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The Off-Season

by J. Cole

Released May 14, 2021 via Dreamville Records / Roc Nation / Interscope Records

Reviewed May 24, 2021

Top tracks (based on community voting)
m y . l i f e (66%), t h e . c l i m b . b a c k (45%), l e t . g o . m y . h a n d (42%)

The event of a J. Cole album continues to be the site of hip-hop's most exhausting debate about what makes a great album these days. With each passing release, it has been made repeatedly clear that fans on either side of the debate about Jermaine are profoundly dug in on their stance. Enter The Off-Season, J. Cole's fiery sixth studio album, slightly retooling the creative recipe without dramatically moving the needle. The result is a compounding effect on the archetype of the listener base: Cole's critics see another shot and miss while Cole's core fans see another trophy in the showroom. Either way, The Off-Season confidently and unapologetically delivers itself to the masses. – DeVán (8/10)

J. Cole is a competent rapper, but his ‘unequivocal lyrical-miracle individual’ appeal attracts the wrong kind of crowd to hip-hop, especially considering the genre’s shape at this current moment. It’s been a while since his last full-length album, and as he’s slowly but surely been gathering hype for the to-be-released The Fall Off, J. Cole is primed and ready to interact with these expectations of energetic beats, vicious delivery, and venomous takes critiquing ‘the rap game.’ He’s lethal. He’s hungry. He’s been working on it for so long, how can he go wrong? The problem is that Cole refuses to grow in either direction, save for the application of concept on his last two records, KOD (2018) and 4 Your Eyez Only (2016). Even then, the execution was fairly inconsistent. So, when Cole comes back with a new record of the same quality, but without much of a concept, basis, or methodological approach, it's a bit of a dreary experience. The beats on The Off-Season are pretty bland, which is fine if he wants to emphasise his lyricism, but nothing stands out instrumentally at all. His faux-intimidatory flexes and corny metaphors are laughable: “light the city up as if sun had the night shift,” “so many shells on the ground, it’d make the Easter bunny proud,” “put an M right on your head, you Luigi brother now.” Those are some of the worst offenders, and thankfully they’re few and far between, but they’re between non-descript chasms of just-above mediocrity. The Off-Season might be great if you’re a Cole fan, but it won’t offer you anything if you’re anyone else. – Cam (6.5/10)

On The Off-Season, J. Cole delivers a largely forgettable work that isn’t bad, but has little to no outstanding aspects. At 36—usually when a professional basketball player like him, retires— one would expect a little more emotion or introspection. And while there is some present (“close,” “let go my hand,” and to an extent, “pride is the devil”), he largely relies on trend-chasing and songs with great lyrical performances and not much else. Additionally, his hypocrisy shows all over here; he’ll sneer at younger rappers, then try to emulate their sound. He criticizes broke rappers that act rich, but raps about putting hits out on people. Cole is better when he’s making a cohesive album that feels more personal (see: KOD and 4 Your Eyez Only). One can argue that this is a mixtape, and technical skill will take precedence over the songs’ quality, but even then, this doesn’t have the same ambition or hunger that 2009 Cole had. – Alan (6/10)

DeVán: 8/10 | Peter: 7/10 | Cam: 6.5/10 | Enth: 6.5/10

Pax: 6.5/10 | Dominick: 6.3/10 | Alan: 6/10 | Hadley: 4.5/10


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