J. Cole flexes his production and lyrical muscles in “The Off-Season”

The sixth studio album from the hip hop legend features great collaboration and solid instrumentals

Dana Taylor, Arts & Culture Writer

Cole’s sixth studio album is another great addition to his discography. He further proves how lyrical and impactful his style is with songs like “m y . l i f e” and “l e t . g o . m y .  h a n d”. “The Off-Season” is a lyrical reflection of Cole’s life and career, with most songs describing his past traumas. 

I was really excited to hear how well the instrumentation paired with the lyrics. When writing about his struggles, the songs tend to have a heavy and present bass. When J. Cole reflects on the past, you can find jazz and orchestral moments as the focus of the song. I loved the way he was able to incorporate a lot of instrumental themes without it sounding tacky. For example, the guitar in “p r i d e . i s . t h e . d e v i l” is looped throughout the duration of the song. Normally, after hearing a single theme for over a minute can be redundant and has your finger itching towards the skip button. But the way the other elements of the song, including the lyrics, layered over the loop kept the song fresh and interesting throughout. 

“The Off-Season” had a great blend of collaborations with appearances by 21 Savage, Morray, Bas and 6LACK. Usually when an artist adds a feature for a majority of the album, it makes you question whether or not they are confident in their ability to write and perform interesting songs by themselves, but this was not the case. This album had a solid 5:7 mix of collaborations to solo songs. Additionally, this album and its songs were the perfect lengths. At no point did I ever wonder how long I had left in a song or how many songs I had left in the album.

With trauma and growth being an overarching theme of the album, Cole was able to write about his experiences without it coming off as a boast. Nowadays, going through struggle is like a flex, and everyone wants to prove how bad their life was almost as a way to tell others that their successes aren’t as valid because their beginnings weren’t as bad. This album gracefully acknowledges how his past hardships and traumas have gotten him to the place he’s at now but can criticize those he had to let go that were jealous and wanted to sabotage him without it sounding too resentful.

Cole wraps up his new album with “h u n g e r . o n . h i l l s i d e”. This song is romantic, hopeful and makes you feel the amount of effort he has put into this album and his career. He contemplates how strong he has become and how much his career has grown, which is emphasized by a reverberating bass that makes an occasional appearance but comes in more steadily towards the song’s end. The album closes with a harmonized chorus structure that feels like a final call from his inner monologue.

I give this album a 7/10. I really enjoyed the instrumentation, the energy and the transparency of the lyrics that created a very specific vibe to “The Off-Season.” In a way, it lacks risk, and I would have liked to see more dynamic differences. That being said, this album is nothing short of what you would expect from J. Cole, it expands his style in a way that is true to his narrative. 

Favorite song: l e t . g o . m y . h a n d

Least Favorite song: 9 5 . s o u t h