Last night, J. Cole confirmed the release of his new surprise album, 4 Your Eyez Only, next week with a surprise documentary, Eyez. It’s 40 minutes long and packed with footage of him recording his new album (and playing basketball), but there’s about six minutes of the film rap fans will want to pay close attention to. At one point, J. Cole appears to preview two new songs, “False Prophets” and another untitled one. Both are no-holds-barred diatribes on the state of rap, with each seeming to take aim at (at least) two particular rappers apparently at fault. Of course there are no names dropped, though the popular and easy read on “False Prophets” so far is that it’s largely about Kanye West. “Ego in charge of every move, he’s a star / And we can’t look away due to the days that he caught our hearts / He’s fallin’ apart, but we deny it,” Cole raps. And later: “When he tell us he a genius but it’s clearer lately / It’s been hard for him to look into the mirror lately / There was a time when this nigga was my hero / Maybe that’s the reason why his fall from grace is hard to take.”
Putting the context of Kanye often declaring himself a genius and his recent hospitalization into perspective, it might seem like those painfully honest bars are meant for Kanye. (Cole has been known to write about his idols and letdowns, though it used to be the other way around.) There’s also a shot at ghostwriting, which could be directed at just about anyone. But it’s wise to remember that Kanye and Cole have what’s generally appeared to be a decent rapport, sometimes co-producing songs together (like on Pusha T’s newest album). If there has been some seismic rift in their relationship or a change in the way Cole perceives Kanye now, his words aren’t so much a traditional diss as they are a heavy sigh.
The untitled track, however, is more impersonal and barbed (and therefore better to decipher). It’s classic chest-puffing on a new vs. old guard soapbox, atop which Cole fancies himself a generational-rap crossbreed. He criticizes “amateur eight-week rappers” and sides with his aforementioned heroes. The offender here would appear to be young Atlanta rapper Lil Yachty, who’s made a name for himself not just in bleary viral hits but for devaluing golden-era rappers like Biggie (then recanting his comments). “Clap at the fake deep rappers, the OG gatekeep rappers, the would-you-take-a-break-please rappers / A bunch of words and ain’t saying shit, I hate these rappers,” Cole raps over another recycled A Tribe Called Quest sample. “Lil ‘whatever,’ just another short-bus rapper / Fake drug dealers turn tour-bus trappers … The streets don’t fuck with you, you Pitchfork rappers / Chosen by the white man you hipster rappers.”
Needless to say, there’s not much in the way of subtlety here regarding the song’s subject. In both cases, there’s a code to hip-hop that appears to be broken, and J. Cole, on his new album, will apparently attempt to be the one to fix it.