J. Cole – “The Off-Season” review

This is the long-awaited 6th full-length album from North Carolina rapper, singer/songwriter & producer J. Cole. At this point, I’m pretty sure everyone & their mom knows who dude is. Especially given the universal acclaim of projects like The Warm Up, Friday Night Lights, Born Sinner & my personal favorite: 2014 Forest Hills Drive. However, his last 2 albums 4 Your Eyez Only & K.O.D. were both released to mixed reception. Matter of fact: my review for K.O.D. is amongst my most controversial. I don’t get shit for it anymore but at the time when I gave it a 6/10, Cole stans were on my ass for the next 2-3 weeks. Even to this day: my opinions on that & 4YEO haven’t changed at all but that’s not the point. I was given hope for The Off-Season given his feature run (most notably “Family & Loyalty” off the final Gang Starr album One of the Best Yet) along with his L.A. Leakers freestyle just a couple of days ago.

The opener “95 South” pays homage to Cam’ron’s “Killa Season” from J. Cole’s flashy lyricism to even The Heatmakerz-influenced production provided by Boi-1da. Cam’ron himself makes an appearance during the intro & outro. Even the “Put Yo Hood Up” sample during the last 40 seconds is pretty cool. The next song “amari” has a more mystical feel to it instrumentally with T-Minus & Timbaland as Cole while the track “My Life” serves as a sequel to “a lot” off i am > i was from it’s soulful trap production co-produced by Jake One & Wu10 down to the surprise 21 Savage & even the subject matter.

“Applying Pressure” jumps into boom bap territory going on about how you just gotta flex sometimes whereas “Punchin’ the Clock” details teetering between enlightened & insanity over a Tae Beast instrumental that has a bit of a ghostly yet jazzy feel to it. He later incorporates a fucking Willie Hutch sample on “100 Mil” talk about how he’s been getting better over time & even though the instrumental on “Pride is the Devil” is somewhat similar to “Can’t Decide” off Aminé’s last album Limbo, I do enjoy Cole & Lil Baby’s takes on egoism quite a bit.

Meanwhile on “Let Go My Hand”, we get an instrumental from DJ Dahi & Frank Dukes that almost takes me back to 1999-era Joey Bada$$ with lyrics about making sure his son is equipped when he gets older before “interlude” incorporates a Tommy Parker sample to talk about coming a long way. “The Climb Back” has a well-flipped[Brief Encounter sample throughout with Cole rapping about being assessed as one of the all-time greats while the penultimate track “Close” surprisingly samples MF DOOM’s “Valerian Root” as the lyrics talk advise being patient with God. Then the album finishes off emotionally with “Hunger on the Hillside”, which is Cole jumping on some strings to say he’s gonna be the same man when he retires.

Although I’d have to say my current Album of the Year so far is a toss-up between Death & the Magician or Haram, I’m not gonna deny that this is hands down the most consistent J. Cole album I’ve heard since Forest Hills Drive. He sounds like he has a fire under his ass performance-wise & it’s refreshing to hear him bringing outside collaborators into the fold. If he keeps it up, It’s a Boy & The Fall Off could both shape up to be epic finales in his career.

Score: 4/5

EARTHGANG – “Mirrorland” review

The EARTHGANG is a duo from Atlanta, Georgia consisting of Olu & WowGr8 that’s been at it since the very beginning of the decade. They dropped 3 mixtapes, an EP & 2 studio albums independently until J. Cole signed them to Dreamville Records in 2017. They promoted this new association with a decent trilogy of EPs & not even 2 months after appearing on Revenge of the Dreamers III, the time has come for their highly-anticipated major label debut.

The opener “LaLa Challenge” finds the duo flexing over an instrumental that starts off slow, but then breaks into a faster pace by the end. The next song “UP” brush off their doubters over an oracular instrumental while the track “Top Down” challenges their opponents over a bassy trap beat. The song “Bank” of course talks about the paper over an immense instrumental while the track “Proud of Up” with Young Thug sees the 3 paying tribute to women all across the world over a gleaming beat.

The song “This Side” talks about paranoia over a settle yet dark instrumental while the track “Swivel” that originally appeared on Revenge of the Dreamers III a couple months ago talks about overcoming their insecurities over a funky beat. The song “Avenue” gets confessional over a groovy instrumental while the track “Tequila” with T-Pain of all people is a dedication to the titular alcoholic beverage over a Latin instrumental.

The song “Blue Moon” gets sensual over an instrumental with an amazingly charming vibe to it while the track “Trippin’” with Kehlani is of course a lust anthem with a playful instrumental. The song “Stuck” finds the duo simping over a boom bap beat with a down-tuned guitar lead while the penultimate track “Fields” talks about never changing over a MOSTLY skeletal beat. The album then finishes with “Wings”, where the EARTHGANG talk about their hustle over a psychedelic beat.

Personally, this is the duo’s best work yet. The instrumentals are decent, but the hooks & the verses are mostly pretty great. If you wanna hear Johnny & Dot continue to hone their unique style, then give this a listen.

Score: 3.5/5

Dreamville Records – “Revenge of the Dreamers III” review

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Dreamville Records is a record label founded in 2007 by J. Cole & his manager Ibrahim Hamad. They released their first showcase compilation in 2014 & followed it up at the tail end of 2015. But now with an ever-growing roster, they’re coming through with a 3rd showcase comp that was recorded in only 10 days.

The album opens up with “Under the Sun”, where J. Cole gets with Lute & DaBaby flex over a soulful trap beat. The next song “Down Bad” by Cole, Bas, JID, the EARTHGANG & Young Nudy talk about their origins over a Bomb Squad-inspired instrumental from Pluss while the track “LamboTruck” by Cozz & Reason talk about being underappreciated over a decently relaxing instrumental. The song “Swivel” is a chilled out preview of the EARTHGANG’s upcoming 3rd album Mirrorland while the track “Oh Wow…Swerve” sees Cole talking about his current spot over an atmospheric beat, but then Maxo Kream talks about trapping over a gritty trap beat. The song “Don’t Hit Me Now” by Bas, Buddy, Cozz & Yung Baby Tate spits that gun talk over a mellow beat while the track “Wells Fargo” by Buddy, the EARTHGANG & JID talks about robbing a bank over a vibrant beat.

The song “Sleep Deprived” by Lute, Mez & Omen talks about coming up from nothing over a somewhat funky boom bap beat while the track “Self Love” by Ari Lennox, Baby Rose & Bas is an ode to just that over a mellow beat. The song “Ladies, Ladies, Ladies” by JID & T.I. is basically the modern version of JAY-Z’s “Girls, Girls, Girls” while the track “Costa Rica” by Bas, Buddy, JID, Jace, Mez, Reese LAFLARE, Ski Mask the Slump God & Smokepurpp sees everyone getting boastful over a lavish trap beat. The song “1993” by Buddy, Cole, Cozz, the EARTHGANG, JID & Smino talks about alcohol over a fittingly intoxicating boom bap beat while the track “Remembrandt…Run It Back” sees JID & Cole paying homage to the iconic YoungBloodZ joint “Damn!”, but I also really love how the beat switches from a druggy vibe to something more energetic as soon as Vince Staples starts rapping.

The song “Sunset” by Cole & Young Nudy fire back at those who want smoke over an eerie trap beat while the track “Got Me” by Ari Lennox, Dreezy, Omen & Ty$ is a decently moody love anthem. The song “Middle Child” is pretty much J. Cole taking a jab at doing a Drake joint while the penultimate track “PTSD” by Mereba, Deante Hitchcock & Omen sees the 3 talking about simply just kicking it over a fitting instrumental. The compilation then finishes with “Sacrifices”, where Cole & the EARTHGANG team up with Smino & Saba to talk about their sacrifices over a funky beat.

I don’t know what else to say beyond that, this was disappointingly mediocre. The production was just decent & while I can appreciate they brought outside features in on this one, but it doesn’t help the fact that there are WAY too many cooks the kitchen.

Score: 2.5/5

J.I.D – “DiCaprio 2” review

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J.I.D is a 28 year old rapper from Atlanta, Georgia who released his 1st mixtape Cakewalk in 2010 & joined EARTHGANG’s Spillage Village collective that same year. He dropped 2 more mixtapes as well as then an EP (to which this serves as a sequel to) after that & signed to J. Cole’s Interscope Records imprint Dreamville Records last year, dropping his full-length debut The Never Story just a few weeks after the deal. But now as we reach the end of November, he’s delivering his highly anticipated sophomore album: a sequel to his 2015 EP.

After the “Frequency Change” intro, we go into the first song “Slick Talk”. Here, J.I.D. brags about his skills over a haunting beat. The track “Westbrook with A$AP Ferg is a charismatic club banger with some nocturnal bells throughout while the song “Off Deez” with J. Cole sees the 2 viciously attacking their critics over a decent trap beat. The track “151 Rum” vividly describes life in the streets over a trap beat with a prominent vocal sample while the song “Off da Zoinkys” is an anti-drug anthem with a wavy instrumental. The track “Workin’ Out” vents about depression even with his newfound success over a prominently beautiful sample of Helen Merrill’s 1954 rendition of “Don’t Explain” while the song “Tiiied” with 6LACK & Ella Mai is a drab & corny love ballad.

However, the track “Skrawberries (For da Ladies)” does a better job at being romantic than the previous cut does. Especially with the mesmerizing instrumental from J. Cole & the late Mac Miller. The song “Hotbox” with Joey Bada$$ & Method Man is about smoking weed over a punchy piano instrumental rap while the track “Mounted Up” celebrates where he is now over a boom bap beat with some sinister piano chords. The song “Just da Other Day” discusses his rise in the game over a bland trap beat while penultimate track “Despacito Too” angrily talks about being whatever he wants over this murky boom bap beat. The album then finishes with “Hasta Luego”, where J.I.D lets go or his painful past to become the artist he is know over a nocturnal beat from WondaGurl & Cubeatz.

Overall, this is just as solid as The Never Story & I’ll even say it’s better than the first DiCaprio. The production has stepped up for the most part & lyrically, J.I.D continues to prove each & every single one of us that he truly is the future of Dreamville Records.

Score: 3.5/5

Bas – “Milky Way” review

Bas is a 31 year old rapper from Paris, France who broke out onto the scene with his 1st mixtape Quarter Water Raised Me in 2011. He eventually signed to J. Coles’s Interscope Records imprint Dreamville Records at the beginning of 2014, dropping his debut album Last Winter a couple months after & then following it up in 2016 with what I believe to be his magnum opus: Too High to Riot. Then earlier this month out of the blue, Bas announced that he would be releasing his 3rd full-length album.

Things start off with “Icarus”, where he talks about an ex over a mellow instrumental. The next track “Front Desk” has a very funky instrumental, but Bas’ singing is horrendous & it’s concept is really corny. The song “Tribe” is all about making it over a creative sample of “Zum-Zum” by Edu Lobo & the J. Cole verse is probably my favorite feature on the entire album while the track “Boca Raton” with A$AP Ferg sees the 2 talking about partying in the titular city over Sango’s “Para a Luz”. The song “Barack Obama’s Special” takes a jab at his old racist neighbors over a jazzy boom bap beat from Ron Gilmore while the track “Purge” talks about killing people off from his life & the instrumental on here is just decent. The song “Fragrance” talks about this woman who won’t leave him alone over a smooth instrumental with rattling hi-hats, but Bas’ predominately sung-execution ruins it.

The spoken word “Infiniti” skit leads us into the next song “Infiniti+2”, where Bas tells this woman to get her head right over a spacey trap beat. It’s ok, but I don’t get why these 2 tracks weren’t merged into 1. The track “Sanufa” tells this woman that she knows better over a house instrumental from J. Cole & after the “Great Ones skit, we go into the song “PDA”. Here, Bas is about making up lost times with his girl due to his newfound success over a moody beat & the hook is absolutely God awful. The penultimate track “Designer” gets braggadocious over a settle instrumental & then the album closes with “Spaceships + Rockets”, which is a weird EDM/trap fusion.

For the most part, I found this to be just average. There are quite a few interesting ideas being presented, but Bas’ attempts at being melodic fall flat on it’s face & the romantic themes tend to wear thin after a while.

Score: 2.5/5

J. Cole – “K.O.D.” review

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With his last album 4 Your Eyez Only being delivered at the end of 2016 & then doing a few features since then, North Carolina rapper/producer J. Cole unexpectedly announced a free show in New York this past Monday. It was there that he performed his 5th full-length album in it’s entirety & went on Twitter shortly after the show to announce that it was coming out for everyone else this weekend. After an intro, we go into the title track. Here, Cole gets in your face about people cramping his style as well as responding to the people saying he should have more features over a murky instrumental. The track “Photograph” has a lame topic about trying to hook up with a random girl he found on social media over a guitar/trap beat while the song “The Cut Off” talks about a disloyal woman over a somber beat.

The track “ATM” energetically talks about his fame & wealth over a laidback beat while the song “Motiv8” talks about moving on despite having all these demons over some funky bass. The track “Kevin’s Heart” goes into the point of view of a drug addict over a smooth trap beat, but it’s really corny to me. The song “Brackets” talks about his success over a smooth beat & the track “Once an Addict” talks about his mother’s alcoholism over a settle beat. The song “Friends” is basically him pouring his heart out to a drug-addicted friend of his over a gloomy beat while the penultimate track “Window Pain” talks about everything he wants over an atmospheric instrumental. The album closes with “1985” sees Cole is reflecting on his whole life up until this point over a vibraphone-boom bap beat.

While this is definitely better than Cole’s last album, that’s not really saying much. The production & the concept aren’t too bad, but his singing voice & the hooks ruin it for me. I really had hope that J. Cole would bounce back given his features on the new Jeezy album Pressure & the upcoming Royce da 5’9” album Book of Ryan but at the end of the day, this is just another mixed bag for me

Score: 3/5