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4 Your Eyez Only plunges deep into J. Cole’s soul. You can clearly hear it in his voice—pleading, testifying, on the verge of cracking. At center stage with no featured guests, the North Carolina rapper speaks out on social ills, black lives, and doing the right thing in a world of wrong. The music is settled, filled with jazz touches and strings, allowing the words to become the focus. “Neighbors” and “Change” examine imbalances and tension affecting communities of color. “Foldin Clothes” shows that even benign acts can be a source of joy. The two-part suite “She’s Mine” may be the most important songs he’s written, as Cole finds himself overcome by a strange feeling: hope.
Born: January 28, 1985 in Frankfurt, Germany
Years Active: ’00s, ’10s
J. Cole, the first artist signed to Jay-Z’s Roc Nation label, was among the most commercially successful rap artists of the early 2010s. Born in Germany but raised in North Carolina, Jermaine Cole grew up with a mother who loved rock and folk, and a father who was a fan of hardcore rap artists like 2Pac and Ice Cube. Cole’s high-school grades earned an academic scholarship to attend St. John’s University in New York City, where Cole knew he could make progress as a musician. After numerous days standing…