Since coming into the industry in 2007, J. Cole has known his worth as an artist, and he knows that worth comes from his fans.
Cole has focused on connecting with his adoring fan base through his music, through his Dollar & A Dream tour, and by showing up at fan’s homes to play his near-surprise album. His ideology has made him one of the top grossing performers in our business today, and like many who are on his level (or once were), he started a label to help others. The idea behind Dreamville, though, was a part of his brand long before it ever became an official record label.
Dreamville hasn’t birthed any new superstars, and we don't know if they ever will, but that's never been the goal. Ibrahim Hamad, Cole's manager and the president of the label, understands that it's about a quality product and playing the long game:
“If the music is great we will figure the rest out. Let’s figure out how we can get this out to people. I never looked at the numbers.” - The Takeovah interview
There’s the secret. Don't focus on the numbers. When you're solely focused on the numbers the first thing that can suffer is the music. “If we can use our platform to give new artists an opportunity to share music that’s going to touch others because it touched us, that’s all that matters,” said Hamad later in the interview.
Shortly after Dreamville signee Bas released his debut, Last Winter, Ibrahim was on Twitter gifting the project to fans who didn’t have the money to afford a purchase. He told Vibe that he didn’t even know how many times he gifted the album. Good music will always be appreciated, but having J. Cole’s manager personally send you an album is an experience a fan won't soon forget. On paper Last Winter was a flop, only moving 3,601 first week units (and 11k total as of February, 2016), but look beyond the numbers and you'll see that Dreamville set Bas up for a victory in the long run.
Fast forward two years, Bas releases his second album, Too High To Riot, which sees a marginal first week sales bump to 8,059 units. The big kick, however, is that the emcee has now embarked on a 26-city headlining tour that’s sold out weeks ahead of its start. Before his own tours Bas was opening up for J. Cole. Cozz, another promising artist signed to Dreamville, is now opening under Bas, and the cycle just continues.
Part of what makes Dreamville so strong is the quiet nature of the brand. Rappers nowadays use social media entirely too much, ultimately taking away from the depth and meaning of their words. A quick glance at J. Cole’s Twitter shows mostly links promoting him own work and the label, but minimal self promotion and publicity works. Nobody expects Cole to speak about this week’s episode of Game of Thrones. That’s not his focus. He’s strictly about the music and so, when he does pop up on Twitter, everyone is all ears eyes.
Cole aims to create moments, like when he treated a fan to an exclusive listening session of Revenge Of The Dreamers II before it was released to the masses. Cole and co. understand that fans are more than just a person making a purchase, they are a walking billboard rocking a t-shirt, a human stereo reciting his lyrics, they’re family.
This familial vibe is reflected on Dreamville’s roster, too. Ibrahim models the label after one of his favorites, Aftermath Records. He looked at Dr. Dre as a visionary for not only giving Eminem a platform but providing him with the ability to grow his own movement. Shady grew huge and later introduced the world to D12, Obie Trice and, of course, 50 Cent. G-Unit would then take off from there, success that can be directly tied to Aftermath. This is where Dreamville hopes to be one day. It’s already started with Bas and his Fiends.
Ibrahim's said, “I want to build careers, not just something hot for now,” and often those kind of long term plans go far deeper than the charts.
By Sermon, who's dreaming in his own village. Follow him on Twitter.
Photo Credit: Instagram