Album Review: The Off-Season by J. Cole


Saesha Rajput

Background: Legendary rapper J. Cole (full name: Jermaine Lamarr Cole) released his sixth studio album, The Off-Season with 12 tracks, on May 14, 2021. Fans eagerly anticipated his album for weeks after Cole released a single, “Interlude”, just weeks before as a teaser to the album. Cole produced the album himself alongside T-Minus and Ibrahim Hamad, and production was handled by various producers including, again, Cole himself, T-Minus, Boi-1da, Timbaland, Frank Dukes, DJ Dahi, Tae Beast, and Jake One among others. The album featured guest vocals from notable artists such as 21 Savage, Lil Baby, 6LACK, Morray, and Bas, becoming Cole’s first album since his 2013 sophomore album Born Sinners to contain guest features. Along with the album, J. Cole released a twelve-minute short film titled Applying Pressure: The Off-Season Documentary. The album received generally positive reviews and topped the US Billboard 200, selling about 282,000 units in its first week and making it Cole’s sixth consecutive number-one album in the country.

My Review: J. Cole has long had a reputation for rapping about key issues and issues of substance including gender, class, and race. This latest album is no exception, with topics such as gun violence and sexism being highlighted on the tracks. However, this track has much more of a relaxed feel than the others—the traditional stress J. Cole accompanies is ditched for a much more laid-back, chill feeling, where it seems like Cole is actually enjoying rapping for once. The preaching of tracks such as “Love Yourz” and “Snow on tha Bluff” is left in the past, instead replaced with a healthy liveliness, particularly in the album’s collaborations. The album starts off strong, with the introductory song, “95. South”, having great narration by Cam’ron and Lil John’s signature rapping throughout as well as a sample from Jay-Z’s classic “U Don’t Know”. Cole sets the tone, creating a friendly and relaxed atmosphere in which he is free to assert his dominance over competition and even make “friendly” comments towards them. The second song, “Amari”, sees direction shift and Cole taps into his melodic and mainstream side. The song is tailored to fit in with songs that dominate the charts, and he relaxes his lyricism a little bit to focus on vocal patterns, making it not the best song. The next song, however, “My. Life”, picks right back up with a sample from 21 Savage’s “A Lot”. Morray’s hook on the song is almost gospel-like, as if he is leading a beautiful church choir, and on Cole’s verse he really pours every ounce he has into it, reminding everyone why they love J. Cole so much. The next song on the track only builds on this, with “Applying. Pressure”. The song boasts a beautiful piano-infused beat but is not safe from Cole’s witty wordplay, with every verse building on the next. The track “Punchin.the.Clock” serves as an almost cool-off, with a soul-sampled bossa nova beat and a single verse by Cole. The next track, however, is, suffice to say, a little disappointing. “100. Mil” muddies up the voice that listeners got accustomed to, with autotune and bad singing and a terrible hook. He follows up with “Pride.Is.The.Devil”, which is nothing special and reminiscent of practically every other rap song from the past year. Lil Baby arguably outperformed Cole on this song, as his lighthearted rapping style coincided with the beat used. The next song, however, boasts a clear standout of the album: “Let.Go.My.Hand”. Cole reminiscences on regrets of his past and discusses beef he had with rapper Diddy. He is clearly, on this song, emotionally distraught, and this, accompanied with the beautiful instrumental infusion of a jazzy saxophone, making this song one of the best of the album. The beautiful masterpiece is topped off with a just-as-beautiful ending, featuring major piano chords, dark strings, and mysterious singing. The already released tracks “Interlude” and “The.Climb.Back” now appear on the album, both great songs that set up for the conclusion. The second-to-last song, “Close”, continues the glory of the album, displaying J. Cole’s angelic singing. Cole uses the word close to represent his proximity to his ultimate goal or achievement but also to the close of his career, alluding to his eventual retirement, giving it an incredibly clever double-meaning. The conclusion of the album, “Hunger.On.Hill.Side”, gives a great instrumental outro, however, Cole’s use of autotune ruins it. Although the song is not as messy as some of the others on the album, it’s not the ending that was expected, especially with such better songs before it. Closings on other Cole albums, such as “1985-Intro to ‘The Fall Off’” on KOD, “4 Your Eyez Only” on 4 Your Eyez Only, and “Note to Self” on 2014 Forest Hills Drive have been great closings, so it was incredibly surprising that Cole’s outro on this album was so underwhelming. Overall, the album was alright. It was not as good as one may have expected from a master of rap such as J. Cole, but it was an enjoyable album to listen to. It had ups and downs, with some of the tracks being beautiful and my favorite J. Cole tracks (“Let.Go.My.Hand” specifically) but others were just disappointing and felt like Cole was just trying too hard. The album was good, but not amazing, and not what was expected.