This Fan Theory About J.Cole’s ‘4 Your Eyez Only’ Actually Makes Sense
As one-line reviews surface on social media about J.Cole’s latest album 4 Your Eyez Only, fans are digesting every bar from the Dreamville captain and rolling out interesting theories about what the record actually means.
While Cole has remained silent on the meaning behind the album, it’s themes of love, life, mass incarceration and mortality of black men are hard to ignore. While the narrative can be conducive to Cole’s journey from the ‘ville as a boy to the man on top, not all themes go hand in hand.
For that and other reasons, fans believe Cole takes his role as a storyteller a bit deeper by telling the story about a fallen friend (presumably James McMillan Jr.) to his daughter. Towards the ending of “Change,” Cole acts as a reporter narrating McMillian’s death. A child is later heard talking about their father and how they were killed by another friend. With a clear inspiration of Tupac Shakur on several tracks like “Immortal,” and a sample of K.P. & Envyi’s “Swing My Way,” we can set the time frame somewhere in the 90’s with the child growing up without her father and not knowing too much about him.
As McMillian, Cole explains on several songs the reasons behind his decisions to run the streets and finding true love after the birth of his daughter.
The message comes full circle on “4 Your Eyez Only” where Cole tells the child:
Nah, your daddy was a real n***a Not ‘cause 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 ’cause he loved you
For your eyes only
There’s also the portrait of a young girl at a church on the back of the album, who could be the child Cole is speaking to. Since she says she never went to her father’s funeral, this can reflect what happens after her conversation with her father’s friend.
But if Cole is speaking to a young woman, why is there a young man on the front of the album? Photographer Anthony Supreme tell Genius while shooting with the rapper in Atlanta, he was pulled into the silent connection the child had with the rapper. “There are so many different standpoints you can see it from,” Supreme says. “Cole speaking to the youth—this is for your eyes only—for the black youth, and how we all are kids at some point and we really don’t know nothing about the reality that we live in.”
As a whole, the project tells stories of “troubled black youth,” from different vantage points, making the listener do more than just bopping their heads. We’ll probably never know if McMillian is a real person, but his “story” represents many men lost to senseless violence and oppression that lands them in unfortunate situations. Dreamville President Ibrahim Hamad shared after the album’s release we may hear the back story someday.
If you haven’t listened to 4 Your Eyez Only, you can stream it here.
UPDATE: 12/12/2016 3:31 P.M. EST
Because of the internet, the man behind the fan theory has surfaced. John Williams, commented on the J.Cole fan page, @thejcolebible on Instagram, sharing his opinion. Cole didn’t confirm the thesis, but he did reportedly “like” it on the platform.