After three years, a few singles and a documentary, J. Cole gifted fans with his highly anticipated album, The Off-Season.
The album’s tracklist, revealed less than 24 hours before the album dropped, appeared to be devoid of features. Seconds into the opening track, it’s proven to be quite the contrary. For the first time since his 2013 album, Born Sinner, the Fayetteville, NC emcee recruits a roster of hip-hop favorites including Lil Baby, Cam’ron and 21 Savage, bringing together iconic artists from the ’90s to present day. Here’s a breakdown of every voice heard on The Off-Season, aside from Cole himself.
Track 1: “95.south” (featuring Cam’ron & Lil Jon)
J. Cole kicks off his sixth studio album with Dipset mainstay, Cam’ron. “Let’s keep it tall, y’all ain’t f–kin’ with my man/ And don’t check your watch, you know the time,” the Harlem rapper announces. Killa Cam’s nostalgic introduction sets the tone for the classic hip-hop themes weaved throughout the album’s production and Cole’s rhyme schemes. The track closes with a cappella vocals from Lil Jon & The East Side Boyz’s “Put Yo Hood Up.”
Track 3: “my.life” (featuring 21 Savage & Morray)
On “my.life,” Cole bridges generational gaps, enlisting both British-Atlantean rapper 21 Savage and fellow Fayetteville, NC artist Morray. Cole has seemingly built a relationship with 21, spending time together in the studio and featuring a conversation with his “a lot” co-star in his recent documentary. In an interview with Billboard, Morray mentioned talking to J. Cole every week and even getting a barber appointment set up by Cole when the emerging artist was in New York for a Breakfast Club interview.
Track 5: “punchin’.the.clock” (featuring Damian Lillard)
In line with his cover art and potential career switch (Cole signed a contract with a Rwandan basketball team), “punchin’.the.clock” features a soundbite from the six-time all-star after racking up 61 points in a win against the Dallas Mavericks. “I told you, when I first came here, I said, ‘I ain’t come here to waste my time,'” says Lillard. Cole has historically drawn parallels between rap and basketball, so this feature comes as no surprise to fans.
Track 7: ”pride.is.the.devil” (featuring Lil Baby)
Cole recruited chart-topping newcomer, Lil Baby, for this analysis of one deadly sin. On “pride.is.the.devil,” Lil Baby reflects on his past and present conditions and vices, including fears of losing everything he’s gained. “All my pride gone, had to lose it all then I got rich,” says the 26-year-old rapper.
Track 8: “let.go.my.hand” (featuring Bas, P. Diddy & 6lack)
Mid-album, J. Cole serves fans the tea they’ve been patiently waiting eight years for. On the track featuring a verse from Bas, Cole finally confronts an alleged 2013 scuffle with P. Diddy and his entourage. According to reports, Diddy was intoxicated at an MTV Video Music Awards after party and confronted Kendrick Lamar over his claim to the “king of New York” throne in his verse on Big Sean’s “Control.” The argument reached a boiling point when Diddy reportedly attempted to spill a drink on Lamar. This was the point when J. Cole allegedly intervened and his crew got into a brief physical altercation with Diddy’s.
On “let go my hand,” Cole addresses the allegations, rapping, “My last scrap was with Puff Daddy, who would’ve thought it?/ I bought that n—a album in seventh grade and played it so much/ You would’ve thought my favorite rapper was Puff.” The track ends with none other than Puff himself reciting a prayer, ending with “Teach us how to lead/ Show us how to love.”
Track 12: “hunger.on.hillside” (featuring Bas & James Fauntleroy)
In his album closer, fellow Dreamville rapper Bas makes his second appearance, alongside grammy award-winning R&B singer/songwriter, James Fauntleroy. In true J. Cole fashion, “hunger.on.hillside” is a poetic and reflective final act. Fauntleroy’s ethereal, layered harmonies combined with orchestral strings give the track a celestial and hopeful feel, a promising way to wrap the long-awaited album.