First Impressions of J. Cole's 'The Off-Season'

J. Cole's new project has arrived. After an initial listen of the 12-song release, here are our first impressions and takeaways from 'The Off-Season.'

J. Cole

Image via YouTube/Dreamville

J. Cole

The floodgates have opened. Five and a half months into a very dry year for major rap releases, we just had our biggest New Music Friday of 2021. Nicki dropped a song with Drake and Lil Wayne, 21 Savage released an EP, Kodak Black put out an album, the Migos unveiled a new single, and much more.

The star of the night, though, was J. Cole. Returning with his first solo project since 2018’s KOD, Cole released The Off-Season, a 12-track project featuring the likes of 21 Savage, Lil Baby, Morray, and Bas, among other uncredited guest vocalists.

This one was a long time coming. Back in August 2018, Cole dropped a freestyle called “Album of the Year” on YouTube, and in the description he wrote: “The Off Season coming soon… All roads lead to The Fall Off.” Nearly three years later, the project has finally arrived, with rumors circulating that The Fall Off might not be too far behind it.

As with any J. Cole album, it’s going to take some time to properly digest The Off-Season and pick up on all the subtleties he packed into it, but we couldn’t help ourselves from writing down our first impressions after a few spins. Here’s a list of our initial thoughts and takeaways from J. Cole’s new project, The Off-Season.

Cole knows how to talk his sh*t when he needs to

J. Cole

The hidden features trick worked

J. Cole tracklist

Cole’s gamble to work with a lot of producers paid off

J. Cole producers tracklist

The project is true to ideas he discussed in the roll-out

View this video on YouTube

J. Cole wasn’t selling us a dream when he said the The Off-Season title “represents the many hours and months and years it took to get to top form.” He delivered a body of work that feels like one of the best displays of his raw skills. He checked off a lot of boxes on this album: he tried out myriad flows, incorporated melody in the midst of the bars, told stories, was assonant, and had some slick one-liners. He sounded invigorated throughout, reaffirming that he shook himself out of the creative funk he spoke about in his SLAM interview and in the Applying Pressure documentary. —Andre Gee

He successfully pays homage to classic rap moments

View this video on YouTube

It’s as if, in the midst of the 2010s generational wars, hoards of younger producers and rappers had a giant group chat and decided “we gonna show these OGs that we were listening” by resampling some of their favorite moments in rap history. It already feels like many 2000s classics have been touched, and Cole kept that trend going on The Off-Season. “95 South” sampled Bobby Byrd’s “I’m Not to Blame,” a powerful loop that was previously touched on Jay-Z’s classic “U Don’t Know.” And if the sample wasn’t enough, he got Cam’ron to apply his natural Harlem showmanship to the track. Elsewhere, Cole got Morray to vocalize the classic hook from Pharoahe Monch’s “The Life” on “My Life.” We know Cole is a student of rap history, so it was cool to see him bring back some classic moments. I also appreciate that he didn’t evoke nostalgia as a lazy stunt. He went in on “95 South,” and he and 21 Savage showed out on “My Life.” —Andre Gee

Lil Baby can go toe to toe with anyone right now

Lil Baby

It has mixtape energy

J. Cole

The Puff Daddy fight rumors were true


Morray’s breakout run hits new highs


Some lines like “If you broke and clownin' a millionaire, the joke is on you" reflect a lack of political awareness

J. Cole, “Middle Child”

On first listen, it’s one of the year’s best albums (so far) and one of Cole’s better projects

J. Cole

Latest in Music