J. Cole’s fourth studio album 4 Your Eyez Only was one of the biggest releases of 2016. Not only did it debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, its entire tracklist also landed on the Hot 100 chart. But amid all the excitement surrounding the project’s drop, there was a little bit of controversy surrounding one of its songs: the Boi-1da- and Vinylz-produced “Déjà Vu,” which sounded a lot like Bryson Tiller’s 2015 cut “Exchange.”
Vinylz later accused Foreign Teck, the producer of “Exchange,” of stealing the beat; however, Foreign Teck has denied these claims and insists he created it on his own. Both “Déjà Vu,” and “Exchange” sample K.P. and Envyi's 1998 track “Swing My Way.”
Weeks after the producers’ public beef, J. Cole’s producer and Dreamville manager Ibrahim "Ib" Hamad explained to Billboard their decision to include “Deja Vu” on the album, despite its similarities to Tiller’s track.
“I wouldn’t say there was any hesitation because I felt like it’s just two totally different songs. We had already made 'Déjà Vu,' like that song was literally made for his last album [2014 Forest Hills Drive] and we just knew it would fit better because of the story he wanted to tell on the album,” Hamad said. “Cole had already made the song, so when Bryson’s album came out and we heard it, it was a feeling like, ‘Damn, he used the same sample.’ But to Cole, it don’t matter. He’s not competing with Bryson. What Bryson’s song did was incredible, and to Cole, it was like, ‘It’s a part of the story I want to tell, so I’m gonna use [the beat].’ We didn’t really know the backstory at the time of what happened with Vinylz and Boi1da and [ForeignTeck] who made the beat. That was none of our concern.”
Hamad said preserving cohesion was one of Cole’s top priorities. The singles “False Prophets” and “Everybody Dies” were intended to be on the album, but were ultimately cut because the rapper didn’t believe they went with the project’s story.
“The album was initially like 13, 14 songs and then just at the last second, we kind of were like, ‘Look, if we’re trying to tell a story, let’s just make it as clear as possible and cut it down to that.’ So when we cut out ‘False Prophets’ and ‘Everybody Dies,’ it really hurt,” Hamad said. “[…] We really wanted [the songs] on the album and it was like we still wanted people to hear it but we didn’t want to put the music out because we knew it wasn’t a real representation of the album.”
You can read Hamad’s full interview, in which he discusses Cole’s loyal following and their decision to release the album on all streaming services, at Billboard’s website.