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Various Artists - Revenge of the Dreamers III Music Album Reviews

The first spoils of the fabled Dreamville sessions feature J. Cole and his label mostly thriving in a collaborative environment.

The only person to rap on three J. Cole albums released over the last five years has been, well, J. Cole. “I’m reaching a point in my career over this past year where I don’t want to look back 20 years from now and be like, ‘I never worked with nobody; I never had no fun’,” he says early in the new making-of documentary REVENGE. What started as an empty gesture flaunted by a passionate fanbase soon became a meme wielded by his haters. Going it solo affords you full credit for your ideas and successes, to be sure, but the flip side of that coin is isolation. When you’re the only voice in the studio, or at least the only one that matters, the booth can become an echo chamber.


The Revenge of the Dreamers III compilation is an attempt to reconnect J. Cole with his peers. He seems humbled by his interactions with younger rappers in the wake of the abstinence-core of KOD and the schoolmarmish “1985 (Intro to The Fall Off).” He’s hungry for collaborative energy, to find a new sense of community that can both enlighten and inspire him. Though not always unified in vision, Dreamers III reveals new bonds born of passion, circumstance, and shared experience.

J. Cole’s label Dreamville touts itself as “the label of the connected age,” but it has been all but sequestered from the wider rap community until earlier this year. After previous Dreamville comps were produced as an assortment of solo songs with a few features spliced in over email, the label heads wanted to get everyone in the same room. So for 10 days in January, the Dreamville roster convened at Tree Sound Studios in Atlanta. Gilded posters requesting the “presence and participation” of over 100 rappers, singers, and producers were sent out. Invited participants started posting their summons on Twitter and Instagram, and the mystique and intrigue of the thing started to take hold. But the Dreamville bosses never imagined these sessions would turn from a label summit to massive assembly of the rap Avengers.

Of the more than 124 songs created during those creative powwows, Cole and Dreamville president Ibrahim Hamad settled on 18 for the final Revenge of the Dreamers III project. A handful are big posse cuts, but it’s largely run-of-the-mill team-ups, solo singles, and a few songs split into two. The Dreamville natives take precedence on the comp, pushing everyone else into the margins. Atlanta’s J.I.D gets to chop it up with one-time king T.I. over old flames, their “Ladies, Ladies, Ladies” a more cordial spin on JAY-Z’s “Girls, Girls, Girls.” “Down Bad” cuts a Young Nudy verse short to get into a Dreamville posse cut. Though the outsiders sometimes feel like window-dressing, they do get some quality time. The idea of the comp is perfectly realized on “Got Me,” where three producers warp Faith Evans’ “Come Over” into an aphrodisiac for mixed company; Ari Lennox, Ty Dolla $ign, Omen, and Dreezy pair off for a jam that feels like being wrapped in the embrace at a slow dance.

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Then there’s “1993,” a cypher inside a smoke session, where each rapper’s verse gets interrupted by someone yelling to pass the blunt and keep the rotation moving. It’s an apt and unwitting commentary on how the compilation is at its most organic when the rotations are fluid, no one says too much, and everyone’s on the same page. The best parts of DreamersIII are when Cole & Friends mix it up with their guests and step outside of their comfort zones. “Don’t Hit Me Right Now” pairs Dreamville’s Bas, Cozz, and Ari Lennox with Buddy, Guapdad 4000, and Yung Baby Tate and they mesh into a muggy Galimatias production. On “LamboTruck,” Dreamville’s Cozz and TDE’s Reason brainstorm robbing each other’s respective label bosses in one of the few coherent ideas that extends beyond just outrapping one another.

Few verses on the album are particularly memorable outside of spots from Maxo Kream, Vince Staples, a string of appearances from the consistently good J.I.D, and the standalone moments of introspection from J. Cole himself. But the comp works because it never feels forced or closed off to ideas. Cole sheds the trap parody of KOD to really identify with those younger than him, even if it’s just to reach an understanding: We’ll all be better off if we work together. “Everything grows/It’s destined to change/I love you lil niggas/I’m glad that you came,” Cole raps on “Middle Child,” and though he’s speaking generally, it feels representative of this successful meeting of the minds.


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About Udara Madusanka

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