“The studio is a Dreamville rapper Disneyland,” Jason “Jah” Lee, an associate editor at Bossip, said in a text message on the morning of January 8. The description isn’t hyperbole. To enter one of Atlanta’s most notable legacy recording studios over the past four days is to witness hip-hop’s most magical place on earth.
The source and cause of said magic is the arrival of J. Cole and the entire Dreamville Records collective to complete the third volume of Revenge of the Dreamers, a Dreamville compilation series that began in 2014. Only Bas and Omen—Dreamville’s earliest signees—are featured on the first installment. Four years later, the label started by J. Cole and his manager/business partner Ibrahim “IB” Hamad is home to a flourishing group of talented rappers, producers, and Ari Lennox, the First Lady and currently the roster’s sole songstress.
Initially, the idea was to bring the team together as a gathering of operation. Due to various touring schedules, the only available window to put Dreamville’s collective troupe in one room as a unit was early January. It was decided from the "sixth to the sixteenth," a 10-day period, that creating as a community would best suit all the artists and producers. Rather quickly, the idea began to evolve, extending from merely being in-house into an invitation-only affair that spread far beyond the label. Producers, songwriters, and artists alike began posting their invitations on social media as if the industry was experiencing a Willy Wonka moment. The golden ticket worth more than gold.
In 2018, J. Cole’s presence was felt through feature verses. He arrived on one album after another, entering and conquering the worlds of his peers. This year, he is the epicenter, bringing his peers into his world. Dreamville’s world.
To call what is unfolding dreamlike would be painfully cliché, but when you consider the talent in the room and the possibilities that are developing, there is no better description. REASON, the latest wordsmith signed to Top Dawg Entertainment, mentioned how the chance to do a song with producer Tay Keith is something he never imagined at this point in his career. He didn’t say it as if the opportunity to collaborate would never occur, but surely not in this fashion. How could he? How could anyone?
“Every label needs to follow Cole’s example,” he told me. It's not a bad idea.
When I first arrived at the recording studio on the third day of Dreamville’s pseudo-rap camp, REASON was motioning IB into one of the larger studio rooms to play the latest record he cut with Johnny Venus, one-half of Dreamville’s Atlanta duo EarthGang. RCA’s Atlanta-born signee Deante Hitchcock was also in the room, along with EarDrummers producer Ducko McFli, GRAMMY-nominated rapper and producer Childish Major, and multi-Platinum producer Supah Mario.
Later in the evening, the same room would be filled with Rick Ross, T.I., REASON, and Wale. Beats being played, rhymes being written. Behind every door was a mystery collection of artists. There’s a thrill just walking into random rooms, not certain who awaits on the other side of the door or who will eventually arrive, and the sounds and styles these unions will create.
When I spoke with Hitchcock, a rap machine laying verses left and right, he spoke highly of the camaraderie and competition. “You gotta drop 30,” he said with a laugh. But at Camp Dreamville, the environment is more akin to showing out during the All-Star Game than the pressure of playing during the playoffs. Hitchcock's focus wasn’t just putting on his best rap performances but also writing as well. He gave me a preview on the spot of a hook he was writing with Ari Lennox in mind.
Creativity is manifesting in abundance. The energy is being expounded and spreading like a contagious bug, and everyone is catching it. Wale, a long-time Cole collaborator, is another participant who spoke highly of the environment Dreamville created for the artists to interact and experience the joy of creating together. It’s as if the studio became a hyperbolic time chamber that exists in its own plane of music hyperrealism. Everyone sparring together; everyone walking out as Super Saiyans.
The atmosphere is rich with opportunity. A place where producers making elegant, soothing sounds in the studio’s hallway can catch the ear of Ari Lennox and soon have space to construct a song together. A place where artists can record a ground-shaking, monster-truck banger and receive a direct request from T.I. to save him a spot. A place where just sparking an enjoyable conversation with a stranger will have you showing baby pictures of your niece to the acclaimed songwriter who wrote “Sandcastles” on Beyoncé’s Lemonade.
I watched as heads shook in disbelief when word got around that Rick Ross had arrived. Even the creatives inside don’t know who or when someone will enter and add their touch to the experience. "Expect the unexpected" is the session’s unofficial mantra. Work is getting done, songs are being made, and creative unions are forming, but what will actually make the final project isn't even certain, yet. There’s a lot of laughs, debates, banter, and simply getting to know one another. Great food is being provided, Hennessy is being poured, toasts are being made—it’s the feeling of a warm family reunion without the relatives.
The making of Revenge of the Dreamers III has become a networking paradise without egos, algorithms, or awkward name-dropping. The creative harmony of all these artists—there’s a person in every corner and crevice of the studio—is organic and sincerely genuine.
No one is forcing their place, but finding where they fit. All the collaborations reaching Instagram aren’t being staged for the cameras; everyone is simply catching vibes. And yes, "vibes" is an overused word, but again, it perfectly describes what everyone is searching for in this space of endless sound.
While sitting on a couch in the back room next to Big K.R.I.T. and J. Cole, Wale walked in. It felt like a scene in a movie about the rap blog era. They were all listening to a verse Cole laid, excitement present on all their faces. Each of the three veterans is catching their second wind, no longer the young artists they once were coming into the industry with high hopes. They’re seasoned, matured, survivors of a loveless industry with more years in the game than years trying to break into the league. And they still have the fire and passion for creating; for rapping and music.
I wondered, did any of them see this future for themselves? Was this life of theirs in the cards when 100 Miles & Running, K.R.I.T. Wuz Here, or The Come Up were just beginning to get love on blogs? How could they, right? How could anyone? That’s the beauty of success. Sometimes, what you receive is way beyond what you could imagine wishing for. And yet here they all are.
At 3:06 a.m., long after I left the studio, I received a text that read, “Cole and Christo did something so crazy, dawg.” They were still going. The magic doesn’t sleep. Disneyland could learn a thing or two from Dreamville.
By Yoh, aka 4 Yoh Eyez Only, aka @Yoh31