‘The Off-Season’ displays J. Cole’s mastery once again

Charlie Ginsburg

Performing for a live audience, Cole looks down solemnly as he sings one of his more heartfelt songs.

Notorious North Carolina rapper J. Cole took plenty of time off before dropping his sixth consecutive number one studio album, “The Off-Season” on Friday, May 14. After releasing “KOD” in 2018, Cole didn’t advertise much about his upcoming project until a week before the release date when he dropped his mini-documentary of the same name, “The Off-Season.” Subsequently, his album hit the top chart right off the bat. Cole has made a name for himself by releasing the majority of his albums without any features. However, this is a streak he felt comfortable breaking in his newest work, and featured artists such as 21 Savage and Lil Baby add some freshness that Cole has lacked in the past. The album consists of the classic J. Cole lyricism that has made him so popular and sticks heavily to the theme of grinding, perfecting one’s craft and keeping one’s ego in check. “The Off-Season” has its dull moments and at some points could use less autotune –– only because Cole’s voice doesn’t need it –– but as a whole, the album is quite possibly his best work since his most infamous album, “2014 Forest Hills Drive.”



“9 5 . s o u t h”

Cole’s “no feature” streak is broken at the very beginning of the album, with a hype-up intro from rapper Cam’ron. “9 5 . s o u t h” contains a hard, pump-up type beat with Cole’s slick rapping on top. The quick beat with some french horn samples laced in provides Cole a great base and starts off his album with a bang.

“a m a r i”

“a m a r i” is a mixed bag. Cole busts out quite possibly the most relentless flow on the entire album and hits some high notes comparable to those of up-and-coming rapper Roddy Rich. Still, the track doesn’t fit his natural lyrical style and sometimes lacks substance. Eh.

“m y . l i f e”

The first time I listened to “m y . l i f e,” I was sure I had heard it before. Cole utilizes his go-to style of quick and witty flow over a faced-paced and upbeat track. The line “Ja Morant, I’m on my Grizzly” is a clear highlight, not to mention a feature from rapper 21 Savage. Cole and Savage work off each other perfectly in what is most definitely one of, if not the, best songs on the album.

“a p p l y i n g . p r e s s u r e”

This song has a kind of ghostly, entrancing beat that provides a solid base for Cole, who raps about his tough upbringing and growing up “livin’ check to check.” The beat is very laid back and provides a nice change of pace in the middle of the album.

“p u n c h i n’ . t h e . c l o c k”

Using soundbites from NBA superstar Damian Lillard, “p u n c h i n’ . t h e . c l o c k” references clocking in at work and putting the hours in to improve one’s craft. For Lillard this is on the court, for Cole in the studio. The writing is elite and the wordplay and delivery throughout are phenomenal, but I was left wishing the song was longer.

“1 0 0 . m i l’”

This song is a dumpster fire. I wish I could say otherwise, but “1 0 0 . m i l” is quite easily the worst song on this album. The lyric “100 mil and I’m still on the grind,” is repeated ten too many times and makes the song stale and repetitive. As long as I’m complaining the nasally autotune is also very off-putting. Just plain bad.

“p r i d e . i s . t h e . d e v i l”

This marks the spot where the album begins to pick up, making it some of J. Cole’s best work. Cole beats the theme of pride into the ground without making it too corny. His clever repetition of the leading word “pride” with varying examples of the damage it can do, on top of an incredible feature from rapper Lil Baby, make this a very catchy song.

“l e t . g o . m y . h a n d”

Painting a much darker atmosphere, Cole is quite vulnerable on this track. He dives extensively into his own personal issues, including his own self-doubt and raising his son. All of this behind a chill, lo-fi-esque beat creates a top tier song on the album.

“i n t e r l u d e”

Released a week before the full album, the interlude is surprisingly one of the highlights of the back half of this album. Cole starts off the song not singing but rather stating that, “This sh*t can go one or two ways/This sh*t can go up, it can go down/Either way, n***a, I’m prepared.” From there, since its short, Coles wastes no time blasting off hard-hitting lyrics.

“t h e . c l i m b . b a c k”

Rapping over a laid-back beat, Cole delivers on “t h e . c l i m b . b a c k.” The slower pace is refreshing and the lyrics are incredibly grim, but that doesn’t take away from the quality of the song.

“c l o s e”

Once again Cole uses clever one-liners such as, “Cause I ain’t tryna be a almost, when I get it, I’ma float/Gone are the days we was close,” to illustrate his past closeness to one of his old friends, who has since passed away. The beat leaves a lot to be desired, though, and because of that, the track kind of misses.

“h u n g e r . o n . h i l l s i d e”

“H u n g e r . o n . h i l l s i d e” is an extremely passionate ending. It doesn’t exactly fit the themes of the rest of the album but the vibrant beat is enough to carry the song. “The money might fade but respect don’t,” and “still gon’ be me when success gone,” are two of the more lyrically sound parts of the song.

Overall, “The Off-Season” is some of Cole’s best recent work. His rapping ability and complex delivery is at full display throughout the entire project. The variety of styles, tones and features provide a refreshing sound that Cole hadn’t reached before this album. Mishaps on the album are few and far between and Cole’s thirty nine-minute piece is a hit.