The Off-Season is the sixth studio album[3] by American rapper J. Cole. It was released on May 14, 2021, by Dreamville Records, Roc Nation and Interscope Records. The album was executive produced by Cole, Ibrahim Hamad, and T-Minus. It also features guest vocals from Morray, 21 Savage, Lil Baby, Bas, and 6lack. It became Cole's first album since 2013's Born Sinner to contain guest features. Production was handled by multiple producers, including Cole himself, T-Minus, Timbaland, Boi-1da, Frank Dukes, DJ Dahi, Tae Beast, and Jake One, among others.[4]

The Off-Season
J. Cole walking away from a burning basketball hoop
Studio album by
ReleasedMay 14, 2021
Recorded2018–2021
StudioThe Sheltuh (Raleigh, North Carolina)[1]
GenreHip hop[2]
Length39:03
Label
Producer
J. Cole chronology
Lewis Street
(2020)
The Off-Season
(2021)
Singles from The Off-Season
  1. "My Life"
    Released: May 25, 2021

The Off-Season was supported by one single, "My Life", and promotional singles, "The Climb Back" and "Interlude". The Off-Season was accompanied by a twelve-minute short film upon its release titled, Applying Pressure: The Off-Season Documentary.

The Off-Season received positive reviews from critics and topped the US Billboard 200. It sold 282,000 album-equivalent units in its first week, earning Cole his sixth consecutive number-one album in the country. At the time of its release, The Off-Season achieved the largest streaming week of 2021, accumulating over 325.5 million streams. Four songs from The Off-Season debuted in the top ten on the US Billboard Hot 100; every song on the album charted in the top forty. The album scored a nomination for Best Rap Album at the 64th Annual Grammy Awards. Also, "Pride Is the Devil" was nominated for Best Melodic Rap Performance, while "My Life" was nominated for Best Rap Song and Best Rap Performance.

Background edit

On August 7, 2018, Cole released "Album of the Year (Freestyle)",[5] accompanied by a music video. Cole announced The Off-Season,[5] which will precede the release of what was originally planned to be his sixth studio album, The Fall Off. In the description to the video, it reads: "The Off Season coming soon... All roads lead to The Fall Off - Cole".[6] In an interview with Billboard in September 2018, Cole announced his plans to take off time in 2019 from touring to finish work on The Off-Season, The Fall Off, and his Kill Edward project.[7]

On December 29, 2020, Cole posted a photo on Instagram where he documented a list titled, "The Fall Off Era". On the list crossed out, was features and Revenge of the Dreamers III. Also listed, but not crossed out was two projects, The Off-Season and It's a Boy, which he intends to release ahead of The Fall Off. The caption of the post read: "I still got some goals I gotta check off for' I scram...", alluding to a potential retirement.[8]

Recording and production edit

As one of the executive producers of the album, T-Minus began producing with Cole in 2017, collaborating on "Kevin's Heart", "Middle Child", and "Lion King on Ice". He spoke on producing for Cole in an interview saying, "Cole is very much a producer, so he likes to direct where the music is going as far as arrangement, or the bounce, or the feeling that he wants to have. So he gave me a bunch of ideas and pointers for what he wanted to do."[9] When asked about Cole's creative mindset for the mixtape, he said: "Cole is tapped into every aspect of the creation of the record. He writes all of his own music, writes all of the songs. He produces, he mixes; he's super involved [...] he's just that guy who's very grounded when it comes to the creation of the entire record, which is dope because when I create with him, he's very much directing where he wants the record to go."[9]

Artwork and title edit

The cover art was organized by Dreamville's creative director Felton Brown and shot in North Carolina by Justin Francis.[10] The artwork shows Cole standing in front of a basketball hoop on fire, referencing the basketball theme on the covers of his mixtapes The Warm Up (2009) and Friday Night Lights (2010), and debut album Cole World: The Sideline Story (2011).[11] Brown told Complex magazine:

We finished the album artwork two weeks before we announced it. We flew down to North Carolina and went through a few different renditions of creative and it got down to where the album was creatively, sonically, and the overall tone. We wanted something that was a little more encompassing of the whole feel of the album, so because of that, we had to go back [to North Carolina] again. Basically, Ib [Hamad] had an idea that he wanted me to flesh out, and usually that process—the vetting, figuring out who we’re going to use—takes some time, but because we didn’t have any time I knew I had to lean on things that I trust. We can’t fly him [J. Cole] somewhere to shoot it, so we’re going to shoot close to home. We leaned inwards. We reached out to Scott [Lazer], and he recommended a production team that we got, and I reached out to a close friend of mine who is an incredible photographer that I’ve worked with in my years in advertising named Justin Francis. He’s an incredible photographer, director, and cinematographer. I was just like, “Look, it’s fourth quarter, I need someone who’s super multi-disciplinary like me and who’s very agile on his feet,” and we talked through the whole night about the project and idea, put together a crazy presentation, and sent it to Cole and Ib. I wanted to meet and talk about it on the phone, but Cole was like, “Nah, that looks good. Let’s just get to it,” which was great because usually he’d want to talk about it. But I’m thinking, since he’s finishing recording it anyway, he looked at the game plan and saw it was solid, and he just gave me the blessing. We hit the ground running, Justin brought out this $50,000 camera, we got the pyrotechnic guys and got going.[12]

On May 10, 2021, it was announced that J. Cole signed a contract with the Rwanda Patriots in the Basketball Africa League.[13] Cole was also featured on the cover of the American basketball magazine Slam for the May 2021 issue. Cole explained the title of the mixtape, relating it to his basketball career saying:

The Off-Season symbolizes the work that it takes to get to the highest height. The Off-Season represents the many hours and months and years it took to get to top form. Just like in basketball, what you see him do in the court, that shit was worked on in the summertime. So for an athlete, if they take their career seriously and if they really got high goals and want to chase them, the offseason is where the magic really happens, where the ugly shit really happens, where the pain happens, the pushing yourself to uncomfortable limits.[14]

Release and promotion edit

On November 8, 2018, Cole made a playlist on streaming services titled, Where the fuck is The Off Season, which contains all of his 2018 features. The playlist also includes Jeezy's song "American Dream" (2017), J. Cole's singles "Everybody Dies" (2016), "False Prophets" (2016), "High for Hours" (2017), "Album of the Year (Freestyle)" (2018), and "1985" (2018).[15]

On May 4, 2021, J. Cole officially announced the release date of the album on social media, and revealed the artwork.[16][17][18] On May 10, 2021, Cole released a documentary titled, Applying Pressure: The Off-Season Documentary via YouTube.[19] The short film is divided into four chapters where Cole shares a behind the scenes look in the studio as well as private moments during the album's creating process. The film was executive produced by Cole himself, Ibrahim Hamad, and Tripp Kramer, and directed by Scott Lazer. The film features a cameo from fellow rapper 21 Savage.[20][21] While describing the inspiration of the mixtape, Cole said in the documentary:

This is the moment that a lot of your favorite rappers hit a crossroads. Are you okay with getting comfortable? Did you leave no stone unturned creatively? And when I thought about that feeling, I was like, 'Nah, I'm not cool with that.'[22]

On May 13, 2021, hours prior to its release, Cole revealed the album's tracklist and production credits via social media.[23]

 
Atlanta-based rapper 21 Savage made an appearance on the album's single, "My Life".

Tour edit

To further promote the album, Cole announced The Off-Season Tour on June 22, 2021. The tour included 20 North American dates, and began on September 24, 2021 in Miami and concluded on April 3, 2022, in Raleigh at the Dreamville festival. 21 Savage served as the co-headliner and Morray served as their supporting act on the tour.[24]

Singles edit

"My Life", with 21 Savage and Morray, impacted rhythmic contemporary radio in the United States on May 25, 2021, as the album's first official radio single.[25][26] It debuted and peaked at number two on the Hot 100.[27]

Other songs edit

On July 22, 2020, Cole released "The Climb Back" as a dual single along with, "Lion King on Ice", under the title Lewis Street. According to Cole, the two songs were originally intended to be the first singles from his upcoming album The Fall Off. "The Climb Back" is included on the album.[28]

On May 7, 2021, Cole released "Interlude", the first promotional single from the album, initially planning on releasing the album all at once with no singles prior to its release, as he had done in the past starting with his third studio album, 2014 Forest Hills Drive. The interlude was produced by T-Minus, Tommy Parker, and Cole himself.[29] In the US, the song debuted with 8.5 million on-demand audio streams in its first day.[30] It also reached number one on US Apple Music in less than a day.[31] "Interlude" debuted and peaked at number eight on the US Billboard Hot 100.[27]

On May 17, 2021, the music video was released for the song, "Amari",[32] the video was directed by Raleigh-based rapper Mez, who also directed the music video for Cole's 2019 hit and multi-platinum single, "Middle Child".[33][34] Cole released the music video for the song, "Applying Pressure"[35] on May 25, 2021, and a music video for "Punchin' the Clock" on June 3, 2021.[36] Both videos were directed by Scott Lazer and produced by Tripp Kramer. "Applying Pressure" features an appearance from rapper Dave East, who Cole also made a reference to in the song. All three music videos were filmed in New York City.[37]

Critical reception edit

Professional ratings
Aggregate scores
SourceRating
AnyDecentMusic?7.2/10[38]
Metacritic76/100[39]
Review scores
SourceRating
AllMusic     [40]
Clash9/10[41]
Exclaim!8/10[42]
HipHopDX3.8/5[43]
NME     [44]
Pitchfork6.5/10[45]
Rolling Stone     [46]
Sputnikmusic3.7/5[47]
Tom Hull – on the WebB+ ( )[48]
Vinyl Chapters4/5[49]

The Off-Season was met with generally positive reviews from music critics. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from professional publications, the album received an average score of 76, based on ten reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[39] Aggregator AnyDecentMusic? gave it 7.2 out of 10, based on their assessment of the critical consensus.[38]

Clash gave the album a positive review saying, Cole "reached astronomical heights. Fortunately for fans, they did not have to wait long, and the North Carolina rapper did not disappoint." The writer continued to say "The Off-Season is a solid project with no expiration date and can easily be digested for months and years to come. While some fans may be eager for more, The Off-Season is a great appetiser for the main dish and contains just enough for those that have been waiting for three years on The Real."[41] Writing for Exclaim!, Luke Fox praised the album, calling Cole "refocused and rejuvenated", he continued saying: "If 2018's concept-heavy, dangerously didactic KOD was Cole drifting into the player-coach stage of his career, The Off-Season is Cole lacing up squeaky high-tops and drilling 100,000 hours of threes".[42]

Variety's Brandon Yu wrote the following: "Particularly as hip-hop continues to transform as the new pop, Cole, a steadfast rap traditionalist now a good decade into his career, might appear as a relic (for some fans, the generation-war of his "1985" read as this very truth). On "The Off-Season," he is burnishing a reputation as a lingering titan. If "The Off-Season" is Cole's first record of The Fall Off Era, he appears far from ready to bow out, nor should he be."[50] Yoh Phillips of Complex called the album a "workout session", he wrote, "The Off-Season sets Cole up to create the conversation about his place in rap history, and he'll need to deliver a blockbuster finale to fulfill the premonition he made 11 years ago on "Last Call."[51] Craig Jenkins of Vulture said: "As the title suggests, The Off-Season is sort of a training montage, a blade-sharpening exercise not unlike Drake's If You're Reading This It's Too Late in its core objective of showing the work it takes to stay on top while cultivating buzz for a future release (in this case, Cole's forthcoming The Fall Off) – and maybe notching a few more hit records along the way."[52] Writing for AllMusic, Fred Thomas said, "The album is a varied selection with solid performances and production throughout. Much like the title suggests, The Off-Season feels like Cole running through different exercises as he gets in shape for something bigger."[40]

Accolades edit

Accolades for The Off-Season
Publication List Rank Ref.
AllHipHop AllHipHop’s 20 Best Albums Of 2021
American Urban Radio Networks 11 Best Hip Hop Albums of 2021
2
Billboard The 20 Best Hip-Hop Albums of 2021: Critics’ Picks
5
Complex The Best Albums of 2021 (So Far)
1
Complex The Best Albums of 2021
2
HipHopDX The Top Hip Hop Albums of 2021 (December – June)
HipHopDX Best Hip Hop Albums of 2021
HotNewHipHop Top 30 Hottest Hip-Hop Albums Of 2021
4
Power 106 FM Top 12 Hip-Hop Albums Of 2021
Revolt TV 11 top rap albums of 2021
NPR The 25 Best Hip-Hop Albums of 2021
Rolling Stone The 20 Best Hip-Hop Albums of 2021
20
Vibe The 21 Best Hip-Hop Albums Of 2021: Staff Picks
4
Uproxx The Best Hip-Hop Albums Of 2021
XXL Best Hip-Hop Projects of 2021
Yardbarker The best hip-hop albums of 2021

Industry awards edit

Awards and nominations for The Off-Season
Year Organization Award Result Ref.
2021 BET Hip Hop Awards Album of the Year Nominated
2022 Grammy Awards Best Rap Album Nominated
iHeart Radio Music Awards Hip Hop Album of the Year Won

Commercial performance edit

On the day of its release, The Off-Season broke Spotify's one-day streaming record for 2021 up until that point with 62 million streams.[27] In the United States, the album debuted at number one on the US Billboard 200, earning 282,000 album-equivalent units (including 37,000 copies as pure album sales) in its first week.[71] This became Cole's seventh US number one album on the chart.[71] At the time of its release, The Off-Season achieved the largest streaming week of 2021, accumulating over 325.5 million on-demand streams of the album's 12 tracks, surpassing Morgan Wallen’s Dangerous: The Double Album which debuted with 240.18 million streams for its 30 songs in its first week.[71] The project also earned the largest week of 2021 for a hip-hop album, until being surpassed by Kanye West’s album Donda.[72] and Drake's album Certified Lover Boy.[73] In its second week, the album dropped to number two on the chart, earning an additional 92,000 units, while losing the number one position to Olivia Rodrigo's debut album, Sour.[74] In its third week, the album dropped to number three on the chart, earning 58,000 more units.[75] In its fourth week, the album dropped to number four on the chart, earning 44,000 units.[76] As of December 2021, the album has earned over 1,000,000 album-equivalent units in the United States.[77]

Four songs from The Off-Season debuted in the top ten on the US Billboard Hot 100, with "My Life" (at 2), "Amari" (at 5), "Pride Is the Devil" (at 7), and "95 South" (at 8). Drake, Juice WRLD, Lil Wayne & Lil Uzi Vert are the only other artists to have four songs debut in the top ten. "Interlude" debuted at number eight the previous week giving the album five top ten singles.[78] Every song on the album charted in the top forty on the Hot 100.[79]

Track listing edit

The Off-Season track listing
No.TitleWriter(s)Producer(s)Length
1."95 South"Jermaine Cole
3:16
2."Amari"Cole2:28
3."My Life" (with 21 Savage and Morray)
3:38
4."Applying Pressure"ColeCole2:57
5."Punchin' the Clock"Cole
1:52
6."100 Mil'" (with Bas)
  • Cole
  • B. Evans
  • G. Hendricks
  • M. Hugee
  • Cole
  • T-Minus
2:43
7."Pride Is the Devil" (with Lil Baby)T-Minus3:38
8."Let Go My Hand" (with Bas and 6lack)4:26
9."Interlude"Cole
  • Cole
  • T-Minus
  • Tommy Parker
2:13
10."The Climb Back"
  • Cole
  • Gary Bailey
  • Maximilian Axelrod
  • Montey Bailey
Cole5:06
11."Close"ColeCole2:48
12."Hunger on Hillside" (with Bas)Cole
  • Boi-1da
  • DrtWrk
  • Don Mills
3:58
Total length:39:03

Notes

  • ^[a] signifies an additional producer
  • All track titles are stylized in all lowercase and are letter spaced with a period between words. For example, "My Life" is stylized as "m y . l i f e".

Sample credits

  • "95 South" contains samples of "Throw It Up" and "Put Your Hood Up" by Lil Jon & the East Side Boyz.
  • "My Life" interpolates "The Life" performed by Styles P and Pharoahe Monch[80] and a sample from "You Can’t Hurry God" performed by Rev. Walter McDaniel and The Gospel Wind.
  • "Applying Pressure” contains a sample from "Calafia" performed by Gerald Wilson Orchestra of the 80's.
  • "Punching the Clock" contains a sample of a post game interview from Damian Lillard.[81]
  • "100 Mil'" contains a sample from "There's Something Missing" performed by Double Exposure.
  • "The Climb Back" contains a sample from "I'm So In Love With You” performed by Brief Encounter.
  • "Close" contains a sample from "Do It Again" performed by The New Birth.
  • "Hunger on Hillside" contains a sample from "I Wonder Where Our Love Has Gone” performed by Junior Parker.

Personnel edit

Credits adapted from Tidal.[82]

Charts edit

Certifications edit

Region Certification Certified units/sales
Denmark (IFPI Danmark)[116] Gold 10,000
New Zealand (RMNZ)[117] Gold 7,500
United Kingdom (BPI)[118] Gold 100,000
United States (RIAA)[119] Platinum 1,000,000

Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.

Release history edit

List of release dates, showing region, format(s), label(s) and reference(s)
Region Date Format Label Ref.
Various May 14, 2021 [23]
July 16, 2021 [120]
August 27, 2021 Vinyl LP

See also edit

References edit

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