On Friday (May 14), J. Cole released his sixth studio album, The Off-Season.
After tantalizing fans with previously-released tracks, “interlude” and “the.climb.back,” Cole doled out ten additional records for his newest endeavor. Not only does he step outside of his comfort zone by allowing guest features and producers to accompany him on his latest journey, but he also ups the ante lyrically, stringing together some of his best raps to date. If the mission was to prove his status as a top-tier MC, Cole not only exceeded expectations but shattered them with ease.
Below, Billboard highlights eight takeaways from his 40-minute exhibition.
Cole breaks his streak of having no features — even though none of them are listed
Remember how Cole won his legion of fans over the last three albums spanning from 2014 Forest Hills Drive to 2018’s KOD in large part because of his no-features approach? On Friday, he tossed away his playbook and joined forces with rap superstars 21 Savage and Lil Baby. You won’t see their names on the songs’ Spotify or Apple Music listings — like Travis Scott’s Astroworld or 21 Savage’s I Am > I Was, none of the featured artists on The Off-Season are officially credited — but both rappers show up as pleasant surprises, as they float effortlessly alongside the Carolina giant on their respective tracks.
J. Cole and 21 Savage should make more music together
When Savage and Cole linked up on 2018’s “a lot,” the duo’s chemistry was electric. Though they have contrasting styles and personalities, their torrid collaboration excited fans and ultimately helped them clinch a Grammy win for best rap song in 2020. On Friday, lightning struck twice, as the star hip-hop tandem paired up on “my.life.” Once again, they prove how formidable they can be as a unit and that together, they can wreak havoc on any given track.
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Lil Baby is undoubtedly a top-tier rapper
If you asked hip-hop purists two years ago if Lil Baby can go head-to-head with the likes of Drake and Cole, chances were they’d probably say no. After an excellent 2020 campaign anchored by his multi-platinum album My Turn and his blistering features, Baby came into 2021 hungrier than ever. Not only did he shine on Drake’s “Wants and Needs” release a couple months ago, but he also gleams on Cole’s standout track “pride.is.the.devil.”
Unfazed by their lyrical abilities, Baby floated on both tracks, most notably the latter, where he solidified his standing as one of rap’s premier stars. The only question now is if his lyrical flair and confidence can outduel the likes of a Kendrick Lamar.
Cole and Diddy called a truce after their 2013 dispute.
No one wanted to believe that Cole and Diddy once scrapped at a VMA after-party in 2013. Fans considered the rumor nothing more than internet fodder and quickly dismissed it. Well, Cole not only confirms that his fistfight with Puff was real on “let.go.my.hand,” rapping: “My last scrap was with Puff Daddy, who would’ve thought it,” but he extends an olive branch to the Bad Boy legend later on in the song. Diddy — who recently changed his middle name to Love — lives up to his new moniker by delivering a heartfelt prayer at the tail-end of the track.
Cole shows love to his hometown partner Morray.
In the fall of 2020, Fayetteville birthed a new hip-hop star in Morray, after his explosive debut single “Quicksand” became a breakout smash. The melodic wunderkind’s love for the trenches and smooth croonsing earned him a standing ovation from Cole on Instagram. “This [song] amazing,” gushed Cole in the comments.
After that, many speculated if Cole would appear on the song’s remix. Instead, he enlisted Morray for hook duties on his 21 Savage-assisted effort “my.life.”
Going forward, Cam’ron needs to be involved in everybody’s intros.
Though like all the album’s other guests, he’s not listed a feature on the album’s “95.south” opener, Killa Cam’s unexpected guest slot is a perfect way to kick off the 12-track collection. His appearance as Cole’s pseudo hype-man certainly gives the project a nice jolt, as he entertains fans with his trash-talking ways.
The Off-Season is a punchline-driven album.
This one isn’t a surprise considering it’s Cole’s forte, but on his sixth studio album, you can tell that he’s on a different kind of mission. Cole’s lyrical fortitude on “applying.pressure,” and “punchin’.the.clock.” is outstanding — providing metaphors galore for his day-one fans, as he dishes out gutsy lines and proclamations about his status in the rap game. No stone is left unturned, as he exerts himself lyrically and proves why he deserves consideration for hip-hop’s Mount Rushmore.
” ja morant i’m on my grizzly ” heard you @JColeNC
— Ja Morant (@JaMorant) May 14, 2021
Cole sounds excellent working with other producers.
Cole’s decision to share the sugar and work with other producers was a great idea. Referring back to his 2019 Hot 100 heater “MIDDLE CHILD” — where he allowed T-Minus to helm the song’s production — that laissez-faire approach benefits Cole throughout his new album. By shifting his full attention to songwriting, it allows him to take the pressure off and let other producers step in. His marquee roster, led by Timbaland, Boi-1da, Frank Dukes, T-Minus, and Jake One, place him in a position to win and conquer.