Dreamville, the record label started by rap superstar J. Cole and his manager Ibrahim 'Ib' Hamad in early 2007, has quietly become an imprint worth watching. They didn’t come in loud like JAY-Z’s Roc-A-Fella Records, Puff Daddy's Bad Boy Records, or Master P’s No Limit Records, but over the past 11 years, Dreamville has gathered an eclectic cast of talented signees. The artists that make up the Dreamville roster aren't living solely in the shadow of their famous label head, but outside of it, becoming names associated with good music and not just J. Cole.
Bas signed to Dreamville in 2014, second only to Chicago MC Omen who has been underneath the umbrella since its humble beginnings. The year Bas joined Cole’s small outfit, the Paris-born but Queens, New York-raised rapper released his debut album, Last Winter. The album didn't send Bas into the stratosphere, but fans who took the time to press play latched on.
Two years later, Bas returned with his sophomore album, Too High to Riot, showing that his time away allowed for elevation. The stronger body of work displayed Bas' all-around improvement as an artist and rapper and helped the 31-year-old both maintain and grow a passionate fan base on his slow but nonetheless progressive journey.
Two years removed from Too High to Riot, Bas is back. His third studio album, Milky Way, marks the fourth Dreamville release in 2018, following EarthGang’s Royalty EP, Cozz’s second studio album Effected, and J. Cole’s KOD. Due to his extended absence, and the lasting impression left by Too High to Riot, I'm pressing play with much anticipation. The third time possibly being the charm for Bas is a cliché yet fitting sentiment. He has always shown promise but a definitive work will be necessary to reach a larger audience.
In usual 1-Listen fashion, the rules here are the same: no skipping, no fast-forwarding, no rewinding and no stopping. Each song will receive my gut reaction from start to finish.
1. "Icarus" ft. Ari Lennox
Someone is playing keys on an ancient piano. I can find plenty of parallels between flying too close to the sun and being in the music business. Bas' voice came in suddenly, deep with a soulful rasp. He has a nice tone for melodic notes. Ari! I love her vocal. It sounds like she’s singing a poem discovered in the ancient tomb of Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun. I love the instrumental build up and the vocal textures. The drums have arrived with the potency of a cobra’s poison. Rapping Bas, so many layers in the first two minutes. Art of War reference. Ha, I like the Art of Love phrase flip. A good opening performance. The line about two blue pills and The Matrix bar was solid. The production is shining; sophisticated trap. We're off to a solid start.
2. "Front Desk"
Singing Bas. The keys and drums are going Steph and Klay from the three-point line. Certain rappers just have a perfect voice for the sing-song style, and Bas is one of those rappers. He sounds extremely comfortable and is inspiring my shoulders to shimmy. This melody could be served as dipping sauce. The first verse is infectious. There’s a touch of Auto-Tune on the hook or some other vocal effect. I'm not loving it, though. “My mind on this check.” As far as context, he’s talking about a woman. I’m not overly engaged, but stylistically he has me sold. The production is infectious, to call the song a vibe is an appropriate description. I'm not too fond of the outro singing but I’m still going to keep this one.
3. "Tribe" ft. J. Cole
J. Cole and Bas are at it again. Can they be the Will and Jazz of hip-hop if Will and Jazz were real people in hip-hop who existed outside of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air? I just gave myself a headache. The title of the track perfectly depicts this tribal sound. I'm loving the build-up. Bas' voice is as sleek as a dolphin fin. The flow switch-up is clean. The drums are neck snapping, and I'm loving the swing. All rappers need to set aside money in their production budget for Childish Major. This track makes you want to dance on sand as the sun dips into the sea. Cole doing "la la" harmonies. I will say, in all his verses this year, J. Cole sounds like he’s enjoying the sport of it. Jermaine is hella faded, guys. I love the slow build-up and then going Speedy Gonzales when the drums drop. When collaborators pick a synchronized verse structure, it's music to my ears. Yeah, he brought his lighter fluid. “Tribe” is another strong collab between Bas and Cole. I'll always have a soft spot for “Night Job,” though. If I ever escape to a deserted island, this beat will soundtrack move.
4. "Boca Raton" ft. A$AP Ferg
Great transition. I don’t know how to describe what Sango cooked up here, but it’s beautifully strange. I love the shaker. The percussion on this album will crawl into your body and make you nod and dance. Bas' been talking about a woman since the opening track. This might be my favorite record thus far. FERG! His voice sounds like it was made for this beat. One day we will have the discussion about Ferg being a more enjoyable rapper than Rocky in 2018. He is levitating. The Salvador Dali line!! Yo, he worked Dali into a verse. Verse of the year? As a performer, Ferg knows how to make his presence felt. Belly reference. The production takes you to Boca Raton without having to board a flight to Florida. I want to attend a house party in this song. It’s a festival delivered in three minutes.
5. "Barack Obama Special"
I dig the title. If Barack Obama had a sandwich what would be on it? Don’t say you dare say dark meat. Bas is dedicating this song to his racist neighbor. As we know, J. Cole has also had neighbor issues. The production is as thin as Tommy Pickles' baby hair but these piano chords are as heavy as a raptor stepping in the name of love. “Got a laundry list of niggas with a list of their needs,” sounds like being the friend who made it. I like the transparency. My favorite Bas records are the heaviest. There are bars here, so I will revisit later, but I’m not in love several minutes in. I just want all stream-of-conscious rap songs to be over soul loops. A Milky Way reference.
Confession: I never got into the Purge movies. I don’t like fictional films that are a little too close to what could actually happen in our future. I can’t place this vocal sample, but I like it. Now this is a beat! My ears are melting and I couldn’t be happier. Bas brought his roller skates. No tricks, no melodic touch, just straight rapping. An instant standout. One thing about the production it that it sounds so vast; I can’t imagine the inspiration. A lot of lyrics about international travel. I wouldn’t be surprised if seeing the world inspired the expansive sounds. This song is as fresh as a white tee worn at a Dem Franchize Boyz look-alike contest. A keeper.
7. "Fragrance" ft. Correy C
Correy C is a name I don’t recognize. A singer. That’s… not Bas. He didn’t sound bad, though. Bas might have the best produced Dreamville album of 2018. Producers blessed him with golden packs. Correy C has that Fetty Wap rapper singing down. It’s the loose kind of vocalization that's somewhere between the shower and the studio. Stripper claps. Great switch up. A very well put together record. As a songwriter, Bas has some records on here. This one is going to be big during shows.
Ha. A skit from White Man Can’t Jump. Classic? Definitely a classic.
9. "Infiniti + 2" ft. Correy C
These chords are sugar coated. So is the singing. I'm not in love with this one, though. It feels like filler. Really short. Not strong enough to revisit. I like Correy C’s singing, but after “Fragrance” I wasn’t eager to hear him again in such a short space.
Now we're talking! Get your glow sticks and dancing shoes ready. There is a tropical rave going on in my headphones. I'm loving the beat and this woman's vocals. She is adding flavor. Bas’ flow has found the perfect pocket. So far my favorite records have been songs that would sound amazing within the sand or at a festival setting. Bas has never been an artist I expected to make music for the best time of my life but Milky Way has jams. The breakdown at the end is a nice touch.
11. "Great Ones"
Love the movie clips. A Bronx Tale. This album is about a woman and I haven’t figured it out yet. Maybe it’s a bigger metaphor but there’s a theme, for sure.
There’s going to be a generation of children who will never know about PDA. “I just want to talk until your phone dies” would have been a great Myspace status in 2004. Production is as smooth as a Jaden Smith moonwalk. There are some Instagram caption bars in here. That’s not to discredit the bars, it’s just amusing given all the purposes rap lyrics have in our lives. Drake is the master of captions, Cole has his moments. Bas has a few as well. Overall, a solid song.
I was hoping this song sampled “Panda.” Slower. Loving the kick, though. He made a panda and Desiigner reference in the first bar and I’m not even mad. Another reference to Japan. “My fears make me feel great.” You could heat up a frozen pizza on this beat. It's short but this one is sweet. This album came and went so quickly. I can’t believe I’m onto the final track...
14. "Spaceships + Rockets ft. Lion Babe, Moe Moks, & mOma+Guy
SWING! WOO! THESE DRUMS! We are not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy. I need to find a place that gives me the joy this song is giving me. Bas' flow is smooth enough to walk up a waterfall. His style of delivery is perfect for this bounce. Jillian Hervey of Lion Babe! She just stole my heart. What a voice. What a song. Another concert jam. Bas might have the most fun set at Dreamville Fest. If you aren’t dancing to this your soul is missing. Irresistible.
Final (first listen) thoughts on Milky Way:
Bas doesn’t spend time on Milky Way aiming to prove himself. There are plenty of catchy records, but they don’t sound crafted with the charts in mind. He has bars too, but they aren’t rapped as if he's trying to challenge for the title of world's greatest rapper.
Milky Way is a body of work built for pure enjoyment. Music for a good time. Compared to his first two albums, Milky Way sounds specially crafted for return visits.
For the first time in his career, Bas the record-maker is stirring the ship. Milky Way is filled with songs capable of standing alone but that work best in unison as a cohesive listen. While Bas stretches his style to fit the ever-changing soundscape, the album's pockets are touched with fiery verses, melodic maneuvering, and his easygoing singing. Throughout my first listen, women and traveling were recurring themes. I’m not certain what the concept may be, or if there is a concept, but there’s certainly a message that is meant to connect beyond the surface.
In the first verse of “Icarus,” Bas says he’s been busy giving New York City a "whole new sound." I don’t know if New York will follow in his footsteps, but Milky Way is sonically unlike any of his previous work. The influence of trap can be heard in every record, but it's the fusion of the familiar with the exotic that makes Milky Way a unique sonic experience. It’s tropical and up-tempo, fun and festive.
Milky Way, despite the title of its opening track, is an album that sounds like swimming in a sea of sunshine. Dip in.
By Yoh, aka Yohcarus, aka @Yoh31
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