Jermaine Lamarr Cole doesn’t disappoint. Right from when the North Carolina rapper teased The Off-Season, the only thing fans didn’t expect was guest features on the project that might eventually be the first part of a trilogy, as part of his pre-retirement plan. Nonetheless, Cole’s projects will never fall short of wicked bars, rhyme schemes, puns, and thought provoking anecdotes, and the fans know it for sure.
The album opens with ’95 . s o u t h’ a song that pays homage to the rapper’s roots and his ties to Roc Nation and Dipset. Coupled with his overly-evident technical prowess as an emcee, Cole uses ’95 . s o u t h’ to remind us that he’s still a student of the game. There are Easter eggs all over the album, with so many lyrics to unpack, meaning one repeat of the entire project might not be enough- something indicative Cole’s eliteness.
Although he touches on all the eras that shaped his music and ushered in the golden age of rap by referencing artists like Styles P, Eminem, and Nas, the album feels contemporarily relatable, thanks to a star-studded list of producers that worked on the project.
But Cole is not oblivious of the era of rap we’re in now, delivering fluently with a touch of autotune over the trap-like beat for ‘a m a r i.’ “We from the Southeast, ni*gas know,” he raps, setting up a hot scheme of multi-syllabic rhymes. “This where the opps creep real slow / Won’t vote but they mob deep with the poles.”
His tribute to new school hip-hop continues with the 21 Savage assisted song ‘My Life’ before reaching pinnacle on ‘p r i d e . i s . t h e . d e v i l,’ where he featured early millennium rap’s hot emcee, Lil Baby. On ‘p r i d e . is . t h e . devil,’ Cole takes a philosophical deep dive, albeit being anecdotal, spitting “Pride be the reason for the family dichotomy / Got uncles and some aunties that’s too proud to give apologies.” “Slowly realizing what the root of all my problems be / It got me feeling different when somebody say they’re proud of me.” Lil Baby also follows up, talking about his drug use and his rise to riches.
The Off-Season is classic J Cole and it will be interesting to see how the album unfolds over time. One thing is certain though, and it is that, whomever chooses to pay repeat visits to the project will find more lyrics to gapingly decipher.