After teasing a (potentially final?) album entitled The Fall-Off since the day his last project dropped in 2018, global superstar J. Cole elected to drop something entirely different in his triumphant return. The Off-Season removes his usual big ideas, concept album structure and overall air of Cole as the enlightened “conscious rapper,” replacing it instead with some of his most impressive flows and lyricism in years. The project at times feels like it’s taking listeners aside for a moment to remind them of his skillset, building to something bigger that we might receive sooner than we think.
While Cole’s everyman appeal and storytelling charm can often be his greatest strength, hearing him simply demolishing beats, sounding hungry, and reminding us why so many consider him to be one of the greatest alive is refreshing and fun after everything we’ve been through with him. The storytelling angle is still here, but it manifests in different ways – After a few tracks full of clever wordplay, boasts and punchlines, Cole saves some of his most overtly political material until the end of the project, detailing the horrors of violent street life with the vivid detail he is so well known for.
Often priding himself on going “platinum with no features,” Cole finally invites some company on board, rekindling his undeniable chemistry with 21 Savage and placing the spotlight on some up-and-comers as well. Still, it’s all Cole’s world here, and he continues to cement his legacy.