- 17 May 21
American rap superstar delivers hit-and-miss.
It’s been 3 years since J. Cole released KOD, and though the rapper featured on the Grammy-nominated compilation album Revenge of the Dreamers III in 2019 and released 3 singles in 2020, it’s fair to say his latest album – The Off-Season – has been eagerly awaited by fans.
Co-produced by Ibrahim Hamad, T-Minus and Cole himself, the album pairs Cole with a host of collaborators, including Timbaland and Boi-1-Da, who supply some of the beats. Cole tackles the trappings of fame, complacency and artistry on an album which was years in the making.
The opening track, '95 . south', sees Cole rapping over big, booming beats reminiscent of the 2010s hip-hop landscape, where he recites his verses with a lack of urgency and laissez faire attitude. ‘Amari’ feels like an indication of what the album could have been, with a punchy trap beat and some innovative vocals from Cole – he stretches his voice to breaking point on the track, with falsetto inflections.
‘my . life,’ features a nice gospel sample that Cole overlays with aggressive, spitfire bars, injecting the verses with anger. 21 Savage features on this offering, with a tight and melodic delivery, buoying the album's up-and-down energy.
Then, 'applying . pressure' begins, with grating horns and laser beam sound effects. It's a little jarring, but the beat eventually settles into itself, with Cole rapping in a bouncy flow.
‘punchin . the . clock’ sees Cole return to some of the melancholy of 2015’s 4 Your Eyez Only, in one of the only songs on the album where Cole maintains a distinct narrative.
‘pride. is . the . devil’ begins with a vocal hook reminiscent of Rod Wave’s ‘Rags2Riches’. The uncontested highlight of the album, the track sees Cole exploring the trappings of his own pride. Lil Baby features here, with mesmerising delivery, layered over a subtle guitar and steady, vintage beat.
‘interlude’ energises the album yet again, with Cole’s melodic flow more effortless here than on any of his previous records.
On 'close', which samples MF DOOM, Cole’s emotive delivery is the centrepiece. He talks about his friend who died in the streets, before moving swiftly on to ‘hunger . on . hillside,’ which closes the album with some emotional instrumentation and gorgeous drums.
While Cole's verses are heart-wrenching and emotional at points, The Off-Season isn’t saying anything new or thought-provoking in the rap landscape. It's slightly disappointing, considering his previous albums have clearly demonstrated that he is capable of much more.
Listen to The Off-Season below.