For athletes of both the professional and amateur ranks, the time between seasons is an opportunity to recuperate and to sharpen their tool set for the next run. Superstar MC J. Cole, whose career has long been informed by both basketball metaphor and actual basketball playing (in May 2021, ESPN reported that Cole had joined the Basketball Africa League's Rwanda Patriots BBC), has crafted his The Off-Season mixtape in the same mold, affirming that if he’s done anything in the time since 2018’s KOD album, it’s get even better at what he does. The 12-track tape is at once a testament to his actual rhyme skill and the reverence he’s earned within hip-hop. He’s sourced production from Boi-1da, Timbaland, Jake One, and T-Minus, among others, and has words—but not verses—from Cam’ron, Damian Lillard, and a man he admits to having once had an actual physical alteration with, Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs. Though he takes time to shout out both Chief Keef and Dave East—conspicuously opposite forces in the realm of contemporary rap—proper features here come from fellow Fayetteville native Morray and “a lot” collaborator 21 Savage. Over the course of his career, Cole’s been known as something of a lone wolf—J CoLe wEnT pLaTiNuM WiTh nO fEaTuReS. But in the scope of the energy we get from him on The Off-Season, it’s less likely that he’s been avoiding other rappers than that he's just left them all behind.