I have to admit, compared to other people who would consider themselves to be Hip Hop heads, I have never been able to get into J. Cole’s music for the most part before recently. A couple of his popular songs when he was coming up(particularly ‘Lights, Please’ and ‘Mr. Nice Watch) are on frequent rotation when I’m rocking out to late 2000s/early 2010s Rap music; for the most part, though, I just haven’t followed much of J. Cole’s output for the most part over the last ten years. Don’t get me wrong, I know that J. Cole has been one of the best lyricists in the game for many years; when it comes to his pen game, not many rappers are on J. Cole’s level. Even though I know how great his lyrics are, there is just something about his sound on his first few records that could not draw me in for whatever reason. My opinion on J. Cole’s music changed when I finally listened to his 2018 album KOD, though. One day randomly about a year after it came out I decided to check KOD out, and I loved it. On this record, J. Cole takes modern Trap production and raps on it with flows that no one else in the game was doing. This album has such an interesting sound for a Trap record because of J. Cole’s rapping style; he makes every beat on this album his own and makes it so unique among Trap music. Because of how much I loved KOD, I am very excited to hear and react to J. Cole’s newest album, The Off Season. If it is anywhere as good as KOD is, I will be very excited and will be listening to it consistently for a while. With that being said, here is my review of J. Cole’s album The Off Season. Please let me know in the comments below if you agree with this assessment, and also let me know what your favorite songs from The Off Season in the comments.
My life is all I have. My rhymes, my pen, my pad. And I done made it out the struggle, don’t judge me. What you sayin’ now won’t budge me. ‘Cause where I come from , so often. People you grow up with layin’ in a coffin. But I done made it through the pain and strife… – ‘m y . l i f e’ featuring 21 Savage and Bas
J. Cole’s The Off-Season starts with the bold track ‘9 5 . s o u t h.’ This song has very large and grand production, which matches up with the braggadocious nature of its lyric content. The melody is provided by an awe-inspiring horn section, and it is put over a tough Trap beat; this instrumental sets an imposing tone for the song, and it immediately suggests to the listener that J. Cole will be talking his shit on this song. On ‘9 5 . s o u t h,’ J. Cole asserts that he knows he’s a king in the Hip Hop game right now. He has made it from the bottom to the top of the mountain, and now that he’s on top no one is going to be able to knock him back down. This is a great motivational and pump-up track, and it’s a fun way to start the record. The next song, ‘a m a r i,’ is a song with a melody and feeling to it but a similar lyrical theme to the song that precedes it. On this track, J. Cole is explaining his rise to his throne in the Rap game. He came up in Fayetteville, North Carolina, a very poor place where almost no one gets out of and a place where there are no other famous rappers. Because of this, J. Cole had to make it on his own; he had no local idols to look up to and no help from anyone around him to get the point that he has made it to. J. Cole realizes that he is now considered an idol in the Rap game himself, and he is excited to be an inspiration for the young people who are from where he is from. ‘a m a r i’ has more of a mid-2010s darker Trap sound with a flute-driven melody that reminds me a lot of music that Future loves to rap to. This song has almost a calm and relaxing feeling to it, and I could see a lot of people using this song to get high to while they daydream about becoming famous and rich themselves. ‘m y . l i f e,’ which features 21 Savage and Morray, is a song that is quickly becoming a fan favorite from this album. This song has a melody that sounds like it came from a Baptist Church on a Sunday morning; it is provided by a choir and it sounds so happy and uplifting and fun. Every single performance on this song is excellent. Both J. Cole and 21 Savage provide excellent verses about going from rags to riches, and Morray’s chorus is so inspiring and enlightening. All of those haters out there that think 21 Savage is not a great lyricist need to listen to this track. In my opinion, he is the true standout on the song. ‘m y . l i f e.’ ‘a p p l y i n g . p r e s s u r e’ departs from the modern Trap sound the first few songs on this record have and goes with more of an early 90s alternative Hip Hop sound. The instrumental for this song reminds me a lot of the music by artists like The Pharcyde or A Tribe Called Quest. On this track, J. Cole is okay that it is okay to grind for a while at the bottom as you need to perfect your craft and work hard to make it in the Hip Hop industry and make sure you will always have a supportive fan base. If you do not put in the work, you will not have staying power and eventually, you will fade away. When you do start making it to the top, you have to work hard to stay there; any slip-ups will see you fall right off to where you were when you started. This song may not resonate with all Hip Hop listeners, but fans of J. Cole and fans of great lyricism in general should definitely love ‘a p p l y i n g . p r e s s u r e.’
‘p u n c h i n g . t h e . c l o c k’ is another song that strays away from the modern Trap sound the beginning of the album had. This track has a chaotic and almost anxious sounding Jazz Rap sound. It does have a bit of a 90s feel to it, but it also reminds me of some of the more abstract instrumentals from Kendrick Lamar’s ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ era. This instrumental goes very well with lyrical content of the song. On ‘p u n c h i n g . t h e . c l o c k,’ J. Cole is talking about the work and effort he has put in to get to the place he is in today. He is asserting that once again in order to stay at the top of the Hip Hop game you have to work hard at your craft and improve every day. It is possible to pop off from getting lucky, but in order to have staying power, you have to put in a lot of effort. The next song, ‘ 1 0 0 . m i l,” features Bas and goes back to the uplifting Trap sound from the beginning of the record. I love the melody of this song; It is provided by a violin, and it has such a calm and sweet feeling. It is possible to hear this melody and not be filled with pleasure. ‘1 0 0 . m i l” has a lyrical tone that is similar to the song that precedes it. This track is also about working hard to keep becoming better. When J. Cole listens to music he made 10 years ago, he knows he can do better and is happy that he has continued to improve as an artist. J. Cole knows that this improvement is necessary, as this is the only way to cement himself as one of the greatest. When the instrumental for ‘p r i d e . i s . t h e . d e v i l’ by J. Cole and Lil Baby comes on, it is not one that a listener would expect J. Cole to be rapping on. This track has a fast pace R&B Trap beat that is very smooth and has a distinct Pop feeling. This is the kind of song that will be playing at the clubs and bars a lot this summer, as it has a hot summer clubbing kind of sound to it. On this track, J. Cole talks about how pride can be negative but it still drives most of the decisions in his life. Sometimes being too proud has held him back, but if it did not have this level of pride he would not have the sort of motivation to get to the level he has gotten to. Lil Baby’s verse on this song is great as well, as he raps about how he got out of the drug-selling life and now has a responsibility to provide for his loved ones. ‘l e t . g o . m y . h a n d,’ which features Bas and 6lack, slows and cools the mood down a considerable amount compared to what precedes. I guess one could technically say this song is Trap because of the Hi-Hats, but this track has a sort of abstract Jazz Rap sound to it as well. The song has a bit of an anxious feeling to it, which goes with the theme of the song very well. On this track, J. Cole is rapping about some of the anxieties he has had throughout his career about making it to the top of the game and staying there. It is one thing to start to become one of the biggest and most popular rappers, but it is another thing to stay there and keep the interest in everything you put out. On this track, J. Cole also expresses doubts about being a black father in America, which provides a ton of anxiety because of the world we live in. Bas and 6lack sing on the bridge and the chorus, who provide some needed texture to the vocals on this track.
Everything come back around full circle. Why do lies sound pleasant but the truth hurtful? Everybody gotta cry once in a while. But how long will it take before you smile? – ‘t h e . c l i m b . b a c k’
‘i n t e r l u d e’ is a short track with only one verse where J. Cole raps about his path to the top of the Hip Hop game as well as some of the pain he has gone through due to all the violence that goes on where he is from. J. Cole is very appreciative that he did not have to go down a route that involves gang banging, and he laments all of those people he knows who have become a victim of it. This track has a sort of happy-sounding Gospel Trap sound to it, and it creates a very interesting juxtaposition with the content of the track. The next track, which is called ‘t h e . c l i m b . b a c k,’ also has a Gospel Rap and Jazzy sound to it, but it has way more of a slow jam feeling to it than anything else on this project. J. Cole’s flow is so smooth on the track; this is the kind of instrumental where his skills shine through. On ‘t h e . c l i m b . b a c k,’ J. Cole is speaking about how he lost his love of rapping for a while when he lost some of his loved ones recently. This trauma truly affected him, and it caused him to lose who he was for a while. Now, he has regained the love he previously had for rapping and is ready to continue to reclaim his throne at the top of the Hip Hop game. The next song, ‘c l o s e,’ is another track that has a quirky early 90s psychedelic Hip Hop feeling to it. This is another instrumental that I could see someone like A Tribe Called Quest or The Pharcyde rapping on. One this that stands out about this song is J. Cole’s flow. I love the emphasis that he keeps putting on the last word in each line, as it keeps the listener engaged and focused on the lyrics. The content of this song is very tough and sad. ‘c l o s e’ is a song about one of J. Cole’s good friends growing up, who fell into drug addiction and the gang life and could never get himself out. J. Cole and this friend’s relationship deteriorated over the years, and eventually, his friend ended up dying due to gang violence. This deteriorated friendship has taken a major toll on J. Cole, and he hopes it will serve as a cautionary tale for youth who grow up in bad areas. This album closes out with the song ‘h u n g e r . o n . h i l l s i d e,’ which also includes Bas’ vocals on the chorus and outro. The production on this track is unlike anything else on this record. This instrumental for this track reminds me of early to mid-2000s “Bling Rap: instrumentals. I could see rappers like Fabolous, Kanye, or Jay Z rapping on this one back in the day. This instrumental provides a ton of energy to the listener, and J. Cole’s flow matches this energy. This song is about not becoming complacent once you start to realize a lot of success. It is easy to just start to not care about self-improvement and to get cocky and become too satisfied, and this is something that J. Cole vows to not succumb to. No matter what, he knows he can always become a better artist and better person, and he will always do what he can to keep improving.
From what I have read, J. Cole’s The Off-Season is a sort of buffer or predecessor to a bigger and better record he is supposedly releasing very soon. It goes along with and provides context for this new album that will eventually come out, and J. Cole wanted to put it out as soon as possible so his fans had something to listen to while they wait for this upcoming album. Even though this record is considered to be a precursor to something greater coming in the future, The Off–Season is still a very good Hip Hop record. It has an interesting and engaging theme and covers a variety of different kinds of Hip Hop instrumentals. J. Cole proves he can rap very well over any type of production on this record, proving how diverse of an artist he can be. This record has enough bangers for hype beasts to be satisfied with bumping all summer, and it has enough introspective and mellow tracks for older Hip Hop heads to latch onto as well. The Off–Season is a very good rap album, and I can not wait to see what J. Cole puts out next.