NEW YORK-Rapper J Cole has scored one of the biggest debuts on the US charts this year, furthering the surprise after he released the dark narrative album with little warning.

"4 Your Eyez Only," the fourth studio album by the North Carolina rapper, debuted at number one on the Billboard album chart for the week through Thursday. Selling 492,000 copies or the equivalent in streaming and downloads, "4 Your Eyez Only" marks the third biggest opening week of any album in the nearly completed year, according to tracking service Nielsen Music.

Only Toronto rapper Drake's hit-heavy "Views" and pop superstar Beyonce's conceptual "Lemonade" sold more in their first weeks in the United States.

"4 Your Eyez Only," in line with J. Cole's previous work, delves into racial and income inequalities in America.

The 10-track album traces the life of a character named James who goes from drug-dealing to starting a family - and to an early death.

The 31-year-old Cole had recently hinted he was through with music, telling The Meadows festival in New York in October that the show - a last-minute fill-in for The Weeknd - would be his last for the foreseeable future.

But a pre-order page suddenly appeared on iTunes for "4 Your Eyez Only" a week before its release on December 9.

Cole confirmed the album by putting out a documentary on the album's creation through Tidal, the streaming service led by his mentor Jay Z.

In contrast to many other prominent figures in hip-hop, Cole has had little personal controversy and in recent years has avoided the formula of tapping star rappers for collaborations.

His last album, "2014 Forest Hills Drive," explored societal tensions by relating how the now famous Cole returned to buy his humble boyhood home.