J. Cole’s new album, The Off-Season, is a proclamation of the rapper’s immense success and his desire to continue competing in the rap game.
The album’s title accurately reflects its sound: an upbeat meditation on the rapper’s legacy and what’s to come. As Vulture eloquently states, the album is a “sort of a training montage, a blade-sharpening exercise not unlike Drake’s If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late.”
At the age of 36, J. Cole is a seasoned veteran in the rap scene. Releasing his last few albums without any features, the rapper proved that his talent alone was of the caliber to carry an album to platinum success.
With The Off Season, J. Cole is at a point in his career where he can reflect on his life and where he’s headed from a position of comfort and stability—and that’s exactly what he does.
Having established himself as a force to be reckoned with in his own right, J. Cole welcomes artists including 21 Savage, Morray, Bas, Lil Baby, and 6LACK onto this album. The featured artists elevate the rapper’s heavy lyrical sound, which sometimes sounds like a long lecture backed by a soft beat on his solo albums.
While this unique sound is what J. Cole is known and adored for, the wide range of voices and styles on The Off-Season make for an even more captivating listening experience.
The Off-Season’s themes of achievement and continued growth are exemplified in tracks like “95 south,” where the lyrics and beat convey a feeling of invincibility, and in “applying pressure,” where J. Cole alludes to his own success by calling out younger rappers for flaunting riches and clout they have not yet earned or achieved.
On “amari,” J. Cole oozes feelings of triumph as he brandishes how far he has come from his rough childhood in Fayetteville, North Carolina, to be “at the Garden sittin’ half court.”
J. Cole exudes confidence in his new album. Unapologetic confidence is new for the rapper, whose albums historically focus on heavy self-reflection and social ills he has both experienced and observed, including racism, poverty, and addiction.
In comparison to J. Cole’s previous releases, The Off-Season is most similar to his first studio album, Cole World: The Sideline Story, which first earned the rapper notoriety in 2011 through its fun sound and catchy, single-worthy songs including the hits “Work Out” and “In the Morning,” featuring Drake.
With his next album, 2014 Forest Hills Drive, J. Cole reflects on his journey through soulful songs such as “No Role Modelz” and “G. O. M. D,” which focuses on the rapper’s challenging adolescence.
J. Cole’s following two albums, 4 Your Eyez Only and KOD, released in 2016 and 2018, respectively, coincided with the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and the conversation around pervading racism in America. They take on a serious and touching tone as J. Cole takes a lyrical approach to activism on tracks like “Neighbors” and “Once an Addict.”
After a three-year break—a literal off-season—J. Cole has returned with an album that showcases a pleasantly surprising stylistic turn. The Off-Season potentially represents a shift towards a more lighthearted and up-beat sound, increased collaboration with other artists, and a move away from dark, though important, subject matter.
If The Off-Season was just the training montage, I can’t wait for the season opener with his forthcoming album The Fall Off.
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