 Your Eyez Only, with "The Neighbors" being a selection that will resonate with and move the crowd.
There Are Apparently Some Words for Wale
The visual for the 4 Your Eyez Only track "False Prophets" is already one of the more talked-about moments from the documentary, which captures the making of the album. Although seeing Cole casually riding the city bus and lamping in his Queens, N.Y. stomping grounds instead of the standard music video fare is refreshing, the song's second verse has been alleged to be directed at Wale. The D.C. native gave J. Cole his first album look via an appearance on the Attention Deficit cut "Beautiful Bliss." So the two have history.
The "False Prophets" verse, which includes lines like, "I got a homie, he a rapper and he wanna win bad/He want the fame, the acclaim, the respect that's been had/By all the legends, so every time I see him, he stressin'/Talkin' 'bout, niggas don't fuck with him, the shit is depressin'," seem to be in reference to Wale's frequent tirades due to a perceived lack of respect and appreciation his talent and art.
While J. Cole never mentions his name, due to their history and the shoe fitting perfectly, fans suggest Wale is the target of this particular rhyme spill that has grabbed the internet's attention.
J. Cole Seems to Take Kanye West to Task
Kanye West has been an inspiration for many of rap's current stars, including J. Cole, who sampled his idol's hit "The New Workout Plan" on "Work Out," and appeared on the G.O.O.D. Friday track "Looking for Trouble." But, apparently, Cole hasn't been impressed with Kanye as of late -- or at least that's what's been alleged by fans of the two after a listen to the track "False Prophets."
Lines like, "He's fallin' apart, but we deny it/Justifying that half-ass shit he dropped, we always buy it/When he tell us he a genius but it's clearer lately/It's been hard for him to look into the mirror lately/There was a time when this nigga was my hero/Maybe that's the reason why his fall from grace is hard to take/'Cause I believed him when he said his shit was purer/And he the type of nigga swear he real but all around him's fake," seem to call out Yeezy's actions following his marriage to Kim Kardashian and his current crew of disciples that enable his behavior. Although the target of Cole's words remain a mystery, all of the clues point directly toward Mr. West.
Anthony Supreme Created the Album Cover Art and Explains the Story Behind It
When it comes to honing his artistic vision, J. Cole is as shrewd as they come -- from the way he constructs his albums down to the cover art. After finding inspiration from home for the cover art for 2014 Forest Hills Drive, this go-round, Cole would find the image that encompasses everything that 4 Your Eyez Only represents through the lens of photographer Anthony Supreme.
A native of North Carolina himself, Supreme had the opportunity to shadow J. Cole and the Dreamville team during a visit to Atlanta, where he would capture the photo that has now flooded the 'net. "I remember the day I pitch this photo to J.cole I was nervous as fuck!," Supreme wrote on Instagram after the cover was unveiled. "It was in September and we were on a two-week tour of creation for this album. I thought this was the perfect photo for his cover. It took me two days to build up enough confidence to show him 6-7 specific photos I felt stood out to me. But, this one stood out the most of this young boy in Atlanta."
Supreme explained the significance of the photo in more detail later in the post, writing, "In This Atlanta neighborhood was just going crazy! People were running out of their house to take a photo of Cole and ask him questions but there was something to me about this boy and how he kept looking at Cole as he walked around his neighborhood. I can see in his eyes how much this experience is slowly changing his life forever!"
Although we'll likely never know the impact of J. Cole roaming a neighborhood and affecting the child in the photo, the cover art of 4 Your Eyez Only -- the first of Anthony Supreme's career -- is sure to evoke emotion and provoke thought for years to come.
4 Your Eyez Only Tracklist Revealed
After teasing fans with his Eyez documentary, J. Cole revealed the final tracklist for 4 Your Eyez Only, with songs like "Neighbors" and "Immortal" showing up as indicated by Cole and company in the doc. From the looks of things, this will be Cole's second album flying solo, as no guest appearances are expected to be made on the album. This creates the possibility of the North Carolina native being the first rapper to release two albums, back-to-back with no features, an accomplishment that would cement him as one of the greatest self-contained artists of this generation.
1. "For Whom the Bell Tolls"
3. "Deja Vu"
4. "Ville Mentality"
5. "She Mine Pt. 1"
8. "Foldin' Clothes"
9. "She Mine Pt. 2"
10. "4 Your Eyez Only"