In an era of mumble rap, drug rap, gangsta rap, rappers not living to see their 30s and beats running the entire rap industry…it’s refreshing when J.Cole or Kendrick drop a project. But something about J.Cole releasing an album seems mythical and spiritual. Some would say he is the Nas of this generation and they would be correct…and some can argue that The Off Season is his Illmatic and here is why:
Starting with 95 South on the first track Cam’Ron is featured and we start to understand that this is not 4 Your Eyes Only, K.O.D or even Forest Hill’s Drive. Cole is returning to his core…Born Sinner and more specifically Cole World the Sideline Story. Where he is open to features and not trying to be on his island, we saw Cole do this with The London featuring Young Thug and Travis Scott. Cole was showing his range…he is more than a solo act. 100 Mil’ , The Climb Back and Applying Pressure bring back that J.Cole lyricism with smooth production. The clear highlight of this album was My Life featuring Morray and 21 Savage which was reminiscent of Crooked Smile or Mr.Nice Watch, two J.Cole classics that have strong features. Hunger on Hillside makes you wonder, will Jermaine release a deluxe? Because it is not the best outro but delivers one of Cole’s smoothest songs, reminding fans of Friday Night Lights (his best project). Morray shines as an R&B artist and 21 Savage delivers a verse that makes us ask: When is the Cole and 21 Savage mixtape coming out?
This section is short for a reason…because there is not much to critique. Amari and Close disappoint…they could have been better and felt lacking compared to most of this album. Punching the Clock felt strange in this rotation because it did not feed into the narrative of this project.
The Final Take
In an era of Spotify playlists and label promotion of ignorant rap (Who I Smoke)…Cole stands out. Yes, Drake and Kendrick have radio hits but when the turn up is over, Jermaine Cole stands out because of the level of his pen. He is not deep like other conscious rappers rappers but he is the modern day Mos Def with better production and consistency. Cole establishes himself as a hip hop poet, not a rapper, he proves that he is a poet with quotables that make you think twice and sometimes three times. Much like Born Sinner, he uses features to his benefit to make an amazing project. And yes, this is Album of the Year quality.