On May 14th, J. Cole released his new album, The Off-Season. It is the first solo project from the Fayetteville rapper in three years. He first announced the album in 2018 in his song, “Album of the Year (Freestyle)”. After the announcement, he began work on his label album, Revenge of The Dreams III. Then, Cole dropped off the face of the Earth for nearly two years. It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that fans received news of what Cole has been working on during his time as a hip-hop hermit. On May 4th, Cole officially announced The Off-Season release date to be the following week. Then, on May 10th, Cole released a documentary about the making of the album. Fans learn that Cole took his time with this album to attempt to top his best work.
Wait, The Real Is Back??
J. Cole was one of the first artists that I grew an attachment to at the beginning of the decade. He had charisma, rapping prowess, and the ability to produce a large portion of his music. Cole was a young man rapping about things that no one else was talking about at the time. Not only that, but Cole could make a great radio-friendly song on the side too. But as time passed and more artists were breaking out into my playlists, I began to see the crumbling foundation of Cole’s artistry. Unfortunately, J. Cole was grouped with two gargantuan artists that came out around the time he did. Drake and Kendrick Lamar had similar career trajectories. All three of them were signed by rap legends. They all had huge hits and critical acclaim from their debut albums. Their sophomore albums are arguably the greatest thing they ever released.
Yet, J. Cole was different. Cole didn’t have the rap ability to make thought-provoking albums like Kendrick, and he wasn’t a rap hitmaker like Drake. He was in a weird middle ground and he couldn’t quite reach the respective pinnacles his peers had reached. After his third album, 2014 Forest Hill Drive, he had become a meme for going “platinum with no features.” While that was a respectable feat, if you release three albums in a row with no features, your music tends to become bland. That is what happened to J. Cole’s most recent efforts. Cole’s music became synonymous with boring, drab, sleep-inducing music. And the jokes weren’t too far off. Then with the release of the label album, Revenge of the Dreamers III, something seemed to have changed in Cole. He sounded like an artist that wasn’t trying to be anything other than a good rapper.
For over two years, Cole pretty much disappeared from the public eye. Many thought he retired to label owner. In reality, he was having a rebirth. He felt like he had become complacent with releasing an album every few years rapping the same tired lyrics over his production. It was evident for the fans and it became painfully evident for him as well. So, like any self-respecting artist that cares about their craft, he locked himself away and leveled up once again. In his documentary, applying pressure, Cole discusses his writer’s block and struggling to top his previous work. It’s a common problem with artists that have been around as long as Cole.
With The Off-Season, Cole’s creative rebirth is a massive success. Cole sounds like he wants to prove himself and why he is worthy of being in the same conversations as Drake and Kendrick. He also moves away from the “no features” gimmick he held on to for far too long. The rapper recruited the top producers in the rap game too. He has Boi-1da, T-Minus, Timbaland, Frank Dukes, and just about any other producer who has made some major heat in the last few years. The album features 21 Savage and Lil Baby. While Cole and 21 Savage have had a history together, Lil Baby being on a Cole track was a pleasant surprise. Lil Baby has bodied Drake and now J. Cole on their tracks. All we need now is for Lil Baby to straight-up embarrass Kendrick on his next album and the three-headed dragon will be slain.
Cole’s Fall Off
After The Off-Season, Cole plans to release his magnum opus, The Fall Off. As he described it in his documentary, The Off-Season is the teaser for what he has in store for the next album. He also alludes to his next album will be his last, and after its release, he will retire from rapping. If you follow any rapper at all, you know that rappers will always “retire” but very rarely do they ever stop rapping. In the song, “95 South”, Cole says “Cole been goin’ plat’ since back when CDs was around.” If he keeps rapping as he did on this album, he will certainly keep going platinum.