An avid lover of music with a flair for writing. A core hip-hop fan with a thing for boom-bap beats and bars.
"The Off-Season" Album Review
The Off-Season, Jermaine Cole’s sixth studio album, is one of the most enjoyable albums he has released in recent years, in my opinion—probably because I did not enjoy his 2018 release, KOD. This is likely because of the production and his overly introspective persona on that particular album. However, on his latest release, Cole sounds like he is having fun practicing and perfecting his craft, and as a listener, it is an enthralling experience.
The Off-Season is one album that sees Cole rediscover the hunger and drive he had on his earlier projects, and it is remarkable to see. With the release of Lewis Street, a two-song release in 2020 to serve as a teaser to The Off-Season and the amazing “L.A Leakers” freestyle he did while promoting the album, I felt the hunger of youth resurface. I hoped he tapped into that form on his next album and he did not disappoint. The Off-Season is probably the most technically amazing album the young hip-hop legend has ever released—filled with brilliant punch lines, double entendres, and wordplay for days. He is showing how he has earned the respect of his peers such as Eminem, who praised his lyrical abilities by saying most rappers cannot lyrically reach the level Cole and Lil Wayne are on. This is further backed up by his storytelling abilities, which are still as sharp as ever as “Close” impressively indicates.
J. Cole took a different route this time on The Off-Season by featuring guest artists on his album, something he hadn’t done since he released his second studio album Born Sinner in 2013. Leading trap artists 21 Savage and Lil Baby made cameos on the tracks, “My Life” and “Pride Is the Devil” respectively, and they impressively held their ground against Cole. Other artists such as Bas, Morray, Lil Jon, and 6lack were also featured on the project, and the features seemed to bring out the best of Cole. The presence of features on the album was refreshing as it took a break from the vastly monotonous route Cole was plying on his previous albums. The guest artists injected a different atmosphere and a refreshing sound on each of the tracks they were featured on, which enhanced the album.
The delivery and execution of J.Cole’s raps have always been impressive, and on The Off-Season, he steps it up a notch. His bars are delivered with the confidence of a rapper who has mastered his craft. His use of different vocal patterns in delivering his verses on certain tracks such as “95 South” also makes the album more enjoyable. With The Off-Season, Cole is making a big statement to all of the rap scene that he is hungrier than ever and his rhyming skills are only getting better. The confidence and the braggadocio attitude he gives off while rapping on this album is a testament to his competitive spirit which is what hip-hop is all about. Dare I say it, he is looking to bring back the competitive nature of the rap scene, which has been dead since probably 2018, although he is not going about it using Kendrick Lamar’s “Control” verse route.
The production team consisting of Cole himself, Boi-1da, Timbaland, Jake One, and T-minus, amongst others, put in a great shift on this album. Most of the tracks on the album are exquisitely made and would grab the attention of the listener on the first listen. However, there are some tracks where the production merely gets the job done and does not bring a unique feel to the project, such as “100 mil,” while some production styles sound cliché and dated like that of “Punchin’ the Clock." In that sense, the production team could have done better.
"Amari" Official Music Video
Summing It Up
In the single “Interlude”, Cole raps “This sh*** can go one or two ways / This Sh*** can go up, it can go down / Either way, n****, I’m prepared.” That verse sums up the fact that he is fully aware that the route he is taking is a huge step in his development both as a rapper and as an artist and he is fully prepared for what it brings. The release of The Off-Season is a huge step in Cole’s career and it sees him following in the footsteps of his idols like Nas, Biggie, and Jay Z as he tries to find a balance between the new wave of hip-hop and the lyrical brilliance of the era of rap which he grew up on as a kid. In my opinion, he found the perfect way to strike a balance while gearing into his prime years as a rapper.
Spanning less than 40 minutes, The Off-Season brings out a side of Jermaine Cole we have probably never seen before, a more enjoyable version of Cole perfecting his craft while not trying to school his mindset into the listener as he attempted on previous albums. The Off-Season sounds refreshing and distinct, it is more like a breath of fresh air into J.Cole’s discography with a huge amount of replay value. Hopefully, this is a teaser for more amazing projects to come.
You can purchase the album from Amazon here.
Essential Tracks: “Amari”, “95 south” and “Hunger on hillside.”
The "Off-Season" Album Rating
© 2021 Fawaz Akintunde