This is one of the few J Cole albums that I’ve listened to without skipping any tracks.
J Cole’s latest album release follows the great commercial success of his previous project ‘4 Your Eyez Only’. It was a project that was primarily concerned with black American activism, and many expected this album to be the same. However, J Cole surprises fans with a project that’s less focused on the universal struggle for Black Americans, and more focused on his own personal issues as an artist struggling with fame.
Personally, while Cole’s activism is admirable, I’ve never enjoyed his songs about politics. This may be controversial, but most of his lyrical content in these songs is shallow and he rarely says anything that is worth considering further. Unlike artists like Kendrick Lamar, who offer a unique perspective on his struggles J Cole often just parrots the statements and statistics that everyone is familiar with.
This is why so many people find his music dull. He doesn’t completely cut this out, but it’s a lot less prevalent than in his previous albums; a musical choice which works well as his political statements seem more powerful when spread out.
By taking this album in an introspective direction, Cole’s messages have a lot more depth. He is no longer attempting to speak for an entire culture, but only for his personal issues. The production on the project is understated. Simple drum beats to allow Cole to spin his stories with no distractions. The focus is always on lyricism with J Cole and it’s the same with this album. From the beginning to the end, he rides every one of the beats effortlessly.
Cole touches a lot of interesting subject matters in this project, questioning the nature of internet romances on the track ‘Photograph’. In the song ‘Kevin’s Heart’ he delivers the unexpectedly emotional bar “I’m a fake n***** and it’s never been clearer, can’t see myself when I look in the mirror.” Drugs, introspection and women are the most common themes throughout the album, but it’s the way that Cole approaches these that makes his perspective seem fresh.
His lyrical strength is on display in the song ‘FRIENDS’ where he speaks about the struggles of becoming famous and leaving your friends behind. The mixture of guilt and anger is evident in his flow as he attempts to restrain his feelings with a monotony that becomes more aggravated as the song goes on.
But the most controversial part of the album and the part that will be discussed the most is the final track. ‘1985 (Intro to “The Fall Off”)’ takes aim at the rising wave of SoundCloud rappers that have been dominating the scene recently. It’s not so much a diss track, but a recognition of where the hip-hop scene is headed. He does not insult the new wave, he offers them advice from a rapper who has been around for a lot longer than they have. Nevertheless, it’s certain to create a lot of controversy.
J Cole has taken a mature, focused look on the message he wants to convey and released an album that is not phenomenal, but still solid.
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