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J. Cole - The Off-Season (Album Review)

Wednesday, 19 May 2021 Written by Jacob Brookman

J. Cole is close to the top of his game. The North Carolina rapper and producer has found time away from his other passion of basketball—he recently made his debut for Rwanda-based Patriots in the Africa Basketball League—to deliver ‘The Off-Season’, an album of tremendous poise and guile with a host of well-thought-out collabs that elevate the record without compromising cohesion.

Much like 2018’s ‘KOD’, here Cole’s taste for vintage samples, jazz motifs and trap beats is borne out with great skill, and the complexity of the LP’s backing tracks often sneaks up on you, providing tremendously listenable bedding for compelling storytelling.

Amari is an excellent example of this dynamic, with a cloudy guitar riff accompanying furious and rhythmically innovative bars that jink and shudder.

Similarly, The Climb Back combines a low-slung 5/4 rhythm with a delicious descending tinkle sample, and a circular rapping pattern that keeps you thinking and guessing. It demonstrates Cole's innate musicality to challenge himself this way on an otherwise highly commercial album.

Elsewhere, closing song Hunger on Hillside leans into the old school elements, dropping a terse, grooving sampled beat with swelling strings, interplay between rap and singing, and innovative rhythmic shuffles. 

If there is a criticism with ‘The Off-Season’, it is that it plods through some tedious hip hop marks too readily, with too much misogynistic language, and too much boasting about money. Cole also continues to prop up the industry-wide capitulation to autotuning his voice, a vexing approach to vocal production that continues to ruin otherwise organic sounding bars, and take the listener out of the moment. Not quite a slam dunk, then, but pretty close.

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