Three long years have gone by and between the mainstream “big three” of J. Cole, Drake and Kendrick Lamar, only two albums combined have been released. Both those albums came in 2018 with Cole’s KOD and Drake’s ultra cringe-inducing Scorpion. Lamar, unfortunately, has been silent in the industry since 2017, while Drake has done some releases, but not a brand-new, full-length record.
As time has progressed in Cole’s career, it feels as though the public opinion of his lyricism has tanked with everyone seeing past his “woke”, conscious bars. 2020 was a brutal year for the North Carolina MC as he was put on blast by fellow rapper Noname after Cole mentioned her on the track “Snow on Tha Bluff.”
It not only seemed like the interest in Cole’s music was fading, but also his past works were put into question for their true quality.
It’s safe to say that a majority of Cole’s discography is not aging well as the man who defines himself as a conscious-heavy artist, doesn’t really pull that off when you go back and look at the context of his songs: exhibit A of this being “Wet Dreamz” where Cole raps about being horny and downbad every time he went to school.
Going into The Off-Season, you could seriously question if this was the beginning of the end for someone who was on top of the rap world at one point.
As one might expect, the optics of Cole’s sixth album did not get off to a good start with the rapper dropping a literal “interlude” as the sole single to the record. Granted, Cole teases at having a lot more energy on this record than KOD, but the lyrical cringe became apparent instantly as he closes the track with “Christ went to Heaven age thirty-three And so did Pimp C and so did Nipsey.” Honestly, what’s the comparison here outside of making a cheap Nipsey “tribute”?
Now, I could just go through this review by listing my thoughts on each track one-by-one, but my process of digesting this album simply came down to one question: just what is The Off-Season? Last December, Cole did list off what his future projects would look like, so it makes you wonder if this is a series and they all correlate. If this happens to be the case, what’s the motivation and, again, what is The Off-Season?
Let’s say we are talking about sports. The offseason is meant for athletes to recover after a long, grueling season that takes up over half of a calendar year. It’s only weeks prior to the next season starting that athletes begin getting into prime shape. So is Cole saying that this record is just buildup for The Fall Off or is it songs put together that were throwaways from a prior album? The album title doesn’t really add up when you try to explain it to someone.
If this is truly a series with multiple albums, then why on earth do we need to invest time in The Off-Season if the peak of this run is happening down the road? If these albums can’t stand on their own and aren’t getting the potential 10/10 that every artist should be shooting for on anything they released, then we are just wasting our time giving a listen.
Why am I going to put time into reviewing this record when I could just wait for that “peak” moment on this run?
Regardless of all those questions, where this album loses points for me is Cole’s contradicting stance on trying to put himself on a higher pedestal than the trendy rappers out there and then collaborating with said trendy rappers later on in the album.
“pride is the devil” had a chance of being a quality track with that slick guitar riff that we also heard on Anime’s “Can’t Decide”, but Lil Baby hops on in the second half and just inaudibly runs his mouth for way too long.
Cole also chose to embrace his inner Gunna and Future with the incredibly bland “100 mil’”, which is about as mainstream and trendy as rap can get at this point.
Fortunately, there are some great cuts on this record that are worth our time, but still, if this was a series that was teased in the winter, are we really getting top-notch Cole?
I find “my life” to be a great sequel to “a lot”, which was the viral hit with the Cole and 21 Savage collaboration, and once again, 21 Savage outdoes Cole, along with a great hook from Morray outdoing anything Cole does on the track.
“punchin the clock” is another highlight for me as it is one of Cole’s hardest tracks bar for bar, but the end has the weird Damian Lillard monologue talking about what an offseason is.
The standout song on this album for me was definitely “let go my hand” as Cole talks about confronting fights he had when growing up and approaching them head on instead of running away. He wants to teach his child to not bow down and stand up for himself, but also try to mend those conflicts like he does with P. Diddy, who delivers an outro at the end of the song. I also love the layered vocals from Bas and 6LACK on the hook of the track.
I will give credit to the closing tracks “close” and “hunger on hillside” even though the latter produces one of the corniest bars you can write with “Fun f**kin’ them hoes until you realize that you is the ho.” Bleh…..
Like the other quality tracks on this record, I can say these two songs go harder than almost anything on KOD, which is a good sign moving forward for Cole.
While I do believe at least one or two tracks will be listened to years after this release, turning this run into a series for Cole left a lot to be desired as it feels like crumbs on a trail and we still have miles to go and hills to climb before we get to his peak artistry. It’s quite the shame as the album art and Cole’s buildup, FROM HIS OWN WORDS, teased otherwise.
I guess we aren’t there yet.
Richest Tracks: “my life”, “punchin’ the clock”, “let go my hand”, “the climb back”, “close”, “hunger on hillside”
Worst Track: “100 mil’”
Listen to the album