The “Off” Season Starts with J. Cole’s The Off-Season: An Album Review

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Karim Elsharkawy '22, Edsman Staffer

J. Cole’s 6th album The Off-Season, with the high standard fans hold him to, led to a lot of expectation and excitement leading up to the release of this album on May 14th. It definitely didn’t disappoint. J. Cole had been dropping hints and teasing this album for more than a year, and according to him, “this was years in the making.” After a relatively quiet year from the North Carolina native in light of COVID-19 and racial justice issues, which J. Cole is very passionate about, the 36 year old is back. 

After listening to it for more than a week, I have one thing to say: it’s a lot different than J. Cole’s more recent albums. I’m not yet sure whether that is a good thing or a bad thing, but it does deviate from the more “woke” sermon-type nature of J. Cole’s previous albums. It’s a lot less like he’s trying to advocate for something and enlighten his audience like KOD, and a lot more like he’s just trying to make light, easy music that is fun to listen to. Now, that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t talk about real issues in our society today and his experience with them, but he takes more of an entertaining approach, while still maintaining depth. 

One of the most exciting aspects of this album were features from stars like 21 Savage, Morray, and Lil Baby– all fan favorites. This isn’t like Cole, who tries to make it a point to not have any features on his songs to amplify his individual success, but it still worked out very well for him. Here’s a ranking of all 12 songs from best to worst, based on three factors: the instrumental, the flow, and the lyricism. 

  1. Amari (10/10)
  2. Pride is the Devil (10/10)
  3. Interlude (9/10)
  4. Let Go My Hand (9/10)
  5. Hunger on Hillside (9/10)
  6. My Life (9/10)
  7. The Climb Back (8/10)
  8. Applying Pressure (8/10)
  9. 100 mil’ (8/10)
  10. Close (8/10)
  11. 95 South (7/10)
  12. Punchin’ the Clock (6/10)

For time’s sake, I’ll give you my reasoning behind my top 2 and bottom 2 songs. Let’s start with my top 2, “Amari” and “Pride is the Devil”, both of which I thought were 10/10 songs. 

First off, “Amari” was one of the songs that just sounded right in terms of the chemistry of Cole’s flow and the instrumental. The build up to the climax was exciting, and Cole offered perspective on his own progress in life in a way that was still fun to listen to. Instead of talking about how much the world sucks in a preachy way, he took more of a light approach in terms of lyrics, but his delivery kept the song from feeling superficial. Overall, everything about this song meshed perfectly well, and it’s one of my favorite J. Cole songs overall, as well as my favorite on the album.

“Pride is the Devil” was one of the few songs on the album that featured other artists. In this case it was Lil Baby, and his feature amped the song up to a whole new level. The instrumental was melodious and the low-pitched nature of the song perfectly balances with the quick and constant bars. The issue Cole tackles– pride– is something that is a lot more relatable to people that listen to rap these days, differing from songs that talk about drugs, gangs, and other things that don’t really hit home. This makes the lyrics so much easier to connect to, and this is reflective of a lot of Cole’s work, which is what makes him so appealing to students like us. The Lil Baby verse was what topped off the song. The instrumental sped up, and his unique flow captivated the listener in a way that 21 Savage’s feature on My Life couldn’t.

“95 South” was by no means a bad song, but I just thought it was a very underwhelming start to the album. I didn’t really like the instrumental and it kind of sounded like it was an intro song to a mediocre sports show. This song is a lot different than the other songs on the album, and was a lot more like something from the 2000s, especially Cam’ron’s part. The yelling at the end of the song kind of took away from the intellectual appeal of J. Cole’s singing style, and seemed kind of abrasive. The lyricism was good, and I think J. Cole snuck in a lot of smart bars that flew past our heads. To me, if the instrumental isn’t good, the flow isn’t going to be any better because these two go hand-in-hand. Like I said it wasn’t a bad song and there were some redeeming qualities, but I expected more out of the opening song of the album. 

“Punchin’ the Clock” was my least favorite song on the album for multiple reasons. The first reason, similar to 95 South, the instrumental didn’t click with me. I could see how people would find it to be chill and melodious, but I found it to be kind of irritating; kind of like an out of tune cello. The flow seemed more like an unstructured freestyle than it did a song on a platinum artist’s album. It was repetitive and it got a little boring, but if you’re in a specific mood and want to chill, I can see how it could potentially be a song to consider. The story he told about an altercation with a police officer after finding a firearm that was given to him was very captivating, and he found smart ways to tell the story and rhyme, and this was the redeeming factor of the song. 

Overall, if I had to rate the whole album out of 10 based on my own feelings, I would give it a 9/10, but, as a J. Cole fan, I have some bias towards him. So I took the averages of all of the ratings I gave each song earlier, and the result was 8.4/10, which seems like a more accurate rating. There are definitely some songs on here that I feel like will become timeless songs like” No Role Modelz” or “GOMD,” but there’s still some time until we find that out. In the end, The Off-Season isn’t J. Cole’s best album, but I’d put it amongst the North Carolina native’s top 3 albums of all time.