J. Cole returns after three years

Hip hop icon sets the world on fire with his new record


Creative Commons

The cover art for the new J. Cole album “The Off-Season.” The cover art was a reference to Cole’s days as a high school and college basketball player. Cole recently signed a pro deal in the Basketball Africa League, balancing music and basketball all at the age of 34.

Carson Fox, Staff Reporter

I was a freshman when hip hop icon J. Cole released his last album, “KOD.” Becoming one of my favorite albums of high school, me and others alike have been awaiting this new project, “The Off-Season” for years. With some new production style behind a few songs, this new album feels as refreshing as ever. 

The album opens with “95 south,” and the first feature Cole has had on a project in eight years, with a short speech from legend Cam’Ron. It immediately leads into a horn based beat with Cole intensely rapping. This is the grand intro he needed on the album. It’s a perfect intro he could have come with, reclaiming what he believes is rightfully his. It hits hard, and sets a great tone for the rest of the album. It leads into “amari” which has a slower tone and sees Cole do a lot of the newer auto tune style he’s been trying. It’s a small drop off from the intro, but it’s still a solid track with some great bars. You can feel the raw emotion in the track if anything.

“my life” is arguably the best song on the album. With a beautiful sample in the background, it’s probably the most polished track on the album. It feels like part two to the 2018 hit song “A lot” off of 21 Savage’s I am > I was project. After a dominant Cole verse, the song’s beautiful hook comes from young rapper Morray, who was recently co-signed by Cole. It transitions beautifully from the hook to another insane verse, coming from none other than 21 Savage, continuing where he also left off from on A lot. It’s probably my favorite song of the entire year so far. 

Afterwards, “applying pressure” comes in with a louder, more boom bap style beat. This is the song where the rhyme schemes Cole uses start becoming next level. He takes shots at the music business, and you can feel the anger he comes from on the song. It’s a shorter song only clocking in a verse, but it continues the dominance he has over the tape. I hold the same complaint of the song being too short on the next track with “punchin the clock.” It’s another song with the same type of beat, but only holding a single long verse on it. The only way these two songs could have been improved is if they were just a bit longer.

The worst track on the album is easily “100 mil.”  It’s the only one that’s somewhat not enjoyable for me. His nasally vocals just don’t work, and the song just feels like a bootleg version of his 2019 hit single “MIDDLE CHILD.” It’s the only dark part of the album, and it picks right back up on “pride is the devil.” Cole sticks to the theme of the song, talking about how having too much pride can affect someone. The hook is fairly catchy, and it features one of the best Lil Baby features of the last year. The seamless transition from Cole’s verse to Baby’s is euphoric, and Baby went nuts in his verse. 

“let go my hand” returns to a more somber tone. It’s more of a space on the album for Cole to just reflect on where his mind has been the last three years, and how his son is growing up just like he is. There’s some perfect lyricism on this album, and it holds the same style that Cole was shooting for on his 2016 album “4 Your Eyez Only,” except on this song he does it much better. It’s almost like an intermission, which continues on with the following track, the lead single “interlude.” He dropped the song just a week before the album, and while it’s another short one verse song, it serves a solid slot on the album and did its job as a small teaser for the full album.

“the climb back” is another single on the album. Previously released as part of a two song pack in 2020, it’s a very deep track that heavily reflects where Cole’s mind was during the turbulent summer of last year. I’m really glad the song found a spot on the album, and it transitions well into “close.” It’s another display of his top tier wordplay, referring to “listening to God like a coach” within the first few lines. It feels like it could have been more of an outro track, but that’s overshadowed by the true outro on the album. The orchestra introduction into the final song “hunger on hillside” creates a feeling like the album is a movie, where everything is being tied together as the song plays in the background. It ties up a lot of the themes Cole touched on in the project, and it is not only a perfect finish to an incredible album, but a thought provoking conclusion to all the music that has dropped throughout my high school.

  1. Cole is widely considered to be one of the best rappers alive, and he proved why on “The Off-Season.” It’s a near perfect album, and it’s easily his best work since 2014’s classic “2014 Forest Hills Drive.” I give it a 9 out of 10 rating, and the only thing that held it back was “100 mil” in the middle of the album. Now all eyes turn to the next Cole album, “The Fall Off,” which has also been teased ever since “KOD.” This listen was one of the most enjoyable listens I’ve had in years.