An album that touches astronomical heights...

"Rest assured, the best is here in the flesh and that's for sure." When J. Cole rapped these words in a freestyle over the '93 Til Infinity' beat, the hype for his newest album, 'The Off-Season', reached astronomical heights. Fortunately for fans, they did not have to wait long, and the North Carolina rapper did not disappoint.

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The album starts with an assist from Cam'ron, kicking it off with a boisterous spirit. '95 south' is a wake-up call for those that may need a reminder that Jermaine's pen and paper is lethal and have been for a long time. Drawing comparison to artists that release bloated albums for streams, Cole reiterates that he outsells with much less content proving once more that quality > quantity.

With witty shoutouts to rappers Nelly, Kid Cudi, and singer Kelly Rowland, it's clear that Cole did not miss a beat. High-energy that only a Lil Jon sample can provide culminates the intro and leads to 'amari'. A slower tempo and produced by J. Cole, T-Minus, Sucuki, and the legendary Timbaland, Cole plots his escape while reflecting on his success and how he made it out even through trials and tribulations.

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'my life' is a special treat for those that are a fan of 'a lot', a collaboration that took place in 2018 off 21 savage's 'i am > I was'. Featuring the Atlanta juggernaut, the third track of the album shows the natural, prolific talent by the two artists. Exhibiting elite rhymes and switching flows effortlessly, "applying pressure" continues to build momentum. If there is a song on this album that has to be ran back before it even finishes,

'applying pressure' with its 90s boombastic feel does precisely that. Like earlier projects in the past, Cole notes that he pays no mind when other artists throw shots online since he has bigger things to attend to. Recalling on the days of stressing over bills back in '08, Cole uses a play on Eminem's name with a clever line: "Sh*t crazy, didn't know I got more M's than a real Slim Shady video." However, in a manner that a J. Cole fan can expect, there are plenty of lessons that one can take from throughout the album.

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Teetering between enlightened and insanity, 'punchin' the clock' is a smooth track that includes a Damian Lillard intro and Cole in usual fashion. He spoke on the times when he had to duck from bullets and seeing a guy getting killed right in front of him. Now that he's successful, Cole won't be afraid of speaking his truth and continues to draw parallels between his passion for music and basketball. On '100 mil', Cole is still on the grind even though he continues to prosper both in music and his other endeavors, which equals out to monetary abundance (where the song title comes from).

Even after all of this time, he continues to get better, and as he stated: "Can't leave the game yet, I feel like LeBron." Now, keeping up with Cole is no easy feat, but Lil Baby on 'pride is the devil' did so and more. Reminiscent of KOD, a multitude of topics are touched upon, including being terrified, pride being the downfall of many, and stacking up funds.

On 'let go my hand' and 'interlude', Cole gives more perspective on his life and speaks to the listener in a conversational tone. Coming to the end of the project, 'the climb back', initially released in July 2020, Jermaine asks a number of questions and again, gifts us with multiple double entendres and proves why he deserves to be on the Mount Rushmore of Hip-Hop. In the final song on the album, 'hunger on hill side', Cole reassures his fans that he's not finished just yet.

'The Off-Season' is a solid project with no expiration date and can easily be digested for months and years to come. While some fans may be eager for more, The Off-Season is a great appetiser for the main dish and contains just enough for those that have been waiting for three years on The Real.

9/10

Words: Sade Hawthorne

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