Diagnosis: Alive & Stable😴
Fav Tracks: punchin’ the clock, pride is the devil, let go my hand, close, hunger on hillside
Least Fav: 100.mil’
What do you remember the first time you heard The Come Up, The Warm Up, and Friday Night Lights. Bars! Articulate Bars! J. Cole is now somewhat recapturing that idea with his new album The Off-Season. This is an album not a mixtape anymore so I’m expecting Cole at the top of his game. While he does come through with some great one liners like the ones below
Could put a M right on your head, you Luigi brother now – 95 . south
Kill ’em on a song, walk up out the booth, do the Westbrook rock-a-baby – amari
Said, “Most of these n**** gon’ hang themselves, just give ’em the rope and see”– the . climb . back
Cole’s direction seems to be lacking. J. Cole is one of the last artist I’d imagine saying that about because almost every album he’s put out, to this point, at least knows it’s overall message.
The intro track “95. South” does see Cole come from a more aggressive POV with braggadocios bars with him declaring his writing skills are far above other rappers. The beat for me has a triumphant feel and comes across as early Jay-Z. There is also a moment where he calls out rappers doing 30 track albums and I just really enjoyed that.
The flute type instrumental on “amari” is so overused in hip-hop now but J. Cole still finds a way to keep it fresh. Here we see Cole reflecting on his past in Fayetteville to how things are now in his life. We see him also try and push his vocals a little bit on this song and that pays off.
The third song on his album is a little bit of a mixed bag for me. While it is a solid song, it also feels very similar to the song they did in 2018 “a lot”. Has the same type of looped old sample being used on the production. It just feels like they just wanted to create the same vibe and not strive for anything new here. Morray does come through with a solid performance on the chorus. Overall it’s like the knock off version of “a lot”. Also, 21 Savage uses 14 bars that each end with the word -me- so that’s not all that impressive.
There are a few moments on the next song “applying.pressure” where Cole has to back track so he doesn’t come off like a hypocrite and to me it comes off a bit corny. He continues to harp on the rapper lifestyle especially how he’d much rather them rap about being broke then trying to fake flex for fans. I don’t think anyone will be revisiting this song too much.
“punchin’ .the. clock” to this point is the most concise song so far thematically. The song starts with Cole talking about seeing a shooting and this then flows into Cole reflecting on his first experience using a gun. This then leads to into him explaining internal conflict that’s causing him to be paranoid and have nightmares where he is branded. This is Cole at his best when he can paint a picture and bring the listener into his thoughts and feelings at the time.
Unfortunately, the next track “100. mil'” doesn’t follow up well. As much as Cole tries to sell his delivery here I’m just not feeling it. His flow feels the same and the chorus just lacks creativity not to mention the damn whistle in the production that keeps piercing my ear. The singing here isn’t great as well but the one highlight here is that the Michael B. Jordan line is pretty funny.
I do think we reach the best song on the album with “pride.is.the.devil”. The singing on this song is way better and just from a production stand point probably one of my favorites as well. This is another clear thought out moment where Cole’s lyrics are ear catching. Lil Baby sounds good here but I would say his verse is a little off track when looking at the overall theme.
“let.go.my.hand” is another solid track for me. The production has a slower vibe to it and features these bird like jungle noises throughout. While this might be on the calmer side there is still a sense of uneasiness coming through. J. Cole’s lyrics offer another form of paranoia or even dread here to the extent of him being extremely aware that one day his son is not going to need him. The female vocals tied with some sort of club like adlibs for the background vocals also add another element to the overall production creating a pretty unique world.
The track “interlude” has Cole back in his element coming through with some clever bars that touch on topics such as the KKK, Nipsey, and even Jesus.
Moving towards some of the closing tracks we get the very aware track “close” that has Cole reminiscing about a friend and certain struggles he see’s him go through. This track ends in a grounded manner where his friend comes to his untimely death.
“Hunger.on.hillside” to me is a great ending. Cole seems very aware and deliberate on this track. It also comes across as like an antithesis to the first track on the album with its similar production style. Not to mention Bas has his best moment on the album with an excellent outro that perfectly coincides with the beat and wraps everything up in solid manner.
My final thoughts on The Off-Season may be a little bit extreme and possibly naive but I feel as if this project lacks depth. Cole continuously talks about where he came from and his struggles but at this point in his career you’d want a little more expansion on this topic. I’d like to see a little more understanding or even a broken down perspective to really get to the pit of some of the issues discussed. Maybe the theme on this record is paranoia because that seems to come up the most. Maybe Cole isn’t at a place of understanding. Maybe Cole feels at the back end of his career and the music industry is this giant weight that he has to defend against. I could be wrong about all of this, but wherever Cole sees his remaining progression I hope he can come to terms or even answer some of these lingering topics he’s harped on so much over the years.