For a while, I’ve been seen as a J.Cole hater. But he has been on an underwhelming tear since 2014 Forest Hills Drive. There have been some phenomenal tracks to come out of 2014 Forest Hill Drive and the subsequent releases, however the inconsistencies has led to myself going into a new project with low expectations. He speaks more than his actions precede and his innate sense to constantly prove something, like the hip-hop community is anti Cole, can get a little egregious. It has been a crux, and it has been a benefit to Cole when he was breaking records, like selling a million records with no features. This time around he will try to prove he can sell a million, while also messing up search bar algorithms… jokes aside, his new album, The Off-Season, delivers fresh flows and a concise direction, this album has a lot of positives that outweigh the minimal nitpicks within keen construction of some of the tracks.
For all his faults, including some redundancy, he has never shorted his delivery when it comes to the lyricism in his songs. He is dominant force – as a lyricist when he defies conceptions, like the copious flexes on this album. Though there are moments where it can come off a little ignorant like the line “I got more cribs than habitat for humanity,” on the track “Punchin’ The Clock.” It’s cool to flex the amount of houses you have, but to compare it to a nonprofit organization that helps the impoverished with homes, it doesn’t really bode well. But that is only a small blemish on one of the better tracks.
Sometimes he can be too on the nose, like on “Applying Pressure,” where he goes on a long winded speech about the Nike motto – “Just Do It,” but with it’s too wordy and unnecessary. It’s what separates the best part of this album as opposed to the worst parts, like the lead up to the speech in “Applying Pressure,” which has one of Cole’s better flows, recently.
His flows are very in and out of quality and engagement, where most of the time is better than not. It’s one of the better constants next to his lyricism, which escapes a lot of conscious atmosphere and goes into an aggressive and introspective braggadocio direction. Though there are times he does tread into redundancy, he keeps a momentum flowing. It isn’t like his previous work where he tried to go deep with a track about folding clothes. Unlike those projects, the production doesn’t come as audaciously vibrant or with range.
The production on The Off-Season is handled by a lot of great hip-hop producers, but given that J. Cole had a sonic concept in mind, a lot of the production carries more redundancy than Cole’s verses. The first two tracks have some of the better production, adopting a solid gritty atmosphere, before a lot of those overtones, on subsequent tracks, are burnt and start to feel less characteristic and more of just being there. This isn’t like some of the features on the album, which come with the same hunger to shine in their own right, unlike the three times Bas comes on. However 21 Savage’s verse on “My Life,” is a breath of fresh air as he has been turning out an array of good material, DJ Khaled album notwithstanding.
Unfortunately The Off-Season teeters into forgetfulness in the beginning of the second half, but he closes hard with one of his most lyrically astute tracks in “The Climb Back,” though it has been around for a while. So its placement just boosts the quality for those, like myself, who prefer to listen from start to finish. It has a good flow where the best stuff fleshes out more in your ears, while the forgettable tracks flow in tandent and doesn’t cause much of a sonic hindrance. These forgettable tracks, “Pride Is The Devil” and “Let Go My Hand,” have some keen details that lose you like the guitar loop on “Pride Is The Devil,” which was used previously on the Amine track, “Can’t Decide,” and the sheer focus on it makes you think of a better use of it. The Lil Baby feature does bring a fresh take on the boring production and weak chorus melody from J. Cole. “Let Go My Hand,” has a second half flies by without notice, after a strong intro and verse from J.Cole. Along with the interlude, it gets yawn inducing before he reels you back in “The Climb Back.”
This album brings about a special feeling. It doesn’t feel like most J. Cole albums, mostly due to the lack of trying to bring light to the problems in society. This special feeling comes from a constant hunger to show that he is still in his prime, something he makes note of on the track “100 Mil,” with fellow Dreamville artist Bas. Instead of proving his worth as an artist, like he did with 2014 Forest Hills Drive and 4 Your Eyez Only with having no features, he is here just being himself, which is bringing some of his better verses.
He uses artists to fully envelop his character and embolden the themes of grandeur and fatherhood, amongst others. Though it flows between expressing his earnings and status or trying to defend his knowledge and feeling about the world. In doing so he gives respect to Diddy, while also reminiscing on an incident where it shows that J. Cole never really came like a bloodthirsty game. This is due to the reason behind it, which was Diddy creating an issue with Kendrick behind the stage of an awards show about Kendrick’s proclamation that he is King of New York. This track is the aforementioned “Let Go My Hand,” and unfortunately the Diddy feature on the outro doesn’t do what the other features do.
The Off-Season brings a lot to the table and at the same time leaves you with enough to indulge. But it isn’t without its problems. Fortunately these problems don’t hinder what J. Cole tries to get across. He has good concepts that come across well, without hiccups; it’s just the little things that you can’t ignore. Though that isn’t to say this album wasn’t any good. It is his best since 2014 Forest Hills Drive and that is a pleasant surprise for 2021.