Welcome back to Cole World. One of the most lyrically adept popular rappers in the world, J. Cole is not one for constant publicity or social media so it can feel to fans in the 24/7 digital media blender as though he isn’t doing much between albums, but there is always something there. Greatness takes time. There were hints that a new album was on the way, but we got the confirmation this week for his sixth LP The Off-Season. Though they aren’t officially listed, the album does arrive with some features and cameos from 21 Savage, Cam’ron, Morray, Lil Baby and Bas.
You know that this won’t be “going platinum with no features” as it is often memed on the internet from the outset with Cam’ron offering a hype intro to the LP on “9 5 . south” before Cole keeps the energy up on his own part of the song. Matching the beat of the track that feels ready for shows and something that hasn’t been seen from Cole in some time, he is beating is own drum, noting he has been going platinum since CDs. He also raps that he has been doing numbers with conventional albums, while other rappers have been releasing bloated 30-song albums designed to accumulate streams and game the system for chart position. They do this and still only “do a measly hundred thou.”
There is a mature braggadocio on this album, like Cole looking down on others with “1 0 0 m i l ‘” as he raps about having “100 mill and I am still on the grind” with some serious bounce. He has never been shy about taking on the industry and industry figures, referencing a rumored scuffle between Cole and Puff that has been internet lore for years on “l e t . g o . m y . h a n d.”
As one would expect from Cole, there is plenty of introspection about his own past struggles or those of others around him. “p r i d e . i s . t h e . d e v i l” examines the problems of pride and his own battles growing up, sharing a story of someone pulling a gun on him. “c l o s e,” which samples the MF DOOM song “Valerian Root,” laments losing a friend slowly to the temptation of drugs, before crime look his life.
For those who were worried about this maybe being his last album, on “1 0 0 m i l ‘” he likely puts that to bed saying “can't leave the game yet, I feel like LeBron.” He is still here and wants to dominate. The basketball references are laced throughout the record “Ja Morant, I’m on my Grizzly” from “m y . l i f e” as he makes another transition in his life to pro ball in Africa. He played in high school and made the team at St. Johns as a walk-on, but focused music and school, so the man can hoop.
Cole World is back on The Off-Season, as the North Carolina rapper still wants to tell stories that should be told, but is also not afraid to let you know about his own talents. Sometimes he can trip over his own braggadocio, trying to put others down in ways that don’t have the same incisiveness as other modes of his rapping, but he does land plenty of hits. For J. Cole fans, three years can feel like a long time between albums, but it will be worth the wait. Pick up a copy of The Off-Season here and stream it below.