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

DJ Khaled – “Khaled Khaled” review

DJ Khaled is a 45 year old DJ, record executive, producer & media personality from New Orleans, Louisiana whom a lot of people may not know came up as a tour DJ for the Terror Squad. But for the last 15 years, Khaled has curated a total of 11 albums under his own name. However when his last effort Father of Asahd charted at #2 right behind IGOR on the Billboard 200, dude completely ruined his Mr. Nice Guy image by dissing Tyler, The Creator out of bitterness. Almost 2 years later, Khaled is returning with his 12th full-length project.

Jeremih & Lil Wayne kick the album off on “Thankful”, where the 2 speak on gratefulness over a sample of Bobby Bland’s iconic “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City”. The song “Every Chance I Get” has a Three 6-inspired sound from Tay Keith as Lil Baby & Lil Durk go back & forth about turning up on haters while the Cardi B solo cut “Big Paper” is a grimy braggadocious anthem down to the beat too. The track “We Going Crazy” not only has a weird synth-instrumental, but the chemistry between H.E.R. & the Migos are totally off.

Lil Baby returns albeit with Megan Thee Stallion & DaBaby for the ironically enjoyable rap rock banger “I Did It” whereas Justin Bieber & 21 Savage deliver a boring look at the saying “Time is money” on the plainly-produced “Let It Go”. The song “Body in Motion” by Bryson Tiller, Lil Baby & Roddy Ricch is a gross attempt at going romantic while the first Drake solo cut “Popstar” sounds completely uninspired.

Meanwhile, we have A Boogie wit da Hoodie joining forces with Big Sean & Rick Ross to ruin Biggie’s “Long Kiss Goodnight” on the conquering “This is My Year” whereas the highly anticipated “Sorry Not Sorry” is easily my favorite off the entire album as JAY-Z & Nas talk about living the dream over a sample of Bobby Glenn’s “Sound’s Like a Love Song” provided by STREETRUNNER. “Just Be” by Justin Timberlake unapologetically ruins the Ghostface Killah joint “All That I Got Is You” right before “I Can Have It All” by H.E.R. & Meek Mill butchers one of my favorite Beanie Sigel songs: “Feel It in the Air”.

The other Drake solo cut “Greece” is even worse than “Popstar” only because he is completely trying to rip off The Weeknd’s vocal inflections from start to finish & if you’re familiar with Khaled’s previous output, you already know the album ends with a reggae note & that’s what “Where You Come From” by Barrington Levy, Buju Banton & Capleton does.

I don’t know what else to say other than that, he just keeps making the same goddamn album over & over again. The usual line-up of guests hardly compliment one another & the radio friendly production is just average at best. Just put 3-4 joints in a playlist & call it a day.

Score: 1.5/5

Jay Electronica – “Act II: Patents of Nobility (The Turn)” review

This is the surprise sophomore album from New Orleans emcee/producer Jay Electronica. Fans had waited 13 years for him to drop a full-length album ever since his debut EP Act 1: Eternal Sunshine (The Pledge) & we finally got that in the form of A Written Testimony back in March of this year, which was a collab effort with JAY-Z. But after leaking online recently, Jay has decided to officially drop the OG version of the album.

The opener “Real Magic” talks about accepting oneself over a bare piano instrumental while the next song “New Illuminati” talks about being just that over a churchy beat. After the “Patents of Nobility” interlude, the track “Life on Mars” pays tribute to Erykah Badu over some synths. The song “Bonnie & Clyde” shit-talks on those faking over a sample of the Serge Gainsbourg joint of the same name while the track “Dinner at Tiffany’s” is essentially “Shiny Suit Theory” off A Written Testimony.

The song “Memories & Merlot” reminisces on all the moments in his life that he cherishes over a settle, psychedelic beat while the track “Better in Tune” gets confessional over an angelic instrumental. The song “Letter of Falon” talks about climbing the highest mountain himself over some hi-hats & claps while the track “Road to Perdition” with JAY-Z sees the 2 making a number of references to the Tom Hanks film of the same name over a triumphant beat.

The song “Welcome to Knightsbridge” flexes his rapping prowess over a hypnotic instrumental while the track “Rough Love” gets raunchy over a beat with some stunning choir vocals. The song “Night of the Roundtable” talks about feeling his hunger growing over some claps & keyboard embellishments while the penultimate track “Run & Hide” is a stunning R&B duet with The Bullitts that tells the story of a woman who escapes from her problems. The closer “10,000 Lotus Petals” is just a wonderful orchestral piece with no Jay presence at all.

To be honest, I think this is his true debut album & I’ll even go as far to say that it’s better than A Written Testimony. Sure it can sound dated at times, but the production on here is a lot better in comparison & Jay Electronica lyrically was at his best during this point in time.

Score: 4/5