Photo Credit: Wesley Mann
After three years of waiting, J. Cole has finally released his latest album The Off-Season. While most of Cole’s tracks are heavy-hitting and direct, this album is much more mellow and reflective of his position in music. A lot of music from J. Cole is an assertion of dominance to be the best. However, in contrast, The Off-Season doesn’t assert this. Listeners can tell that J. Cole is more reflective of his career and personal life throughout the album. While comparative to other artists’ albums like Lil Wayne, Jay-Z, or Kanye, The Off-Season reflects on the subtle difficulties of being on top. Fans can still hear the lyrical flow that caught their attention originally with Cole, but also appreciate his knack for crafting new ideas through his music.
J. Cole brings in quite a bit of style from the beginning of the album to the end. Opening with “95 South”, the track reflects the mindset that J. Cole is practicing in life. The grand piano changes into a lively horn and organ combination that sets the tone for the album. Cole reflects on how violence and desperation influenced his upbringing in, “Amari.” The music video has been streamed over 12 million times on YouTube. 21 Savage collaborates with J. Cole on “My Life” to talk about how hardship made them better people. “Applying Pressure” brings up athe greed and jealousy of many artists, which influences Cole to create better music for the sake of the craft in spite of those exact things. This track is the basis of J. Cole’s accompanying visual. “Punchin’ the Clock” reflects on how being famous prevented the artist from speaking freely about certain topics.
Cole takes the stance of questioning his status of being on top without being in his prime on “100 Mil.” “Pride Is The Devil” recognizes hardship experienced and the ego J. Cole gained along the way but was able to overcome when thinking back to his roots. “Let Go My Hand” is a story about fatherhood and also shines a light on the rumored altercation that Cole had with industry mogul, Diddy. The story is even validated with Diddy jumping on the end of the track. “Interlude” is a short story that is melodically rapped. Cole’s monotone style pairs great with the beat to make it catchy. “The Climb Back” makes plenty of references to basketball and Cole’s musical career. This track also brings the most social-political commentary to the forefront on his views about gun violence. “Close” tells the story about the relationship that Cole had with his friend that was killed and ends the album on an empowering note with “Hunger on Hillside.”
By the end of The Off-Season, listeners can pinpoint the lack of his usual passion of discussing social issues on any of these tracks. J. Cole raps about life, sports, and perceptive shifts, but nothing that is super heavy or politically charged. In some ways, The Off-Season feels more thoughtful and authentic to Cole’s life. He released a twelve-minute video titled, Applying Pressure: The Off-Season Documentary. He talks about this time in his musical career and how he has adjusted. The film looks at what happens to rapper’s music as they get older. He also speaks to younger artists that are more concerned with money and quick fame versus finding their footing. Viewers are left to fill in the blanks with what they must do to stay on top. The album was well received by listeners, critics, and music streaming platforms. On the streaming platform Spotify, The Off-Season became the number one streaming total of the album’s debut week. In it’s first week, The Off-Season had over 282,000 sales in the United States.
J. Cole’s release of The Off-Season gives fans something to hold over fans while they wait for the next project of his to release. From the stand-alone hits like” Amari” to “The Climb Back” to “Punchin’ the Clock”, J. Cole shows off his ability to weave songwriting and storytelling into rap music. The hit artist has spent years building a catalog of music that he can be proud of, and The Off-Season reflects purpose. Overall, this latest album is meant to build traction for his upcoming The Fall Off.