iTunes $9.99 | Streaming LIVE X LIVE (Album of the Week 5/14/21) | 12 Tracks [39:08]
As I continue to broaden my musical horizons, J. Cole is another new artist for me. There is great joy to be had by finding new music, even if it’s not 100% what a person would listen to most of the time. I can easily say though, that I like J. Cole. He’s had a very successful history, but I am content to pay attention in the future each time he releases something new.
The Off-Season is a nice collection of Hip-hop tracks. I know I sound seriously old and lame as I say that. I felt old and lame as I wrote it. In my defense I will say that the album is low-key, mature music. Nothing flashy. Just good music to loop in the Air Pods. There’s still plenty of swagger, attitude, and tough talk, as expected. But there are a few cases where the tone is warm and sincere.
I often like to highlight well-written lyrics with a nice turn of phrase, a sweet sentiment, or something powerful. That’s difficult in this case. Not because it doesn’t exist on this album, but frequent use of explicit and taboo words make quoting lyrics in this review impossible. I’m not shy about it, as evidenced by my appreciation for Megan Thee Stallion, but I don’t think I could put four lines together that wouldn’t get me in hot water over a double standard. I challenge myself to find something, though. Keep reading and see.
The Off-Season is strong work with some real gems. Other tracks seem like hot dog filler. You don’t know where it comes from and you don’t know why they put it in there. Let’s get through the tough stuff first.
‘hunger.on.hillside,’ the last song of the album, has a nice string intro. A piece of it loops throughout, but it turns into a 4-note repetition that stops abruptly at times. As the loop jolts to begin the next repetition it makes you think the producer made a poor edit or a bad decision, because he did. It sounds amateurish. Likely J. Cole himself is to blame as he produced and arranged most of the album. In the background are snippets of a sermon, which is popular these days. The first song of the album is ’95.south,’ so it’s also the next song if you are looping the whole album. Sadly, much of the melody is a 5-note loop that just gets old.
‘100.mil’ uses an overly repetitive chorus but has a great rap in between with lots of confidence. But try to say “100 mil’ and I’m still on the grind” 25 times, or hear it that many times, and it gets a little old. However, the messages in the lyrics are good. For example:
This game is like follow the leader,
if you looking closely enough, then you’ll see that I led
The moves that I made, the people I fed, the evil I ducked
They minds is too feeble, they lean on they crutch
I’m bleeding from fighting my demons head up
When I get defeated, believe I get up
I love that last line. We should all be like that.
‘my.life’ and ‘interlude’ have a nice soul feel. Intros and background vocals make for nice ambience. The vocalizations help create a melody that’s missing in some songs. ‘my.life’ features 21 Savage and Morray. It’s a great collaboration to hear and feel the different styles.
‘the.climb.back’ has a nice variable bass drum beat that gives an odd slow bounce feeling. I found myself focusing on the beat far more than the lyrics, which were about… I don’t know! It’s the longest song on the album at 5:03.
‘let.go.my.hand’ is deep and filled with the common problems of maturity and growing up. It’s the recognition that the carefree days of youth are gone, and that guilt becomes a part of life. J. Cole recognizes paternal conflict as his son is also growing up and he recognizes it’s his job to prepare him for the world. He also addresses the blown-up conflict with P Diddy at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards. He doesn’t explain it or apologize. He just sort of acknowledges that some of the things we do are for the wrong reasons, like image and ego. This is a serious and sincere song worth contemplation.
‘pride.is.the.devil’ is gentle and soothing, even though the tempo of music and the rap are very rapid at times. Maybe it’s the message. The title sort of explains it. Like ‘let.go.my.hand’ it’s a song about growing up and recognizing some of the dumb things we do when young.
‘punchin.the’clock’ has the spoken word of Damian Lillard with an interview style in the background. He says, “I think when you truly prepare yourself, and with training and conditioning, and things like that. When you cheat yourself, you fail in those moments.” That’s a powerful statement. I don’t know what he’s referring to but it’s true. If we put in a partial effort, we fail ourselves.
There are still a few more songs I haven’t talked about. But this is the longest review I’ve written so enough for now. Best song is ‘pride.is.the.devil’. The SCORE on this Album is a 6 out of 10. I don’t feel right about scoring it though. I’m not the audience for the album.
Follow @poorcritic on Twitter to see when new reviews are posted. You can also enter your email address at www.thepoorcritic.com and the same thing happens. Please share this with a friend or go make a comment on the blog. I’d love to talk about any of my reviews. Thank you!