Is J. Cole concluding his basketball narrative on ‘The Off-Season?’

J. Cole sits courtside and watches an NBA basketball game between the Detroit Pistons and Dallas Mavericks in Dallas.
Recording artist J. Cole sits courtside as he watches an NBA basketball game. His heavy use of basketball themes in his music continues with the announcement of his new album “The Off-Season.”
(LM Otero / Associated Press)

It’s about to be a cold summer.

J. Cole announced the release of his sixth studio album, “The Off-Season” on Tuesday in a rare Twitter post. The project is due to be released May 14 and continues the multiplatinum rapper’s basketball journey. The cover art shows Cole walking away from a basketball hoop on fire.

This is his first full-length solo project since 2018’s “KOD.” A year later, his Dreamville label released the collaborative project “Revenge of the Dreamers III,” and in June he released “Snow on tha Bluff,” a track sharing his perspective as an artist in the midst of social unrest and firing some jabs toward Chicago rapper Noname.

Several in the basketball world celebrated the announcement of “The Off-Season,” including the Spurs who shared a picture on Twitter of the rapper and DeMar DeRozan. Kevin Durant posted the cover art on his Instagram story.

The Washington Football team had its spin on the news, remaking Cole’s previous album covers with its players.

The North Carolina native — and devoted Penny Hardaway fan — hooped growing up and tried out for the team at St. John’s University in New York, where he attended college. He’s had significant basketball imagery in his music since early on in his career.

Cole signed to Jay Z’s Roc Nation in 2009 and, when he was stuck in limbo with the label, he released his critically acclaimed mixtapes “The Warm Up” and “Friday Night Lights.”


The cover arts for both show Cole posing with a basketball, and the music used plenty of hoop references to tell his underdog story. When his debut album finally was ready for release in 2011, Cole went yet again with a basketball theme, posing in a locker room and opting for the title “Cole World: The Sideline Story.”

“Sports is where it started for me,” he said in a 2013 interview with Sports Illustrated. “It parallels my life. Rap is such a competitive thing. That’s why I have to watch sports. I got to keep up. It’s my life in just another form.”

He used his platform as a growing rap star to stay involved in basketball. He participated in the 2012 Celebrity Game during NBA All-Star weekend and had a memorable dunk that was an alley-oop from comedian Kevin Hart.

Cole is a familiar face at NBA games and was the halftime performer for the 2019 NBA All-Star game in Charlotte. He currently has a partnership with Puma for the RS Dreamer sneaker collection, which has been worn by Kyle Kuzma, Danny Green, Skylar Diggins-Smith and others.

In July, Cole reflected on the significance of the game in a piece he wrote for The Players’ Tribune. He shared about a defining moment in his life when he had to choose between attending a tryout to walk on to the St. John’s basketball team or commit to rap. He obviously chose the latter, but expressed a desire to revisit his other love now that he’s reaching the end of his time as an artist.

“On my career bucket list, there remain a few more items to check off before I give myself permission to enter whatever the next chapter of my life may be,” he said. “However, as I approach the summit of this mountain, I still find myself staring at that other one in the distance, wondering if I can climb.”

As the rumors circulated that the then-35-year-old father of two was interested in making some jump shots again, the Pistons invited him to try out for their squad. Cole would not be the first rapper to try out for an NBA team. Master P, born Percy Miller, participated in the Hornets training camp before the 1999 season and tried out for the Toronto Raptors a year later.

Cole has hinted about producing two more albums called “It’s a Boy” and “The Fall-Off” before he calls it quits for good.