With The Off-Season opening the week on top of the Billboard 200, J. Cole has officially become the first ever rapper with six consecutive No. 1 studio albums. The 12-track project debuted with 282,000 units, and although it’s on the lower end of the Cole spectrum, the LP currently holds the biggest week of 2021 for any hip-hop album and the second-biggest overall.
To celebrate the Dreamville head’s record-setting feat, HYPEBEAST scoured the Billboard archives and the official RIAA records to break down Cole’s solo journey to the top, taking note of the numbers and eventual achievements that pushed all his solo studio albums to the top of the charts.
Cole World: The Sideline Story (2011)
The Sideline Story marks the beginning of the whole shebang, with Cole dropping the record on September 2011 following mixtapes The Come Up in 2007, The Warm Up in 2009 and Friday Night Lights in 2011. It garnered him his first GRAMMY nomination (Best New Artist in 2012) and just like most of his future albums, the project was mainly produced by Cole but did hear additions from the likes of No I.D., Brian Kidd and Elite, and featured guest appearances from from Trey Songz, Drake, JAY-Z and Missy Elliott. The LP debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 with a total of 218,000 copies in its first release, and was certified gold by the RIAA in December of the same year then platinum almost five years later in February 2016.
The Sideline Story was supported by four singles: the first being “Work Out” in June 2011, which initially charted on the Billboard Hot 100 in July 2011 at No. 85, then again in September at No. 98 before peaking at No. 13. The track went gold in December, platinum in January 2012 and double platinum in May 2013. It was followed by “Can’t Get Enough” in September 2011, which charted on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs at No. 86 in October and peaked at No. 7, and was certified gold in May 2012 and platinum in August 2016. Cole’s JAY-Z assisted cut “Mr. Nice Watch” followed in October 2011, then, finally, “Nobody’s Perfect” in February 2012. The final single entered the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart at No. 87 and peaked at No. 3, as well as the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 90 with a peak of No. 61.
Born Sinner (2013)
Two years after The Sideline Story, Cole dropped his first two EPs — Truly Yours and Truly Yours 2 — and his sophomore effort Born Sinner. The original 16-track LP heard verses from Miguel, Amber Coffman, James Fauntleroy, TLC and Kendrick Lamar, while the deluxe edition (Truly Yours 3) featured 50 Cent, Jhené Aiko and Bas to extend the tracklist to 21. The record is the artist’s only studio album not to debut at No. 1; it opened at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 with 297,000 copies, and finally moved up to No. 1 on its third week. It was certified gold in August 2013, then platinum and double platinum in February 2016 and September 2020 respectively.
Born Sinner was supported by a total of four singles. “Power Trip” with Miguel was released in February 2013 and peaked at No. 5 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart with 210,000 units, then peaked at No. 19 on the Hot 100 in July. The song went gold in May then platinum just two months later in July, and was eventually nominated for Best Rap/Sung Performance at the 2014 GRAMMYs. Next was “Crooked Smile” with TLC which peaked at No. 27 on the Hot 100 and No. 7 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, and was certified gold in November then platinum in August 2016. Two months later, he released “Forbidden Fruit” with Kendrick Lamar and it peaked at No. 46 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. Cole rounded out the album cycle with “She Knows” which peaked at No. 90 on the Hot 100.
2014 Forest Hills Drive (2014)
In the final month of 2014, Cole gifted fans with 2014 Forest Hills Drive which featured producers like !llmind, Willie B, Phoenix Beats and Vinylz. Despite the lack of guest verses, his third studio album sold 353,000 copies in its first week to open at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. The revered 13-track project won Album of the Year at the 2015 BET Hip Hop Awards and was nominated at the 2016 GRAMMYs; the album received a nod for Best Rap Album while “Apparently” was nominated for Best Rap Performance. A month after its release, the LP was certified gold and went on to go platinum in January 2016, double platinum in October then triple platinum in May 2019.
“Apparently” marked the album’s first single and it peaked at No. 58 on the Hot 100 and No. 17 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, and was certified double platinum. It was followed by “Wet Dreamz” in April 2015, which peaked at No. 61 on the Hot 100 and No. 16 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, and went on to become 4x platinum; “No Role Modelz” dropped in August and it peaked at No. 36 on the Hot 100 and No. 27 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, and was certified 6x platinum; “Love Yourz” marked the album’s final single in February 2016 and it peaked at No. 41 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart and went platinum. All of the RIAA plaques were certified in August 2020.
4 Your Eyez Only (2016)
Marking his first release with Interscope Records, Cole’s 4 Your Eyez Only continued the famous “platinum with no features” statement as the record featured only like additional producers like Boi-1da,, Ron Gilmore, Frank Dukes, Cardiak, Chargaux, Elite, Vinylz and more. It sold 363,000 copies in its first week to open at No. 1 yet again, although additional album-equivalent units mark the total up to a whopping 492,000 units — just 8,000 below the gold certification — and it earned the third-largest weekly sales for an album in 2016. In just a month, it was certified gold then platinum a few months later in April 2017.
By this time, Cole eased up on the singles rollouts and only released two: “Deja Vu” in January 2017 and “Neighbors” in April. “Deja Vu” is one of the artist’s highest-debuting and highest-peaking singles on the charts, as it peaked at No. 7 on the Hot 100 and No. 4 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. It was certified double platinum in September 2019. Meanwhile, “Neighbors” peaked at No. 13 on the Hot 100 and at No. 8 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, then went double platinum in May 2020.
Cole followed up 4 Your Eyez Only with KOD, which only saw a total of four guest producers: T-Minus, Mark Pelli, BLVK and Ron Gilmore. His fifth studio effort debuted at No. 1 with 397,000 copies — his highest-selling album so far — with almost half of the total coming from pure sales, officially earning the biggest week for an album in 2018. It also broke records on both Spotify and Apple Music as it garnered 36.7 million on streams and 64.5 million streams respectively, with the latter dethroning Drake’s earlier record for Views. It went gold in May 2018 then platinum in December.
Its first single, “KOD,” peaked at No. 10 on the Hot 100 and No. 7 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, and broke Spotify U.S.’ first-day streaming record with 4.2 million streams (the record was previously held by Taylor Swift with “Look What You Made Me Do”). Meanwhile, “ATM,” which marked the album’s second and last single, peaked at No. 6 on the Hot 100 and No. 4 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. Both singles were certified by the RIAA in June 2020; “ATM” went platinum and “KOD” double platinum.
The Off-Season (2021)
Undoubtedly Cole’s most anticipated album so far, The Off-Season arrived three long years after its predecessor. The record involved many guest producers like T-Minus, Timbaland, Boi-1da and Frank Dukes and, for the first time since Born Sinner, guest verses from the likes of 21 Savage, Lil Baby, Bas and 6LACK. Although the LP’s first week numbers are on the lower end of the Cole spectrum — 282,000 units — it still opened at No. 1, logging the biggest week for a hip-hop album in 2021 so far and the second biggest overall just behind Taylor Swift’s 291,000 units. It also currently holds the record for the largest streaming week of 2021 with more than 325.5 million on-demand streams of the 12 tracks.
As of writing, The Off-Season has released a total of three singles — the first two, “The Climb Back” and “i n t e r l u d e,” have almost a one-year gap in between. “The Climb Back” originally appeared on Cole’s July 2020 EP Lewis Street and peaked at No. 52 on the Hot 100 and No. 16 on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, while “i n t e r l u d e” dropped week a before the record and was his first pre-album single in eight years. It earned 8.5 million on-demand streams on release day and peaked at No. 8 on the Hot 100, becoming his sixth top 10 entry on the chart. Finally, we have “my.life” with 21 Savage and Morray, which just opened at No. 2 on the Hot 100 to become Cole’s highest-charting track so far and at No. 1 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart.