J.Cole — The Off-Season — Album Review

Hip-Hop | Rap

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My experience listening to J.Cole is a bit of an unusual one. While I had known that the Frankfurt-born American rap artist has been making hits for a considerable amount of time, it wouldn’t really be until the New Year’s Eve of 2018 that I discovered him.

Even then, I only listened to the song “ATM”, which is part of J.Cole’s 2018 record KOD, and after the moment I discovered that track, I hadn’t really taken the time to listen to any other works of his, until now.

This week saw the release of J.Cole’s sixth and latest studio album, named The Off-Season. It was that kind of album that popped up on the upcoming releases section, and left me thinking to myself “hmm…maybe I might give that one a shot”.

However, giving The Off-Season that first skim-over that I do with almost every other album I’ve reviewed, I was able to instantly recognise that kind of special quality you’d expect from a stellar rap project, and it had me interested straight away.

Admittedly, the opening part of this album did leave me feeling a little conflicted; primarily due to how weirdly mixed the production seemed. In comparison to J.Cole’s vocal volume, the instrumentals (and especially the sampling), seemed abnormally quiet. And while I respect that this may be a tactic to have listeners pay more attention to Cole’s words, I feel that the quieter production of the first few tracks detract from that, as opposed to achieving it.

Thankfully, as if midway through recording, the producers recognised this themselves and decided to amend the problem, we eventually end up with more and more well-mixed tracks the further the album goes on. I felt that the further I went into The Off-Season, the more it triumphantly shone.

And ironically, I was more engaged with what J.Cole was rapping about, as a result of enjoying the production further down the line, which is a relief when I look back on it, because I ended up really enjoying the main focus of Cole’s bars, and the way they were delivered so passionately and genuinely.

In a nutshell, The Off-Season is J.Cole’s personal musical reflection of where he is now; how he still finds it hard to believe his success, and how he is slowly coming to acceptance with the fact that one day, he will have to outgrow that success. It’s a very inspiring coming-of-age type of story that does really well to glue the whole project together.

And while this album did have a light scattering of duds, in my opinion, the high points that The Off-Season has to offer is stratospheric. I may even go as far to say that the way that many of the tracks flow, as well as the overall tone of the album, felt reminiscent of a project like Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN.

The fact that this album has quickly made me feel that perhaps I had been sleeping on J.Cole’s music for too long, is by default the mark of a successful album. The Off-Season definitely feels deserving of all the hype it will inevitably receive.

Favourite Tracks: a p p l y i n g . p r e s s u r e | l e t . g o . m y . h a n d | h u n g e r . o n . h i l l s i d e

Least Favourite Track: 9 5 . s o u t h

Dreamville Inc. | Roc Nation Records

Enjoyment: 8/10 | Memorability: 9/10 | Atmosphere: 8/10

Uniqueness: 7/10 | Satisfaction: 7/10 | Narrative: 9/10

Final Score: 8/10

My articles mainly revolve around music reviews and analysis. A bit like Anthony Fantano, but just a decade behind.