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J Cole Rapping at the 2019 NBA All Star Game
CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA - FEBRUARY 17: Rapper J. Cole performs during halftime during the NBA All-Star game where Team Giannis faces Team LeBron as part of the 2019 NBA All-Star Weekend at Spectrum Center on February 17, 2019 in Charlotte, North Carolina. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

First Listen: What to Expect from J. Cole’s New Album ‘The Off-Season’

What’s The Off-Season about & Who’s Featured?

Today (May 14),  J. Cole dropped The Off-Season, his first full-length album since KOD in 2018. About every two years J. Cole comes out with a project, however this recent gap of about three years has been the longest we’ve ever had to wait for a solo J. Cole record. 

The last three years have not been a complete hiatus for Cole; in 2019 he released Revenge of the Dreamers III, a collaborative album with his Dreamville label mates along with the hit-single Middle Child. Both Middle Child and Revenge of the Dreamers III set the stage for The Off-Season in a myriad of ways. The track Middle Child is thematically a song about J. Cole trying to find his place in the hip-hop industry, in it he says “stuck in the middle of two generations, I’m little bro and big bro all at once.” Then the release of Revenge of the Dreamers III and its accompanying documentary showed that J. Cole is stepping up to his role as the “big bro” in the rap game by using his platform and star power to bring smaller producers and rappers into collaboration with top-tier talent.

The Off-Season is a continuation of these recent themes; Cole raps a lot about what people expect from him, who he feels pressured to be, and uncertainty about what’s next for him. 

Featured on this album is a wide variety of artists: Lil Jon, Cam’ron, 21 Savage, Morray, Damian Lillard, Lil Baby, Bas, 6lack, Diddy, and James Fauntleroy. 

9 5 s o u t h – featuring Lil Jon and Cam’ron

Cam’ron’s voice is the first thing you hear on the album, but don’t get too excited – there is no Cam’ron verse. 9 5 s o u t h is a strong opening track with memorable lines like “bullets be humming like Cudi” and the double entendre “God’s watchin Hey Yahweh, looked up to the sky and we sending them ya’ way.” The song is all about Cole’s longevity as an artist and current prowess as one of rap’s top tier talents. Lil Jon closes out the track by doing what he does best, screaming at people about the club.

a m a r i –  (no features)

“Plotting my escape,” are the first words in this track. This is the first of many songs on this album where Cole discusses being disenchanted by the rap game. Coincidentally this song is also where J Cole gives the first of many NBA-player namedrops; in a m a r i, Cole shouts out Russel Westbrook and his signature “rock the baby” celebration. 

m y . l i f e – featuring Morray and 21 Savage

This track is perhaps the most dynamic song on the album. DJ’s will likely cut the first 40 seconds of the intro for radio play, but overall it’s a very lively song. Morray who broke out with his hit Quicksand is getting a huge co-sign being on this J. Cole album, and strangely enough J. Cole and 21 Savage go together like peanut butter and jelly. 

a p p l y i n g . p r e s s u r e – (no features)

Cole uses this song to explain the difference between himself and other rappers, without disparaging them. Cole alludes to Eminem, David East and Rick Ross; drawing juxtaposition between himself and other lyricists. The stand out line on this track is “Envy keeps your pockets empty, so focus on you. If you broke and clownin’ on a millionaire, the joke is on you.”   

p u n c h i n ‘ . t h e . c l o c k – featuring Damian Lillard

This is a classic storytelling song. In p u n c h i n ‘ . t h e . c l o c k, Cole tells his story from boyhood to being “rich” and feeling like “nobody understandin’ me.” Unfortunately, there is no Damian Lillard rap verse despite the fact that Lillard is often lauded as the best NBA player rapping. The most memorable line on this track is “I got more cribs that Habitat for Humanity.”

1 0 0 . m i l ‘ – (no features)

This song is as straightforward as they come, Cole has “100 mil” and “he’s still on his grind.” In an album stacked with NBA references, Cole saying he “feels like Lebron,” seems like the most symbolic name drop. Specifically he says “Can’t leave the game yet, I feel like Lebron,” alluding to the fact that Cole and Lebron have done everything they could have possibly wanted in their profession, but still are in their prime. 

p r i d e . i s . t h e . d e v i l – featuring Lil Baby  

It’s no surprise that Lil Baby is on this album, the man is everywhere. It is a surprise that p r i d e . i s . t h e . d e v i l was not the single to promote the album, being that it’s got an extremely catchy hook with a subtle guitar underlying the beat. This track will likely be the song that casual hip-hop fans save to their Spotify or that we’ll see a music video made for. 

l e t . g o . m y . h a n d – featuring Bas, 6lack, and Diddy

Jazz-inspired and soulful, this track has staying power. Cole talks about his past, pretending to be tough, and his past beef with Diddy. Despite there being three features on this song, Cole never lets his features overpower a track or stray from the narrative of the album. You can barely hear 6lack on the bridge where he’s featured, Diddy only does the outro, and Bas’s bridge is soothing and non-confrontational.

i n t e r l u d e – (no features) 

It takes so much artistic integrity to release an interlude as the single to promote an album, but that’s what J. Cole did with i n t e r l u d e. This song served its purpose, racking up 17 million streams in the week leading up to the album. There is nothing flashy or exciting about i n t e r l u d e, it’s simply a good rap song that serves as transition to the end of the album. 

t h e . c l i m b . b a c k – (no features) 

This song should be called “h o m i c i d e . h o t l i n e.” The most memorable part of this track is the outro wherein J. Cole alludes to the suicide prevention hotline and asks why there isn’t a homicide prevention hotline. Lyrically this song is extremely impressive, Cole rhymes “Chief Keef Sosa” with “three piece sofa” carrying on his trend of shouting out other rappers. 

c l o s e – (no features)

This is one of the few songs on the album that J. Cole produced entirely. This song is about J. Cole’s past, in it he speaks as his past self rapping about the death of a friend and trying to become a successful rapper. It’s a tale of tragedy told in a quick two-minute package.

h u n g e r . o n . t h e . h i l l s i d e – featuring James Fauntleroy

To end the album, J. Cole celebrates his success but asks if the masses will ever understand him. This track is extremely emblematic of the entire album’s content and structure, throughout the entirety of The Off-Season Cole switches between boasting about being the GOAT to asking if he’ll ever feel like a normal person again. James Fauntleroy is an obscure feature to many, but you may recognize him from Drake’s Girls Love Beyonce, as well as J. Cole’s Born Sinner. 

Overall this is a strong J. Cole album, but all of the commonly understood Cole critiques still apply. There is no clear radio standout on this album, and the intros are way too long. This is a 39 minute album, about 5 of those minutes are long introductions to songs often with no words or exposition. The Off-Season is going to be on repeat for people who enjoy J. Cole’s music, but it’s not the type of album that crosses over to other fan bases or “do numbers on Tik Tok.” 

Listen to the album below.

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