• Frank Tremain

Review | Dreamville - Revenge of the Dreamers III

It’s fitting that Dreamville release their third and biggest instalment of Revenge of the Dreamers on the Fourth of July weekend, with the project truly being a family gathering that has culminated into an explosive firework show of artistry.

Since the formation of Dreamville Records and the first Revenge of the Dreamers project five years ago, the family has expanded both in size and success. After signing rising star J.I.D and the colourful duo EARTHGANG, the label was in a prominent position within Hip-Hop. Taking full advantage of this, Dreamville founder/father J. Cole sent out 343 invites to help record the album at Tree Sound Studios in 10 days. Though 142 songs were recorded at the sole studio, the final product of Revenge of the Dreamers III consists of 18 songs featuring 34 artists and 27 producers.

The album opens with “Under The Sun” featuring three North Carolina artists including J. Cole, DaBaby and Lute. The album starts off right with a gospel sample from The Argo Singers’ and a strong boastful verse from J. Cole. Surprisingly, Kendrick Lamar makes his first appearance in 2019 by singing the songs hook and offering a personal favourite line of the project. Though it’s a shame Lamar wasn't featured more heavily, it’s lucky enough he provided the hook, with Dreamville President Ibrahim Hamad tweeting that he originally only came to hear the project. Even from the first track we see the Dreamville team motivating its feature artists, with the 2019 XXL Freshman DaBaby delivering a strong verse that competes well with Lute and Cole. This motivation is something that continues throughout, with Young Nudy starting off “Down Bad” before JID, Bas, J. Cole and EARTHGANG demonstrate the firepower of Dreamville. While the synth-heavy beat slightly stands in the way of fully enjoying the track, it’s an easy task to see past it with Bas and EARTHGANG’s Johnny Venus doing well to keep up with JID and Cole’s chemistry.

Persisting with the project’s consistency, “LamboTruck” features Cozz and REASON, both smaller artists from Dreamville and Top Dawg Entertainment respectively. With Childish Major on the chorus, the song explores themes of greed and feeling underappreciated by their labels. Despite the truth in this, their individual verses don’t reflect this as well as the third verse that showcases a playful back and forth between Cozz and REASON. “Swivel” acts as the fourth single from EARTHGANG’s upcoming MirrorLand, the duo’s long awaited third studio album. A slower track compared to the previous, it feels like it could have worked better released separately from the Revenge III project. Nevertheless the song works well transitioning to “Oh Wow… Swerve”, featuring Cole, KEY!, Maxo Kream and the newly-announced group Zoink Gang, consisting of Guapdad 4000, Buddy, Smino and JID. The first part features a smooth instrumental with the chorus work of Zoink Gang and another solid verse from Cole. The beat switch welcomes a very different tone that KEY!, Maxo Kream and JID collaborate over however, JID’s verse is unfortunately cut off short.

“Don’t Hit Me Right Now” is greatly carried by Guapdad 4000’s chorus with Bas and Young Baby Tate failing to suit the beat as well as Buddy and Cozz. “Wells Fargo” is a shameless boast of thug origins with a catchy and energetic chorus fitting for a Fast and Furious movie. While JID is definitely MVP of the overall project, it's Johnny Venus and Guapdad that provide the most interesting verses. “Sleep Deprived” is a jazzier rap cut and an easy listen, but definitely not a striking moment of the album. The same can be said about “Self-Love” and “Ladies, Ladies, Ladies”. The R&B tracks are decent, and Ari Lennox shows serious talent, but it’s safe to say this style is not a Dreamville strong point, evident most blatantly on “Got Me”. The abundance of various voices on one song didn’t seem to be a problem up until “Costa Rica” where Bas, Buddy, Jace, Mez, Reese LAFLARE, Ski Mask the Slump God, Smokepurpp and Guapdad 4000 all come together. Jace and Buddy’s verses could have been replaced by more lines from the others to do justice to the artists instead of forcing so many names into a less than four minute track. That being said, “Costa Rica” proves Guapdad 4000’s unfailing ability for catchy hooks and gives Ski Mask another chance to show off his skill.

“1993”, “Rembrandt… Run It Back” and “Sunset” are all fairly one dimensional with “1993” being a simple smoke anthem, “Rembrandt…Run It Back” having Vince Staples as the only intriguing verse and “Sunset” having a dull and tasteless collaboration between Cole and Young Nudy. Reaching the end of the project, J. Cole’s recent solo single “MIDDLE CHILD” struggles to work successfully into the collaborative context of Revenge of the Dreamers III. Many consider the triumphant song a big hit from Cole and while it’s not bad, it certainly isn’t one of his best hits either. Lines such as – “Everything grows, its destined to change. I love you lil’ n****s, I’m glad that you came” are fittingly reflective of Cole’s transition to a mentor figure, helping collaborations like this project to exist.

The album finishes off strong with “PTSD”, a self-reflective song about family and happier times featuring Mereba, Deanté Hitchcock, St. Beauty and Omen. “Sacrifices” is easily the best song, starting with two verses and a chorus by Johnny Venus. Though his second verse is executed well, it drags on for a little too long and doesn’t suit the relaxed reggae vibe of the rest of the song. Smino and Saba expectedly deliver fantastic verses before J. Cole closes the album with two beautiful verses where he opens up about his family life. Cole’s last verse is without a doubt a new favourite as he gorgeously depicts his appreciation for his lover with such raw lyrics like: “She gave me the gift of my son, and plus we got one on the way. She gave me a family to love, for that, I can never repay. I’m crying while writing these words, the tears, they feel good on my face.”

Revenge of the Dreamers III stands as the most collaborative No. 1 album in Hip-Hop history and is the historic end product of a 10-day recording session. With Tree Sound Studios being their 4th of July backyard barbecue, J. Cole acted as the father figure, Bas and Lute the crazy uncles, Omen and Cozz the mature cousins, JID and EARTHGANG the prodigal sons and Ari Lennox the laid-back older sister. Outside of Dreamville, the feature artists acted as the distant relatives and close friends helping to make this a true celebration.

While the overall project is a mixed bag of great, boring and decent songs, it provides an interesting insight into the rising talent of the Dreamville label.

Best song: Sacrifices

Worst song: Got Me

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