After almost three years of hype and anticipation, J Cole is back with his sixth studio album, The Off-Season. Leading up to this LP, Jermaine’s had one of the best runs of his career with his Lewis Street EP in July of 2020, the single i n t e r l u d e, and his mind-blowing La Leakers freestyle, which has gone viral around the internet in the past few days. With all this coming together, will J Cole be able to create his magnum opus?
Things open up with the triumphant “9 5 . s o u t h,” and for an intro, it really can’t get any better. With the legendary Cam’ron narrating, Lil John’s signature screams throughout, and a sample taken straight from Jay-Z’s classic track “U Don’t Know,” Cole is given the perfect environment to throw out some lyrical jabs and assert his dominance over the competition. On the second song, “a m a r i,” the direction starts to shift in a much more mainstream favorable way, with Cole tapping into his melodic side. Changing the style of his sound to match the trap standards that dominate the charts in this day and age, Cole comprises his pen game as he simplifies his rhyme schemes and focuses more on vocal patterns, which is certainly frustrating but at least is done properly here.
Fortunately, the LP picks right back up from with “m y . l i f e”. Flipping the same sample used on 21 Savage’s “a lot,” the fan-favorite duo follows up their 2018 smash hit with a new banger that ups the ante in every regard. Cole, rapping in his raw voice, excretes out so much energy, and his impeccable flow puts him in a rare, dangerous element. Adding two guest artists, singer Morray delivers a transcending hook, and 21 Savage steals the show with a verse that shows him in his typical peak form.
Building on this spark, “a p p l y i n g . p r e s s u r e,” goes in a more traditional root with its piano infused boom-bap beat, but it’s still subject to Jermaine’s wrath as he absolutely destroys the instrumental with his witty wordplay and rags to riches centered writing. The short but solid “p u n c h i n . t h e . c l o c k” serves as a nice tension cooler as over a minimalistic soul sampled bassanova beat, Cole spits a single verse that’s all over the place topically but well driven from a technical standpoint. The only line that felt off here was “I got more cribs than habitat for humanity,” which was one of the project’s corniest bars, to say the least.
After settling the energy built up through the first five tracks, the tone was clearly going to shift, and “1 0 0 . m i l'” certainly does this. On the seventh song, Jermaine’s muddied up his voice with some poorly utilized autotune, and it plagues the entire cut. From his objectivity bad singing to the over-the-top drawn-out hook, this track is lackadaisical in every department outside from its instrumental. Following this up, things only spiral lower with “p r i d e . i s . t h e . d e v i l”. Utilizing the same core of Aminé’s “Cant Decide,” the North Carolina native absolutely botches this beat with his inconsistent vocal performance, which features some more horrendous melodic moments, a rancidly bad hook, and a flow that’s bitten off from almost every charting rap song made in the past year or so. The funniest part about this whole track is that we get a surprise feature from none other than Lil Baby, who actually ends up walking over this beat and outperforming Cole just off the basis that his style meshes well with the score presented. The ironic part about using Baby is that on the intro, Cole says, “Look how everybody clappin’ when your thirty-song album do a measly hundred thou,” which is a clear jab at the Atlanta star and others like him who bloat their album tracklists to boost sales. This makes you ask the question, is Cole a hypocrite, or is he just following industry trends and stapling the game’s hottest artist to their song to boost sales?
Following this cluster of garbage, we are anointed with the record’s definite standout “l e t . g o . m y . h a n d”. With a gloomy instrumental and infusion of a jazzy saxophone, the veteran MC reminisces on his past, the mistakes he’s made, and confirms the truth of an infamous tale about an altercation he had with Diddy back in 2013. Hearing this emotionally distraught form of Cole, we see him in rare form as he’s truly able to analyze and narrate like an above-average storyteller and philosopher. Just when you thought this beautiful and passionate strike couldn’t get better, there’s an amazing instrumental playout that features some major piano chords, dark strings, and some inaudible singing which adds to the overall mystery of the song. At this point, the already released singles “i n t e r l u d e” and “t h e . c l i m b . b a c k” are placed back to back, and they do a great job at building on the momentum of its predecessors and setting up for an action-packed conclusion.
On the final leg, the angelic “c l o s e” continues to showcase J Cole at his best. Using the term close to representing being near a goal or achievement while also utilizing it to allude to his eventual retirement, the moment is masterfully thought out with this clever double meaning. Wrapping things up, “h u n g e r . o n . h i l l . s i d e” is a nice outro from an instrumental and structural standpoint, but once again, Cole is buttering up his voice with autotune and the notes he tries to reach are unbearable when present. While this is far from the worst showing of melodic Cole on this project, the ending is very underwhelming, especially when considering how good Cole’s other closers have been historically.
Walking away from, The Off-Season and it’s not the masterpiece many hyped it up to be, but it’s an enjoyable effort from Cole nonetheless. Approaching this record like a mixtape certainly helped the 36-year-olds creative process, and this allowed for some of his best tracks ever. Still, a lot of the more melodic and trap-oriented songs definitely weigh this LP down and suppress it from reaching any real levels of greatness. If J Cole can cut that part out of his game going forward, he’ll be able to really outdo himself and have an insane finale to his revered career.
- Letting go of creating a deeper concept, Cole was able to show off his pure skill and have fun
- Amazing production
- Some of Cole’s best tracks ever
- When actually rapping, technical showing was Cole’s best
- Great atmosphere
- Disappointing feature choices
- Melodic/trendy songs were mainly bad
- Rough middle & Disappointing ending
Written by Mr. Fantastic