Listening to the two singles that preceded the release of J. Cole's fourth studio album, 4 Your Eyez Only, you'd probably have thought it would be bursting with call outs and cusses.
Both 'False Prophets' and 'Everybody Dies' (below) are tinged with a bitterness that isn't twisted or premeditated, rather an honest feeling of disappointment. The latter in particular is a vicious verbal assault towards "8 week rappers, lil whatever" and promises to "take your favourite major label rapper, leave them independent crying in the corner". It should be noted that neither feature on the record.
The album itself focuses more on inner insecurities and a deeply thoughtful side to Cole's lyrics - not dissimilar to previous studio efforts. They're also some of his most revealing yet and follow in the vein of his feature on 'Jermaine's Interlude', a track on DJ Khaled's Major Key which dropped earlier this year.
Cole's bars touch on all manner of subjects from death and doubt to his daughter - the latter was something that very few people knew about until an Itunes description revealed as much ahead of the album coming out.
In 'She's Mine Pt. 1' the rapper expresses his overwhelming joy upon the birth of his baby girl with lyrics like 'every time you go to sleep, you look like you in heaven' while in '...Pt. 2' gentle tears ring underneath the words 'Any night that you be crying/I'll dry your eyes'. It's a tender moment indeed and a perfect representation of Cole's ability to channel sincerity, largely down to how secretive he is about his private life away from music.
Aside from the lyrics it's notable that the production values on this record are second to none. Crisp jams are born from tight beats and hushed, soulful vocals that linger in the background and add weight to the words perfectly. 'Foldin Clothes' is a prime example of this where fuzzy bass and scrappy, funk guitars illuminate hope and prosperity in lyrical form.
You'd be fooled into thinking the whole of 4 Your Eyez Only is a mellow journey of love, life and loss however, and Cole brings the fire on 'Neighbors' and 'Deja Vu'. On both, the flow is faster and the words more bragging than others, the former boasting bars like "my 16s should have come with a coffin, fuck the fame and the fortune, well maybe not the fortune".
Without tracks like this you might have felt something was lacking from this release, but with them the album is complete.
Its closer, an opus of a title track, is perfectly poised. The frankness is startling and, by its very essence, is a journey both musically and emotionally. Whoever Cole had in mind when he produced this album, be it other rappers, his family or the fans, his masterful manner of story telling makes it feel like it's yours, and yours only.