/  05.06.2021

At long last, fans have a release date for the next J. Cole album. On Tuesday (May 4), the North Carolina rhymer shared both the cover and the release date for The Off-Season, which is set to drop on May 14. We have a release date and cover, but the only problem is just about everything else about the project is unknown, and the logistics of the album only raise more questions.

Cole first teased The Off-Season with a semi-cryptic Instagram post he uploaded last December. In it, we see notes for The Fall-Off Era that includes his feature run, Revenge of the Dreamers III, The Off-Season, It’s a Boy and The Fall-Off. Collectively, these notes, Cole’s previous songs and his most recent album announcement ask the questions of how these pieces fit together. Now, it’s time to try to make sense of it all by asking the right ones.

Here are nine big questions we have about the upcoming album.

1. Was The Off-Season Planned From The Beginning?

Naturally, there aren’t a ton of details about The Off-Season, but at least from the outside looking in, it feels kind of like an audible. Remember, the album Cole teased on “1985 (Intro to the Fall Off)” was The Fall Off, and “The Climb Back” and “Lion King on Ice” were two songs he announced were the first two offerings from the project. If releasing The Off-Season as his KOD follow-up album was always the plan, why would he unload two singles from The Fall-Off instead? There’s a chance this is all part of Cole’s master plan, but it seems more likely that he hasn’t been sure of when and where a lot of these songs he recorded would go and, at least to some extent, he’s been making things up as he goes along.

2. What Happens to “The Climb Back” and “Lion King on Ice”?

Is Cole still planning to put “The Climb Back” and “Lion King on Ice” on The Fall Off? Considering that he’s releasing The Off-Season in about a week, it feels like it would make more sense for the only two new songs he’s dropped in the last two years to appear on his incoming album. If he waits a year or so to drop The Fall-Off, it will have been two years since he dropped the two tracks, which is a pretty long time in rap years.Then again, there’s always the chance that Cole goes Future style and releases The Off-Season and It’s a Boy — assuming it’s a musical project — right before The Fall-Off in quick succession. If that’s the case, it wouldn’t be that long of a wait. These things feel like a possibility, but for now, it seems like “The Climb Back” and “Lion King on Ice” could be going the bonus track route on whatever project they’re housed on.

3. How Will the Album Be Connected to The Fall Off? Will It?

Based on the notes Cole shared on Instagram, The Off-Season is part of a trilogy with a project called It’s a Boy and The Fall Off. But, how are these projects thematically connected? Specifically speaking, with The Off-Season? His KOD song “1985 (Intro to The Fall Off)” is one that outlines the career arc of a composite SoundCloud rapper, which, in today’s landscape, can have a pretty sharp downward turn. Considering the song’s subtitle and its theme, it feels like that could be a rough indicator for The Fall-Off’s subject matter. So, the question is, how would short-lived, trendy rap careers relate to an album called The Off-Season? Is there even a connection in the first place? Chronologically speaking, if it is indeed a musical project, wouldn’t it make more sense for It’s a Boy to be more directly connected to The Fall Off? But, how could it be with its title? One question just leads to more, and that’s probably just the way Cole likes it.

4. What Will It Be About?

Generally speaking, especially over his last three full projects, J. Cole releases have a theme. 2014 Forest Hills Drive was focused on his upbringing, 4 Your Eyez Only saw him take on the persona of a drug dealer who was a loving father, and KOD is about the perils of drug use and excess. So, that leaves us with the question: What the hell is The Off-Season going to be about? There are a couple of clues.

The cover for the album sees Cole on an outdoor basketball court with an inflamed hoop behind him. When you combine that with the title — an apparent allusion to the period when athletes aren’t playing sports — there’s a clear sports theme. Previous releases like The Warm-Up and Friday Night Lights also reference sports, and there are correlations to his career. The Warm-Up was the beginning of his ascent and Friday Night Lights dealt with small-town issues and it was released a year before his debut album. So it looks like there’s a chance The Off-Season is a reference to a new or past phase in Cole’s career. It could also be a partial allusion to The Fall-Off, with the “off” part being a way to say that “this is the season someone or something will fall off.” So, many questions, so many possibilities, and Cole’s the only one with the answers.

5. Will He Talk About His Attempt to Go to the NBA?

Last summer, Cole announced his intentions to try his hand at an NBA career, a long-delayed dream he cast aside to pursue a career as a rap superstar. Needless to say, the decision paid off, but Cole still finds himself asking what if. Now, we’re asking whether he’ll rap about his hoop dreams deferred and his renewed pursuit of them. Has he been working on his jumper? Did he ever take the Detroit Pistons’ offer to let him try out for the team? Can he still dunk? The fans need answers, and there’s a chance they’ll get them on his new project.

6. Will It Have Features?

The impending release of a new Cole album means there’s a chance it will have features, which means one of the world’s longest-running internet jokes is at stake. Since he dropped his 2014 Forest Hills Drive album almost seven years ago, Cole’s made his solo projects a solitary affair, with the only guest being Kill Edward, who is actually just him with his pitch electronically altered. According to legend — and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA ) —each of Cole’s last three solo albums have gone platinum or better without features. With each release, fans would tweet about Cole’s solo accomplishments to the point it became a meme. Now, the question is, will he break his streak?

Back in 2018, Cole went on an epic guest verse streak that saw him body any and everybody on their own songs. It’s not a direct connection, but that did make it seem like he was open to doing collaborations with a lot of artists. Unfortunately, after appearing on Gang Starr’s 2019 song “Family and Loyalty,” he said that would be his last feature. Now, that’s not the same as him having guest spots on his new album, but it does feel like it could be a hint that he’s still more comfortable flying completely solo. Still, there’s a chance those 2018 hangout sessions with Drake yielded some kind of collab for the new album.

7. Will Kill Edward Be On It?

Kill Edward, Cole’s alter ego based on his stepfather who left his mother years ago, first made an appearance on J. Cole’s KOD album when it dropped three years ago. On KOD, Edward is a device meant to speak on drug addiction and depression — themes addressed a lot on the album. Now, there’s a chance he’s just an album-specific character. He hasn’t been heard from since and unless The Off-Season is about drugs in any way, it feels unlikely that he’ll appear on the new album. That said, there’s still a chance he will.

8. Since This Album Is Coming Out in a Week, When Will The Fall Off Be Released?

The Off-Season is incoming, so when can we expect The Fall Off? Cole hasn’t given any information on that. The aforementioned songs “The Climb Back” and “Lion King on Ice” were announced as the first songs for The Fall Off last summer, but now, with The Off-Season and presumed project It’s a Boy set to come out before The Fall Off, it seems like we could be at least a year away from the album Cole first teased three years ago.

9. Does It’s a Boy Have Anything to Do with The Off-Season, and Is it Even a Musical Project?

When Cole shared notes with his release plans on Instagram, most people assumed that It’s a Boy is either a mixtape or a new album. But, what if it’s none of those things? Because it was slid in between The Off-Season and The Fall-Off, people took it to be part of a trilogy, but is it really connected to the other two projects? These are two questions that can’t really be wiped away after they surface. For the first one, it feels totally possible that It’s a Boy is actually some kind of film rather than any EP, mixtape or album. Remember, Cole released a short documentary for the anniversary of ROTD3 last year. The title It’s a Boy suggests that it could be about his family. Remember, Cole himself has said that he’s got two children with his wife. Maybe it’s a documentary on fatherhood? Considering the title and the seeming lack of title theme connectivity with The Off-Season and The Fall Off, it seems like there’s a good chance the project isn’t a new collection of songs. If this is the case, it’s likely not connected to those albums in any direct way.


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