Written Before Listen
J Cole is a North Carolina rapper who seems to be one of the most appreciated rappers in the mainstream. Due to his more lyrical approach to music, a lot of people seem to love him as he is more skilled on the mic than most mainstream rappers in the game right now. Personally, J Cole himself is someone who I’ve listened to since the 5th grade. His album 2014 Forest Hills Drive still remains to be one of the most celebrated of that time. Despite my relationship with 2014 Forest Hills Drive, I think that’s his only good album. Every J Cole album before or after that in my opinion falls terribly short with corny one liners, bland production, need for features and so forth. It’s truly unfortunate because I am a fan of his early mixtapes “The Warm Up” and “Friday Night Lights”. Due to the title and cover of this new album here, it seems that J Cole is going to venture back into those mixtape days. I am coming into this with mixed expectations. Rather he pulls off one of his rawest albums yet or he delivers another underwhelming project. Lets see what comes out.
Believe it or not J Cole brought features. I’m glad he did too. We start off with a Cam’Ron monologue on “95 South”. We then get none other than 21 Savage on “My Life” who delivers the best feature on here. The reason I say that is because everyone else can’t deliver. Bas’ background vocals do not work, 6LACK’s feature is barely visible (to the point where I probably wouldn’t recognize his contribution on the song if he wasn’t credited) and Lil Baby doesn’t deliver his strongest verse either. Overall, I’m glad he decided to put features on his album but they unfortunately didn’t deliver.
If you have heard J Cole, you’ll know that he is a lyricist. He focuses on the technical part of hip hop more than the ambitious and creative part. This album is no exception but Cole isn’t even in the most tip top shape lyrically. There were some solid one liners on songs like “95 South” and “Applying Pressure” but there are multiple instances of his delivering a bad line. I don’t know about you but I don’t see the double meaning on the Luigi line. I get that it’s Mario but It’s not the most clever line of the bunch. The Eric Clapton line on the same song was also kind of questionable too. There is also that terribly cringey Real Slim Shady line on “Applying Pressure” and that Coca Cola line on the interlude that was not only delivered poorly but received poorly too. He luckily redeems lyrically on “The Climb Back” which would be one of my favorites if it wasn’t for the annoying beat. With that being said, it is without a doubt that J Cole is a strong lyricist, but he is really inconsistent.
Similar to his lyrics, his production is very spotty. Luckily there are some strong highlights on the sonic aspect. That might be thanks to some of the guest producers like Boi-1da, T-Minus, Timbaland, Jake One, DJ Dahi, Frank Dukes and more. We start off with a few solid beats but it gradually goes downhill. Starting with the overwhelming “100 mil” and continued with the generic “pride is the devil”. We then follow up with the singles a couple tracks later where the beats are more grading than enjoyable. J Cole seems to love chipmunk soul beats but he slows them down to the point of where it sounds grading. It’s not like he does this like once or twice either, he does this for like 3 or 4 straight tracks. As you can see, there are some highs and lows and personally I think the lows unfortunately overshadow the highs.
I don’t know about you the track list follows a pretty familiar formula. It’s very similar to the albums of his biggest influences. Nas, JAY-Z and Biggie. You start with some bars to prepare the audience. After that, you then get a couple of bangers. Usually like 1 or 2. We then get a song for the streets. One that goes for a drum break instead of a machine. It then goes into somewhat of a dip in quality with songs that go toward a somewhat appealing but somewhat conscious route. When approaching the latter half of the album, we go back to the more introspective tracks and at the end off the album, we rather continue with the introspective tracks or get the teaser tracks. If you want some examples of albums that go in a somewhat similar formula, check out It Was Written, The Black Album and the first disc of Life After Death. It’s not a bad thing but like George Harrison said, “it’s been done”.
Like usual, this album has 2 or 3 amazing tracks. This time the tracks are the 21 Savage featured “My Life” and the introspective “Let Go My Hand”. Other than that, J Cole once again falls short on The Off Season
I kind of predicted this. He delivers an overly spotty album with some generic songs throw in. It is easily better than KOD and might be better than 4 Your Eyez Only, but he will never match the skill of 2014 Forest Hills Drive (which is also kind of spotty and preachy itself).