With Nicki Minaj dropping her highly anticipated album last night at midnight and Drake and Kendrick Lamar’s projects reportedly on the way, 2021 may very well be the best year for hip-hop albums in years.
Another album that hip-hop heads have been anticipating since he announced it just over a week ago is J. Cole’s The Off-Season. Whetting fans appetites with the lead single “The Interlude” and a masterful freestyle on his first ever appearance on L.A. Leakers, he reminded us that he has some of the most elite pen game in hip-hop (as if we needed any reminding). Whereas KOD was a social commentary where J. Cole dropped some wisdom insight into the current state of the world, what we’ve been seeing during the lead up to The Off-Season is a hungry and ferocious Cole ready to assert himself and take his place in the game. This may very well be the hungriest J. Cole we’ve seen to date. Simply put, he’s not playing. He knows he’s that guy and in case you had any doubts, you’re about to know too.
On The Off-Season, Cole lives up to his standing as a “middle child” in hip-hop as he raps, sings, and “sing-raps” and shows off his versatility on the album through its beat selection, cadences and features.
There’s a healthy dose of that good old boom-bap hip-hop on the project, from the intro featuring Killa Cam to the Wutang-esque “p u n c h i n ‘ . t h e . c l o c k”, the A Tribe Called Quest-like ” l e t g o m y h a n d”, and the laid back “a p p l y i n g . p r e s s u r e”. He then contrasts that with the flute infused “a m a r i” with its subtle drill influence.
Featuring on the album is his Dreamville label mate, Bas, as well as some of the hottest young artists in the game, including Lil Baby and Morray, proving that Cole continues to have his finger on the pulse of the culture. But the standout feature comes from 21 Savage on. Cole brought out the best in 21 on their smash “A Lot”, and the two continue where they left off with the soulful “m y . l i f e” with Morray adding his buttery vocals on the hook.
This is exactly where the album shines. Cole has somehow masterfully put together a project that provides a little something for everyone without feeling like it’s trying to be all things to everyone. “How Sway?” It’s magic. The Off-Season sounds like a Cole project while paying homage to the sounds his grew up on and paying the respect forward to the new generation.
Any time you find yourself in the “middle” there’s the risk of getting stuck and overlooked, but not this middle child. This is a man and artist who know his place while still evolving, growing and staying hungry, and it’s a pleasure to watch and hear.
The Off-Season is available on all major streaming platforms.