J. Cole treats his discography like a novel. It's all leading up to something, themes and ideas are revisited again and again. His projects are littered with bars from previous LPs and mixtapes, building on a cohesive narrative about a young kid from North Carolina with dreams of superstardom. On Cole's sixth consecutive No. 1 album, The Off-Season the rapper consistently references his early projects like 2014's Forest Hills Drive and 2018's KOD. He revisits themes of sinning and acceptance, trying to live modesty while indulging in the riches his success has brought him. But he also engages with the history of the genre more entirely.
His deep understanding of hip-hop history, its key players, and its signature moments has allowed him to tap into the legacy of the game. No reference is off-limits. Throughout The Off-Season, Cole references peers and legends, famous bars, and mythic stories. By referencing artists like Jeezy, Eminem, and Nipsey Hussle, plus quoting lyrics from Nas, Notorious B.I.G., and Styles P, Cole does two things. One, he flexes his deep understanding of the themes that have remained relevant over the course of rap's history. Two, he places himself firmly within the canon of all-time MCs. J. Cole is not only a rapper at the height of his powers, but the rare MC that can juggle the present and a growing legacy at the same time.
The Off-Season is 12 tracks long, and features guest verses from 21 Savage, Morray, Bas, and Lil Baby. Supported by the three singles "The Climb Back," "Interlude" and "My Life." the album also features a bevy of top-tier producers, including Timbaland, Boi-1da, DJ Dahi, Jake One, Frank Dukes, Tae Beast, Maneesh, Wu10, Sucuki, Coleman, Tommy Parker, Mario Luciano, T-Minus, and Cole himself.