Let me start this off by saying that I might have some bias because my favourite version of Cole was mixtape Cole. He hasn’t dropped a mixtape that I haven’t liked. His albums however, have been hit or miss for me. There’s a lot of records I love such as (i.e. “Runaway”) and some that I just don’t like (i.e. “Folding Clothes”). The biggest issue for me is the version of Cole that I like best is always featured on someone else’s record. That was until Revenge of the Dreamers 3 (RODT3). That was the first project in a very long time where I thought all the elements that I like about Cole were there but it was elevated because he was collaborating with others. The way he delivered on that project and the way he talks about his experiences recording for this new album on “Applying Pressure: The Off-Season Documentary” led me to believe that his new album might be the one I’ve been waiting for. Here are 5 things I’m hoping we get on J.Cole’s “The Off-Season”.
On the ROTD3 documentary, you heard Cole say “I don’t wanna look back 20 years from now and be like, yo I never worked with nobody” and I think that still holds true for his upcoming album. Do I believe that it’ll be full of features like Revenge of the Dreamers 3? No, and I don’t think it needs to be. I just think he’ll finally provide us with an album that has other rap voices (I know Jay-Z was on “Mr.Nice Watch”). I’m still vex* about this guy having Kendrick sing the hook on “Forbidden Fruit” specifically because it led to Kendrick not having a verse. I like hearing other rappers rap on albums. At times it can be a good indication of how skilled a rapper is compared to another and other times it enables other creatives to add an element to a record that wasn’t there previously.
Cole’s Pen Being Tested
In bringing more features to the album, Cole’s writing ability will also be put to the test. Whether you’ve liked his last few projects or not, aside from ROTD3, Cole’s greatest challenge as an artist was him overcoming himself and the subject matter he chose to cover in his music. He’s figured out his sound and has embraced whatever challenges came with doing your album without features. If he truly wants to leave no stone unturned, his next obstacle will be to figure out how he goes about picking artists to collaborate with that push him to be a better rapper. His focus has often been on how to be a better person. It’s one of the things that a large community of hip-hop fans appreciate about Cole. However, I think in addition to that, his focus will also be on how he can be a better version of himself with his bars. This is Cole’s chance to embrace the thrill of competing on records again with people that complement his style of music. It’ll be interesting to see if there are new heights Cole can take his lyricsm to.
I was convinced that this entire album was going to solely have J.Cole beats but after hearing “Interlude”, I’m glad it doesn’t. It’s not that Cole’s production is bad (I wouldn’t want to hear anyone else produce the beat for Lion King on Ice or anything else in the “Young Simba” series) but a whole album exclusively produced by Cole isn’t something I’m necessarily looking for anymore. Again, not because he’s a bad producer but more so because I think he can take things to another level when he’s not having to focus on the overwhelming majority of the production and can focus more on the bars. His beat selection works in line well with the overall composition of his albums but an entire album with just his beats doesn’t keep my attention. I think there’s a very short list of producers that can work with one artist and produce an entire album with music that keeps you engaged from start to finish. Cole’s production can’t do that for me for 15 records but his bars can. I think he will continue down the route of the music we last heard from him and will enable some of the producers from the ROTD3 sessions to shine on this album. He’s done it all himself already. We’ll see Cole experiment even further and hear him rapping on beats we wouldn’t typically expect. If not, at least we’ll hear other producers working alongside Cole to give us something new.
A Concept Album
I think based on the album title, this album will likely align well as an installment amongst his mixtapes like The Warm Up and Friday Night Lights. With the basketball and rap analogy likely continuing, I think the concept of this album will centre around either him finding new ways to motivate himself during trouble times or on how practice and preparation are essential in becoming the best version of yourself. To be honest, most of this is off a guess but he did say on his Twitter that this album was “years in the making”. I might be reaching but that statement alone led me to believe that dedicating your time, effort and how you go about preparing for any challenge are things he will touch on in this album.
If there’s one thing you can bank on, it’s that Cole’s going to break down philosophies on self love and fighting your demons from a unique perspective. Whether you like his music or not, I believe it’s generally understood that he’s going to make you think with his music. Whether it’s him painting a picture of our society at different periods in time or addressing his own personal transgressions, we learn more about Jermaine Cole the man, each time. He’s addressed his views on the impact of drug addiction and infidelity, he’s addressed going from being poor to wealthy. I think what’s in store now is him addressing the things we haven’t heard from him at this stage in his career. I think this one will have a lot more to do with him checking off certain boxes on his list and finding new inspiration to compete at the highest level.
Does J. Cole really have anything left to prove in hip-hop? Some people will say no, but I think the challenge set ahead for Cole will be to show how well he’s able to work with other rappers on his own music. I think that’s the aspect of Cole’s game that we’re about to see on full display. The difference between his last albums and this one might boil down to where he’s currently at in life and if that has refuelled the hunger he has to compete as an emcee.
Vex – to be angry or frustrated