Review: Dreamville, ‘Revenge of the Dreamers III’

The third Dreamville compilation welcomes the listener to join the artists in relishing the enjoyment of rapping.

Dreamville Records is a roster that J. Cole has been trying to build up for the good part of the decade. The label pretty much has started from the bottom, consisting of only Cole, Bas and Omen when the label dropped their first Revenge of the Dreamers album in 2014. Now aided by the likes of J.I.D, EarthGang, Lute, Cozz and Ari Lennox, its third instalment is truly aiming for the stars. It is certainly a high-profile release, levitated by Cole’s online open invitation to every rapper and their mother to join him and his Dreamville artists in the studio back in January. A sum of 343 artists and producers were invited and 142 songs were recorded, whittled down to 18 songs and 35 artists. That’s a lot of performers to juggle, a task rarely rendered successful in the final production.

Luckily, ROTD III works a treat for one simple reason: the rappers all sound like they are having fun. Moments are created on the album, not all of which stick but are still enjoyable.

Revenge of the Dreamers III simplifies elements to the bare bones: raps and beats. This amounts to a handful of posse cuts that are tongue-in-cheek and carefree. “Down Bad” is an energetic slew of rap verses over the zaniest beat of the year. “1993” with J. Cole, J.I.D, Cozz, EarthGang, Smino and Buddy brings the most humour while maintaining a consistent subject matter. The rappers take their turns on the track with the previous performer passing them the blunt. The two-minute interlude “Wells Fargo” makes well use of its time, urgently packing 8-bar raps, most notably Buddy and J.I.D whom flow the best out of the bunch. Tracks like these see the Dreamville rosters in their natural element, enjoying each other’s company on a track without taking it too seriously.

J. Cole continues to embrace current trends by incorporating trap beats into the album. “Oh Wow…Swerve” is a two-part track led by Cole and Zonik Gang, passing the baton on to KEY! and Maxo Kream for the trap-heavy second half. These moments fare better when Cole stays away from the trap beats and lets other artists tackle them. Cole fails to realise this on the Young Nudy collaboration, “Sunset”. Cole’s raps about diamonds, money, cars and choppers feel like an old man trying to relate to the youth. 

For a rapper famous for his “platinum with no features” achievements, Cole has finally expanded his bubble not only towards the label but external artists too. DaBaby and an uncredited Kendrick Lamar appear on album opener “Under the Sun” alongside J. Cole and Lute. Lamar’s hook is another comedic point of the album, complimenting the equally-impressive verses of Cole, Lute and DaBaby. Vince Staples steals the show on the latter half of “Rembrandt…Run It Back”. The beat switch lasts for a mere 30 seconds, which is shame as the best beat of the album was criminally underused.

R&B singer Ari Lennox gets a chance to shine on the milder cuts, “Self Love” and “Got Me”. Lennox provides a soothing break from the urgent raps, assisted by the likes of Ty Dolla Sign on the latter track for a lovely duet.

A main issue of ROTD III is that the artists are so focused on rapping that the songs do not always result in the best tunes. There’s a notable absence in solid hooks to accompany the beats, which are also flat at times. The solo J. Cole song “Middle Child” struggles to fit in the album, awkwardly sticking out even though it is one of the strongest tunes of the project. The album’s longevity is questionable, feeling more like moments to enjoy in the present than songs that will represent the legacy of the Dreamville label in ten years time.

The album ends on a gentle note with “Sacrifices”. J. Cole, Smino, Saba and EarthGang rap like grown men, ending the album on a mature note. The track comes together as a full song unlike a handful of the tracks that preceded.

It took some time, but Dreamville finally collaborate like they are part of a family. The carefree attitude and emphasis on rapping will take the label far, although clearer direction on songwriting is needed to make the songs stick to the wall.

Rating: 7 / 10

Best tracks: “Middle Child”, “Under the Sun”, “Sacrifices”, “Down Bad”, “Rembrandt…Run It Back”, “Oh Wow…Swerve”, “Got Me”