Album Review | J. Cole – The Off-Season

Alright. Here it is. Maybe this will be the one. Maybe J. Cole will finally have released an album that lives up to the quality of his mixtapes. After all, this album, which was released on May 14th, is apparently supposed to be a spiritual successor to The Warm Up, which to this day is J. Cole’s best project. Out of the actual albums, Cole World is still my favorite. I’ve reviewed all of his albums aside from Born Sinner, and I like all of them except 4 Your Eyez Only, but I don’t love any of them. It’s not a hot take for me to say that J. Cole hasn’t fully lived up to his potential on previous albums. I’m hoping that this album is different. I liked the single he released a lot, and this project actually features additional production from outside artists, which is kinda different for Cole at this point. I’m going into this project with cautious optimism. I’m sure I’ll at least like it to some extent. Honestly, I just hope it’s better than Revenge of the Dreamers III.

As always, I’ll write about the songs I liked first before getting into the tracks I won’t be returning to. The album begins with 95 South. The very first voice heard on the album comes from Cam’ron, so right off the bat I was refreshed to see that J. Cole actually had some features on this project. Not that I think features are something that can really elevate the quality of your album that much, but it is nice to spice things up a bit. Cam doesn’t really do anything on this track aside from just talking, which is fine by me. I’ve never been the biggest Cam’ron fan, and I never really understood the Dipset hype, but that’s just me. Anyway, the song itself is really dope. I love how triumphant the production from Maneesh, Coleman & Boi-1da is. It sounds like something Jay-Z would’ve rapped over in his prime. It reminds me of that song The Dynasty by Vic Mensa. The first verse from Cole is great; I really liked that Mario reference.

If I'm bettin' on myself, then I'll completely double down
If you hated on a nigga, please don't greet me with a pound
I be stayin' out the way, but if the beef do come around
Could put a M right on your head, you Luigi brother now

I love how his flow and delivery got even more aggressive for the second verse. That line where he mentions bullets that hum like Kid Cudi was really dope. The outro from Lil Jon was nice too. The song is really good, but I think one more verse in which he really spazzed would’ve pushed it to the next level. I still fuck with it as it is though. The song is dope. The next track that I like is called My Life. This is one of the better songs on the album in my opinion. I love the soulful beat from Cole, WU10 & Jake One, and Cole’s flow on the first verse is great. I like how he started the verse with such a lowkey delivery, and then eventually started hollering. It’s a dope verse. However, for me the real stars of the show here are the features, Morray & 21 Savage. I’ve never written about him on this blog before, but Morray is one of the most exciting new artists in the industry right now in my opinion. I listened to his recent album, Street Sermons, and thought it was really good. Usually when artists do that thing where they sing all their bars I don’t care for it, but I just think Morray is really good at it. Even if he wasn’t singing every line he would still be a good rapper in my opinion. It doesn’t hurt that his singing voice is top notch either. He reminded me of Cee-Lo Green a couple times on that Street Sermons project. Check that shit out if you haven’t yet. Anyway, he sang his ass off on the hook, and I actually thought the second verse on this track from 21 Savage was great. I think this is my first time liking a verse from him. Usually his flow and monotone delivery put me to sleep, but he sounded really good here. The lyrics aren’t really anything special, but I still enjoyed his verse overall. The song is really dope. Track 4 is called Applying Pressure, and it’s also pretty good. I really like the way the song is structured; Cole is just pretty much rapping the entire time with no hook or bridge or anything like that. The only problem is that the final minute of the song is completely unnecessary. The song could’ve ended after 2 minutes, but J. Cole for whatever reason felt the need to talk about some random ass bullshit that I don’t care about at the end of the track. It’s obviously just a nitpick, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t get on my nerves. The verse itself is really nice though. He had some dope lines in there. I liked how he compared himself to Hideo Kojima, and that reference to Eminem‘s Real Slim Shady music video was nice. Honestly, the song was more entertaining on my first listen than it is now, but I still think the rapping is very good. I like the relatively uptempo production from Cole too. It’s a dope track. The first real highlight on the album comes in the form of Punchin’ the Clock, which has one of my favorite instrumentals on the whole album from Mario Luciano & Tae Beast.

Once again, there’s only one verse on this track, but Cole killed it in my opinion.

Back on top, punchin' the clock, clutchin' sanity
I got more cribs than Habitat for Humanity
Shit profound, we propagating more profanity
Paid off collections from recollections of calamity
The shit pop off, I learned to duck under the canopy
'Til it cool off, they murked a nigga right in front of me
Told him to come off his chain for tryna floss
Died over a cross just like the start of Christianity
When I was a boy, the teacher often reprimanded me
Thought it was toys, it was a Glock this nigga handed me
I busted the trees, was barely strong enough to squeeze
Bullets traveled through leaves, it probably killed somebody randomly

The track is just under two minutes in length, but I just love how aggressively Cole is rapping on it. As far as song structure goes, it’s very scant, but I don’t really care personally. The verse is great, and same goes for the beat. I think it’s dope as hell. It’s followed by 100 Mil’, which has another really great beat from Cole & T-Minus. I don’t really care for the autotuned hook on this track, but it’s definitely not bad enough to really mar the song that much for me. I’m not really crazy about Cole’s melodic delivery on the first verse, but his flow is cool I guess. The lyrics aren’t really that interesting to me, but I enjoyed the verse overall. I think it’s pretty good. Once again, there’s really only one verse on this track. The rest of the song is taken up by the hook, a bridge, and then an outro, all of which are just decent at best. I don’t know. I really like the song for the production mostly. It’s definitely one of the weaker songs on the album for me, but I do like it to some extent. The following track is Pride Is the Devil. Once again, I’m not really crazy about the sung hook on this track. However, I have to point out that J. Cole’s singing is nowhere near as bad as it used to be. His voice has really smoothed out over the years. The beat here from T-Minus is cool I guess. I’m just not really in love with the Spanish sounding rhythm to be honest. It’s cool though. The first verse from Cole was cool. He was pretty much just rapping about how he thinks pride is the root of all his issues. I thought the verse was pretty good overall, but the closing line was the one that really stood out the most to me.

Pride be the reason for the family dichotomy
Got uncles and some aunties that's too proud to give apologies
Slowly realizing what the root of all my problems be
It got me feeling different when somebody say they proud of me

I like the way Lil Baby comes in right behind Cole on the second verse. I don’t really care for the melodic delivery of Lil Baby’s verses, but I think he has a pretty nice flow. His verse didn’t bother me on this track. I think the song’s pretty good overall, although far from my favorite. It’s thankfully followed by a highlight called Let Go My Hand. The night this album dropped, I mentioned having a hot take on Twitter.

Here it is… I think Logic should’ve been a feature on this song. I’m not even joking. I immediately thought of Logic as soon as I heard the beat on this track. He would fit over this production from Frank Dukes, DJ Dahi, Cole & WU10 perfectly in my opinion. It sounds like something that could’ve been on Under Pressure. Considering how well Logic has been rapping for the past year, I think he would kill this track. With that said, J. Cole did his thing on this track by himself. The song is great as it is. I love the heavy, soulful production, and I really like J. Cole’s more toned down delivery too. There’s only one verse on this track, but I actually love it. I really appreciate Cole’s honesty about being a bitch on the inside.

If I said I was the toughest growin' up, I would be lyin'
I had a fear of gettin' punched while everybody eyein'
Add to that a constant fear of dyin'
By gunshot wound, the other violent type of endings
I kept a tough demeanor on the surface but was mostly just pretendin'

It’s easily one of the best songs on the album in my opinion. I don’t have any gripes with it. I think Cole’s singing sounds genuinely great on it. The song is dope as hell. Yes, a Logic verse would have pushed it to the next level, but still. The song is great. Anyway, track 9 is Interlude, the single I mentioned in the preamble to this review.

I really like the soulful, sample-based production from Cole, T-Minus & Tommy Parker. Just like with the album in general, I went into the single with cautious optimism. I liked Cole’s melodic delivery and flow, but I had hoped that the entire album wouldn’t sound like that, and thankfully it didn’t for the most part. The whole track is pretty much just one verse, and it’s not very long, but it’s great.

Jesus said that you should turn the other cheek
Was his niggas gettin' murdered every week?
Dead bodies, smell the odor in the street
My homie' homie got out on parole
He sold more Coca-Cola than the soda industry
Summertime bring the coldest winter breeze
Hella blues like the Rollin' 60s
Christ went to Heaven age thirty-three
And so did Pimp C and so did Nipsey

The song isn’t amazing or anything, but I don’t actually have any complaints. I think it’s dope. It’s followed by The Climb Back, which I wrote about last year when it originally dropped.

This is one of two singles that J. Cole dropped on Wednesday for his upcoming album, The Fall Off. I think this is the weaker of the two songs, but I still enjoyed it to some extent. Surprisingly, the one aspect of this song that I really enjoy is Cole’s actual rapping. I think he killed both of the verses on this song to be honest. I unfortunately just find the production and hook to be so boring that it drains any and all energy I have whenever I listen to it. It puts me in the same mood as that wack ass Power Trip song he did with Miguel. Ok, it’s actually not quite that bad. I don’t care for it though. He caught my attention pretty quickly with the opening quatrain of the first verse though.

To the left of that decimal, I need seven figures to play the joint
Turn up your decibels, peep how I decimate a joint
Check out my projects like them workers that Section 8 appoints
And you’ll see how I flipped like exclamation points

I kinda wish he didn’t remind me that he actually made a song called Foldin’ Clothes later on in the verse, but I’m not gonna pretend he didn’t kill this shit. Again, I don’t like this song nearly as much as Lion King on Ice, but I still think he did a good job with the actual rapping. This is a pretty good song to me.

The penultimate track is called Close, and it’s another one of the better songs. It samples the same New Birth song that was sampled in Freedom by The Game, and it makes for a pretty great instrumental. Personally, I prefer the Freedom instrumental, but this one is nice too. As far as song structure goes, this one isn’t too different from the others. Cole just spits one verse and then dips. The verse is fantastic though. He managed to carry one really nice “oh” rhyme scheme throughout the whole track.

Last night I jumped up from my sleep, I was soaked
Call it a nightmare, the scene that awoke me
Involved you and niggas I ain't know, they was creepin' up close
I saw the heat tucked in they coats
You didn't notice 'cause you was busy countin' dough
I tried to yell, but nothin' came out of my throat
Niggas cocked back the hammers and you froze, in your eyes I saw hope
Hope of a better way to cope with the pain
And the scars, than the lean and the coke
And I swear in that moment I wish we were still close
Maybe I could've saved you, but no, trigger squeeze, gun smoke

The simplistic song structure honestly makes the track feel a little unseasoned. A second verse probably could’ve pushed this song to the next level. The song is still dope as it is though. I fuck with it. The final track is called Hunger on Hillside, and it has some of the best production on the album. I love how dramatic and triumphant it sounds. This is also one of the few tracks with more than one verse from Cole. The first one isn’t bad, but the second one is much more impressive. His flow picks up a lot, and he just spits with far more urgency at this point. It’s not the best verse on the album or anything, but I think it serves as a pretty good finale to the album. The track is dope as hell to me. The only song that I don’t care for on this album is the second one, Amari. This is pretty much a Lil Baby song performed by J. Cole. I just don’t care for this style of Hip Hop at all. I don’t think Cole does it particularly well either. It just sounds generic to me. This doesn’t sound like it’d be out of place in a playlist full of YSL artists. I just don’t fuck with it. The melody doesn’t stick with me at all. It’s not a bad song to me, but I’d never listen to it again. I just find it to be very mediocre.

This album is pretty good. I don’t really think it’s much better than his other albums though. In fact, I like Cole World more than this. I think the main issue I had with this album is just the song structures. Most of these tracks just feature one verse from Cole. I think an additional verse from either him or a feature would’ve pushed a lot of these songs to the next level. There aren’t that many tracks that I love, but I do like almost all of them to some extent. I don’t think there’s a single bad verse on this album, and I’m glad he didn’t try to go for some overarching concept. He came off very fake deep and Russ-esque with K.O.D., and, even though I liked that album to some extent, I just don’t think he’s very good at ambitious concepts like that. So yeah, this album is pretty much on par with his others in my opinion. I like it more than most of them, but Cole World is still my favorite. This is a dope album though. I fuck with it.

Favorite Song: Let Go My Hand
Least Favorite Song: Amari


Watch the videos below for more thoughts on this album.

Grade: B

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