2016, one of the interesting years of music. So many highs and lows, debates, underhanded moves, shade, and everything in between. One of the most talked about topics (or aspects) of music has been the genre of hip-hop. From memes to news articles, hip-hop has been thrown under the bus and has been criticized. From lyrical stylings of Lil' Uzi Vert, Lil' Yatchy, and 21 Savage to the extremes of Kanye West, many look at hip-hop as a joke now. I find this hard to believe with the release of Drake's Views, which went quadruple platinum, Common's Black America Again, and A Tribe Called Quest's final album We Got It From Here...Thank You 4 Your Services.
Then here comes little ole Jermaine...
Yes, J. Cole at the beginning of this month released two freestyles; one song, "False Prophets", reflected on Kanye West and the journey from being the rapper everyone loved to the rapper that has let everyone down. The second song, "Everybody Dies", was a record calling out the current state of hip hop; which entails calling out "mumble rappers", rappers who care more about popularity than the art of hip-hop, and rappers who are overrated thanks to the media. Two freestyles caused a nationwide discussion about the current state of hip-hop.
Then it was announced.
J. Cole announced the release of his third album, 4 Your Eyez Only. Released on December 9th, J. Cole once again turned his album into an opportunity to be a storyteller. Thanks to social media, many people now understand the storyline behind the album, which is essentially about the life of Cole and his friend which has many parallels, how Cole lost his friend to the streets, and the final song on the album is a message to his friend's daughter, telling her that even though her father made some questionable decisions, he was still a good man and this album was "for your eyes only". Listening to the album, I got that right off the bat. While listening to this album, I also heard a philosophical undertone and deeper message about life.
As mentioned, the storyline of 4 Your Eyez Only centers around Cole and his friend who lived parallel lives and Cole loses his friend to the street life. With that being said, the underlining message from this album is you can either be a product of your environment or you can rise above your environment. This is a message that becomes more prevalent with generations that are younger than our parents and ones that are younger than us (millennials). Whether it's economic, racial or educational setbacks, you have the ability to manipulate the life you have into something you want it to be. In 2016, still many people, younger and older, don't go after more or have the motivation to achieve their goals because of their surroundings. Now, that's not to say we need to discredit and ignore systematic racism, but as we get older, we learn that some people chose to take a different route and other chose to stay within their means.
4 Your Eyez Only is an album with a storyline we can connect with. I see many of my friends, with good or bad, in each song. At the beginning of the year, Drake had hip-hop lit, and as we draw closer to the end of 2016, J. Cole humbles us and thinks about the year ahead of us. 4 Your Eyez Only was the perfect album to end 2016 with.