J.Cole - 4 Your Eyez Only (Review)


I see the rain pouring down, before my very eyes.” These are the first words you’ll hear when you start the album.

This is a review of J.Cole’s 2016 album, 4 Your Eyez Only. The album has 10 tracks, but seems much shorter than 10 (the album is 45 minutes). I consider the album to have 6 songs, 2 intros, and 2 interludes, with one massive story hidden underneath it all.


  1. For Whom The Bell Tolls
  2. Immortal
  3. Deja Vu
  4. Ville Mentality
  5. She’s Mine, Pt. 1
  6. Change
  7. Neighbors
  8. Foldin Clothes
  9. She’s Mine, Pt. 2
  10. 4 Your Eyez Only

Your” Eyez Only

The first time I listened to this album, I hated it. I couldn’t believe this was what he was working on for two years (since 2014 Forest Hills Drive, which was released on the same day, December 9th, two years ago — here’s my review of that album). I listened to 4 Your Eyez Only several times wondering: how does he think this is enough?

Around the 5th or 6th listen, though, something clicked for me, as I started to feel as if I was missing something: For your eyes only . . . ok, so this isn’t meant to be approached from the usual perspective. I’ve been a fan of Cole for many years, and the things he’s talking about here don’t even relate to his usual life-story. There’s little nuggets of wisdom in each song, though, and each time I listen to that particular song, those hints of something bigger being discussed become louder.

Do You Understand?

I kept studying it, and then it all started to make sense: this album isn’t even about J.Cole. This album is being told from someone else’s perspective, someone that’s caught up in the mentality of survival, and their time is running out (“Won’t be long before I disappear.”). The feeling of things coming to an end are whispered throughout the entire 45 minutes. There’s a war going on here—a clash between the street life and a family life. The two interludes, along with a song simply about folding clothes, are being told from the perspective of J.Cole, where he’s appreciating his relationship and his newborn baby girl. But then there’s songs being told from a street-mentality, and those have nothing to do with J.Cole, and those songs (Immortal and Neighbors) are as close as you can get to being face-to-face with a danger, and then ultimately, a life that comes to an end on the very last song.

The Turning Point

Halfway into the album, on the 5th song (Change), the first words you hear is, My intuition is telling me they’ll be better days.” That line defines the album, as it’s searching for a change from so many generational curses. That tug-of-war between good and evil. (“Life is all about the evolution. You can dream, but don’t neglect the execution. Time is short, that’s what somebody told me. Too short to keep following your homies.”) At the end of Change”, though, is when something big is revealed: Cole reenacts what he saw on the morning news, and then reenacts the funeral, and then simply says, We’ve got to do better, people”. And then the name that is hidden from public sight, the name of the person that this album is about, the person that the second perspective of this album is being told from, is finally mentioned. This album is about James McMillan Jr, and the title, 4 Your Eyez Only, is directed at his daughter, Nina, who you’ll hear speaking several times on the album.

The Final Track

All of this is better understood once you fully dive into the last track on the album, which is also titled 4 Your Eyez Only. (I’ll give you many quotes from the song, to help understand the message.)

For your eyes, do you understand?” is repeated as the hook.

The first verse is James, telling his story to the world, explaining why he did what he did. This is the world he saw, and it’s a story that so many know: a mentality that’s poison. He says that he can’t even visualize himself as nothing but a criminal”, and when you think about life from that perspective, how do you even go up from there? This first verse is summed up in the second line: It seems my dreams faded for too long, the consequence’s deadly.” That line shows the bigger picture of what Cole is trying to say in these 45 minutes. Consequence’s deadly. When you’re that low, when your dreams begin fading, when you begin to lack ambition, and all you see is what’s in front of you—which is violence and the feeling of being trapped—death isn’t that far away.“This is like the farthest thing from heaven. This is hell and I don’t mean that hyperbolic.” And then, for the last line of this verse, James says, If the pressure gets too much for me to take, and I break, play this tape for my daughter, and let her know my life was on it.” That’s when it begins to make sense.

For your eyes, do you understand?

On the second verse, James, for the first time on the album, is speaking directly to his daughter. You’re probably grown now, so this song will hit you. If you’re hearing this, it unfortunately means that I’m no longer with you.” You can feel things moving, transitioning to another layer of the story. A conversation between a dead father and his daughter, making sense of their life now. And then comes my favorite line on the album: But Daddy had dreams once, my eyes had a gleam once.” There’s power in this line, as he tells his daughter that at one point, there was hope. And then for the last few lines of this verse, it points at the bigger story again: Took me two felonies to see the trap this crooked ass system set for me, and now I fear it’s too late for me to ever be the one that set examples that was never set for me.”

For your eyes, do you understand?

On the third verse, he continues talking to his daughter, as he starts the verse off with, It’s several ways I could’ve went out, too many to count”. That line is a great way to keep the story progressing. Then he continues to tell his daughter how distorted his mentality was: See, baby girl, I realized that my definition of real was skewed”, and then says, I pray you find someone with goals and point of views, much broader than the corner.” The cyclical nature, a toxic cycle that keeps repeating, is the first thought I had when this album started clicking for me. Cyclical nature is what this album points at. This third verse will be the last words to his daughter, so it makes sense that he’s pouring wisdom into her, but the story is told as if he was alive when he wrote this, and these words will only arrive to her if he happens to die: My worst fear is one day that you come home from school and see your father’s face while hearing about tragedy on the news. I got the strangest feeling your daddy’s gonna lose his life soon, and sadly if you’re listening now, it must mean it’s true. 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. For your eyes only.”

For your eyes, do you understand?

Not many songs do this, so it was a pleasant surprise, and makes sense, because that’s when the concept is revealed: a fourth verse, where J.Cole speaks to Nina about the conversation her father had with Cole. It starts with: One day your daddy called me, told me he had a funny feeling. What he’d been dealing with lately, he wasn’t telling. I tried to pick his brains, still he wasn’t revealing. But I could feel the sense of panic in his voice, and it was chilling.” James goes on to ask Cole to write down his story and share it with his daughter when the time is right, because his own time is running out: I got a feeling I won’t see tomorrow, like the time I’m living on is borrowed. With that said, the only thing I’m proud to say, I was a father. Write my story down, and if I pass, go play it for my daughter, when she’s ready.” James is finished. Those were the last words from him to Cole. The remainder of this verse is now from Cole. And these next lines are the bigger picture that I keep pointing towards, that cyclical nature that was briefly mentioned: 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.”

I reflect on this line, and at how many good people are stuck in a cycle of broken homes, incarceration, and overall toxicity. How many kids—or fathers—were never given a proper chance at life? How many of them simply repeat what they were brought up into, or see themselves not going much further than where they currently are? Their ambition fades, the bigger picture is taken away from them, and because of this, they live in a constant state of survival. 4 Your Eyez Only: the album, tells a story about a man and his daughter—but when I think about this album, I see millions of people like them. James is only one character in a bigger story.

For your eyes, do you understand?

I can remember the first time hearing this album. I heard these two soft songs (She’s Mine Pt. 1 and 2, about his wife and his newborn daughter), and I was disappointed at the lack of depth in these two tracks. I wondered, why did he use two of the ten songs on this album for something as simple as this? Especially with hardly any lyrics on them (which is why I consider them interludes). But as I look back on his purpose of the album, these two songs set the tone, and the fact that they’re called She’s Mine”, shows their significance. For an album about running out of time, and for an album about misunderstanding what’s real, and for an album about breaking generational curses, it only makes sense that he uses a big portion of the tracks to slow things down for a moment and acknowledge what’s truly important. While I’m too scared to expose myself, it turns out you know me better than I know myself.” On both of these songs, on Pt. 1 it’s the first words, and then on Pt. 2, it’s the last words, where puts it as simple as possibly: I never felt so alive.”

I’m Nash. I create things. Become a member today. 1

  1. $10/month or $100/year

    Every month I go through each service that’s connected to nashp.com — memberships, merchandise, Patreon, album sales, Tip Jar, etc. — and when transferring those little balances into my bank account, and seeing them collectively become a small paycheck, it’s always fascinating.

    A bunch of little buckets working together for the bigger picture.

    Thank you.

Stories From Me

Stories From You

Stories From The Internet



Organizing and Decorating Nevaeh’s Room

Cross Church Notes: Family Feature (12/30/18)

December Photos

Creative Minds: December

My 15 Favorite Rap Albums of 2018

Creative Minds Shirts

Cross Church Notes: The Simple Gospel (12/23/18)

I don’t know why people are so keen to put the details of their private life in public; they forget that invisibility is a superpower. — Banksy

For My Brother: 004 - Chuck E. Cheese Party

Criminal justice overhaul: The unlikely story behind the bill that wouldn’t die

Searching For Kanye West

Darkroom For iPad: Faster. Easier. More Powerful.

The Making of “Mr. Bentley: The Birthday Card”

Cross Church Notes: Family Feature (12/16/18)

Luka Doncic Signature Moves Highlights 2018-2019

Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle (2018)

Black Thought - Conception feat. Reek Ruffin (Official Music Video)

Invisible Man (LOOP2)

What To Watch

Little Buckets

We are not nouns, we are verbs. I am not a thing…an actor, a writer…I am a person who does things…I write, I act…and I never know what I’m going to do next. I think you can be imprisoned if you think of yourself as a noun. — Stephen Fry

Cross Church Notes: Family Feature (12/9/18)

Eminem - Kick Off Freestyle (Remix with Beats)

November Photos

Eminem - Good Guy ft. Jessie Reyez

Marvel Studios’ Avengers - Official Trailer

OWC Travel Dock

An Inside Look at Apple’s Biggest Step Yet in Health Care

Cross Church Notes: First Thursday (12/6/18)

December 5, 2018

Wes Anderson’s new movie, The French Dispatch

Beautiful ebook novels with Ulysses - Matt Gemmell

For My Brother: 003 - Creative Minds

Cross Church Notes: Family Feature (12/2/18)

October Recap (It was a busy month)

Why iPad Pro

Introducing the new iPad Pro — Apple

October 30, 2018

Bet on Yourself | A Gary Vaynerchuk Original Film

Amazon-Backed Smart Glasses For $1,000: First Look

Jay Rock - Wow Freestyle ft. Kendrick Lamar

Apple’s Radical Approach to News: Humans Over Machines

Red Dead Redemption 2: Review Roundup

What the Hell Happened to Darius Miles? — By Darius Miles

iPhone XR: Great For Everyone - Austin Mann

Feature Request: Pairing and managing the Apple Watch from the iPad

Stardew Valley - iOS Launch Trailer

October 24, 2018

Apple Watch

Apple’s Upcoming TV Service to Launch in 100+ Countries in 2019, Starting With the U.S.

October 19, 2018

iPhone XR Hands-on: Everything You Need to Know

Red Dead Redemption 2 Launch Trailer

A Review of the Apple Watch Series 4 — The Sweet Setup

How to Watch Basketball

Creative Minds: October

Navy Seal Commander explains why wake up at 4am

Chris Paul - One Goal

Cross Church Notes: Ghost Stories (10/14/18)

Austin Kleon - Bond 2018

Genius Gets Smart With Apple Music

You say backpack. I say rocket.

THE MULE - Official Trailer

Project xCloud: Gaming with you at the center

Handling Deadlines and Multiple Projects with OmniFocus and MindNode

Podcast: Brain States (Daniel Clark on Focus, Sleep and Neuroscience)

Podcast: Brain States (Daniel Clark on Focus, Sleep and Neuroscience)

Out of Time (2003)

Cross Church Notes: Ghost Stories (10/7/18)

Anderson .Paak - TINTS ft. Kendrick Lamar (Official Lyric Video)

Scratched Cornea: Productivity Life Hack

Eminem - Venom

Invisible Man (Are We Dreaming)

Finding Purpose, by Jay Ray

Scratched My Eye

Find Your Spark

Confirmation Bias And the Power of Disconfirming Evidence

A Beautiful Mind (2001)

Chris Paul Speech To The Next Generation of Basketball In Los Angeles.

Media Giants Rev Up Streaming Services to Compete With Netflix — Variety

Cyberpunk 2077 Gameplay Reveal — 48-minute walkthrough

Cross Church Notes: Made For This (8/26/18)

August 24, 2018

Get lost in the breathtaking game Sable

NBA 2K19: Broadcast Trailer

Kobe Bryant Top 40 All Time Plays

Serial Box creates books for the age of Peak TV

Yuno - Fall In Love [OFFICIAL VIDEO]

Dizzy - Pretty Thing

Cross Church Notes: Made For This (08/19/18)

Audacious Fox: 1Password as a Digital Will

August 16, 2018

How Music Was Made On Super Nintendo


Consolidating Groups


Cross Church Notes: Made For This (08/12/18)

Apple Glasses Are Coming - Here’s Why

Red Dead Redemption 2: Official Gameplay Video

5 Common Grammar Mistakes Even the Best Writers Make

NBA 2K19 - Take the Crown

Vector: Anki’s tiny robot that wants to hang

Anki Reveals Autonomous ‘Vector’ Home Robot With AI Learning to Help Around the House

No Man’s Sky: Next Review

Mac Miller - 2018 NPR Tiny Desk Concert (Feat. Thundercat)

LeBron James to Produce Docu-Series ‘Shut Up and Dribble’ for Showtime

Home of the Future with Grant Imahara

New Musical Express: Travis Scott — ‘Astroworld’ review

Disney’s Streaming Service Starts to Come Into Focus

Cross Church Notes: Made For This (08/05/18)

The Work Required to Have an Opinion

General Magic - Official Trailer

An ode to back to school shopping

Redesigning Siri and adding multitasking features to iOS

Drake - In My Feelings

Daring Fireball: Apple Closes With Market Cap Over $1 Trillion

Daring Fireball: Apple Closes With Market Cap Over $1 Trillion

Apple Is Worth $1 Trillion; 21 Years Ago It Was on the Brink of Bankruptcy

August 1, 2018

It Is the Very Act of Doing Something that Actually Helps with Clarity.

Carmelo & Paul - Secret Workout In Vegas (Video)

Summer Project: 2018

Nintendo has sold nearly 20 million Switch consoles

Netflix Acquires Andy Serkis’ Mowgli From Warner Bros

With so much content, viewership is moving further and further away from release dates

What it means to be an artist

Let go of the belief that everything is important

Carmelo finalized his buyout with Atlanta

Cross Church Notes: Extreme Summer (07/29/18)

LeBron James Fights For His Family | THE SHOP

Extinction | Official Trailer [HD] | Netflix

Rockets sign Clint Capela to five-year deal

Zoning Out in the Age of Netflix

Denis Villeneuve is making a series of Dune movies

I Think We’re Alone Now - Teaser Trailer

July 24, 2018

July 23, 2018

Cross Church Notes: Extreme Summer (07/22/18)

Glass - Official Trailer

July 20, 2018

little things that matter

Peter Jackson’s new First World War film

Gemini Twins, by Charles Phillips III

No Man’s Sky NEXT (Trailer)

Finding My Best Self

UNCHARTED - Fan Film (2018)

Summer Collection (Shirts)

Cross Church Notes: Extreme Summer (07/15/18)

Do You Even Matter?

Mac Miller - Self Care (Video)

Journal: July 13, 2018

Become a Better Runner - Anatomy of a Stride

How MoviePass (Doesn’t) Work

The Impact of Akira: The Film that Changed Everything

Star Wars: Episode IX Cast Announced


Cross Church Notes: Extreme Summer (7/8/18)

Frank Ocean: How an Accomplished Writer Became a Reclusive Superstar

James Altucher on How to Reinvent Yourself and Create the Future with Lewis Howes

‘Rest in Power: The Trayvon Martin Story’ Official Trailer | Paramount Network

Cross Church Notes: Extreme Summer (07/01/18)

Cross Church Notes: Extreme Summer (07/01/18)

Childish Gambino - Storytelling Through Hip-Hop

Iteration and Haptic Feedback

Trying to Conceive, by Chelsea Breaux

Frank Ocean - Godspeed (DVSN Remix)

About the iPhone 7 Design

Apple in Talks to Acquire Luxury Carmaker and Formula One Team McLaren

Kottke.org’s New Site Design (and the importance of launching things unfinished)

Just write and publish

iPhone is the new Film

iPhone 7 Render: Space Black Edition

iPhone 7: Day 1 (Photoblog)

What to expect from next week’s iPhone 7

Rounders: A Netflix Review

I didn’t watch either of the two Saints games, and that’s ok

The iPhone 7 completely demolishes Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 in a speed test

MKBHD: iPhone 7’s performance and camera

Dear Casey (Introduction to the iPhone)

Neil Cybart on AirPods

Inside an AirPod

iPhone 7 Ad

Skiler’s leaving for the Army: a photoblog of us saying goodbye

Apple tees up the future with iPhone 7 | TechCrunch

Pace, Rhythm, and Blogging

iPhone 7 At The US Open

The Power of Creation, by Ashley Cox Samanie

iPhone 7 Plus Photos from the Titans-Vikings Game

Propaganda Smoke Screen

‘If you think Apple Watch is a flop you are a moron.’

Carol: how my grandma impacted my life


Apple is trying to turn the iPhone into a DSLR using artificial intelligence

Introducing iPhone 7

Introducing AirPods

Don’t Blink: a two minute video, quickly showing everything Apple announced today

Galaxy Note 7 Exploding Battery Issue Gifts Samsung’s Victory To Apple’s New iPhone 7

Dear Younger Me

Making the Climb: a guest post by Gilbert Marcel

Kanye Deconstructed: the human voice as the ultimate instrument

Phones are exploding, and nobody cares

Isaiah Rashad - Wat’s Wrong ft Zacari & Kendrick Lamar

Writing, Archives, Friends

NBA 2K17 Gameplay Blog with Gameplay Director, Mike Wang

Creative Minds: Small Group