J. Cole dropped one of my favorite albums of 2016 in 4 Your Eyez Only, with powerful storytelling and interesting perspectives on racial tensions, having a family in a crime filled life, and being remembered, and so I anticipated his documentary with the same title, which aired on HBO last Sunday night.
Most of the album is told from the perspective of James McMillian Jr, a pseudonym for one of Cole’s real life friends, and the album is meant to be a kind of life story and eulogy for James’ daughter in the event that he dies from his crime filled lifestyle. The documentary does not follow this same story, but instead tackles similar themes in our world through interviews and short music video segments.
I watched the documentary Monday morning on HBO GO (for free, thanks to Geneseo) and I was immediately struck with parallels to this class that I did not at all expect beforehand. I felt these parallels strengthen even further during class that same day as we talked about shelter and watched the “This Old House” Detroit episode, which also drew callbacks to the Frontline episode “The Old Man and the Storm.”
Here are just a handful of the connections I found between the documentary and the subject matter of this class.
4 Your Eyez Only opens with a group of people arguing in the street about who has a voice and who deserves to have their story told.
The first interview is with an elderly black woman in Baton Rouge, Louisiana whose house had flooded and suffered massive water damage, and she describes her intent to rebuild the house by herself without any help from insurance or the state. The camera pans inside of the house, stripped down to its damaged wooden infrastructure, as she retells how the insurance claims adjuster came to her house, “got on the roof, he said ‘you got 17 shingles that need to be replaced.’ 17 shingles. I got a check: 86$. […] Thats one check I’m not gonna cash. I’m gonna take care of this myself.”
J. Cole debuts a new song and paired music video in a transition where he discusses how the Bible doesn’t resonate with children anymore, and how they need a new faith to follow. Cole proposes that his own “verses can help a person way more than the ones they readin’ in churches.”
The documentary then takes us to Ferguson, Missouri, where a chance encounter with Michael Brown’s cousin, Darius, leads to an interview in front of Michael’s memorial.