J.Cole’s 2016 album, 4 Your Eyez Only tells the story of a young man’s struggle to survive while living in the projects of North Carolina. The album describes the same character named James, slowly transition from a life of drug dealing and violence to starting his own family and even having children. Nevertheless James feels that he can’t escape his past and fears his eventual demise. This comes to a front on the album’s title, and outro track “4 Your Eyez Only.” The song begins with Cole (as James) talking about the difficulties of living in Fayetteville, and how he’s reached beyond desperate to get by. However the song shifts at the end of the first verse as James reveals this to be a poem to his daughter in case of his death.
“That’s why I write this sonnet
If the pressure get too much for me to take and I break
Play this tape for my daughter and let her know my life is on it”
The smooth transition from James’ perspective from Cole to his daughter is highlighted by his tone. When talking to his daughter James’ voice raises as he speaks in a more hopeful, albeit desperate voice. He pleads for his daughter not to pursue the life he did, and to look for a man who isn’t hard-hearted like so many that James knew. He even tries to relate to his daughter by stating his father passed at a young age, and ponders her opinion on his life.
The third verse hints at even more rushed speaking as James begins to believe his time is running out. It’s here that James reveals the entire album to be a letter to his daughter in case he can’t be with her. In spite of this he hangs to threads of hope in his final lines.
“But maybe there’s a chance that it’s not
And this album remains locked in a hard drive like valuable jewels
And I can teach you this in person like I’m teaching you to tie your own shoes
I love you and I hope to God I don’t lose you”
The song’s final verse comes directly from Cole, who conveys that James’ prediction of his passing has come true. Cole compliments James to his daughter for being real, but not for the reason’s one would have thought.
“Nah your daddy was a real n***a, not ‘cos he was hard
Not because he lived a life of crime and sat behind some bars
Not because he screamed f**k the law, although that was true
Your daddy was a real n***a ‘cuz he loved you”
For your eyes only”
Cole later attributed the character of James to a real friend, to whom the album is dedicated to. The track perfectly conveys the message of hope in youth, being killed by one’s past. Cole uses the tone of James to display these emotions as well as the switch in perspectives of James. Cole’s ability to perform these feats make “4 Your Eyez Only” one of hip-hop’s many great storytelling songs.
One thought on “J.Cole’s 4 Your Eyez Only is truly a Love Letter”
Cool analysis, I like how you pointed out the shift in tone when Cole is speaking to his daughter.