Hip-hop loves a big-ticket event. No matter if it's rap beef or a verse hot enough to stop the summer, there’s a special kind of energy that emerges when every corner of the culture engages as a community—moments like JAY-Z vs. Nas or Kendrick’s “Control” verse. If you give hip-hop something to talk about, the culture speaks. Loudly.
Over the past few years, J. Cole's Dreamville roster has slowly become one of rap’s most exciting squads, featuring JID, EarthGang, Ari Lennox, Bas, Omen, Cozz, and Lute, and so it's no surprise the talk of 2019 has been Revenge of the Dreamers III.
The drone surrounding the label began to steadily rise in January when Cole assembled his crew in Atlanta for ten days for the Revenge of the Dreamers recording sessions. By way of a Willy Wonka-esque golden ticket invitation system, Cole and company called on their rap peers and first-rate producers to join them. Suddenly, the compilation was bigger than Dreamville; bigger than any other album released this year.
After five months of anxiously awaiting its arrival, Revenge of the Dreamers III is here. With all of hip-hop pressing play, ROTD3 is the talk of this Fourth of July weekend. Depending on the contents of the album, we may never stop talking.
In usual 1-Listen fashion, the rules 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. "Under The Sun" ft. J. Cole, Lute & DaBaby
Pressing play on this advance is quite exciting. The label didn't include feature names next to each song title, so I don’t know who is on what track. Immediately, I'm ascending to the ceiling of my hotel room thanks to this soul sample. (I’m in Virginia for my uncle’s ninetieth birthday. More life.) The drums just came in. Cole’s voice! Wow! This feels like something Kanye would’ve done in my dreams. He’s spitting. A passionate Cole. These drums are delivering an elbow drop from heaven. YOOO!!! KENDRICK! What!? Oh, shit. Lute is rapping. I wasn’t ready for Kenny to arrive from stage left and leave just as fast. Lute and soul beats are a great combination; he would have been a great third member of Little Brother. “Gold mouth, bitch.” Kendrick is only on the hook. Okay, guys, I’m crying. DaBaby just arrived, and he's eating! I hope Dreamville doesn't add feature guest names when they upload the project to DSPs. [Editor's Note: Too bad.] That Kendrick appearance was better than a surprise birthday party at the Playboy Mansion. North Carolina is about to be on fire. This is already an internet shaking moment, and it’s only been three minutes.
2. "Down Bad ft. JID, Bas, J. Cole, EarthGang & Young Nudy
This beat is magnificent. Nudy on “Down Bad” is Ross on “Monster.” “I am the king of the EA.” I need someone to paint Nudy as a Victorian King. JID’s verse has so many sneaky bars, and this hook is infectious. This Bas verse is a highlight, too. He continues to get better. Revisit Milky Way if you haven’t pressed play. I love how they wedged Cole in the middle. Game of Thrones references always get a chuckle out of me. He snapped. Venus is unbelievable; he has my favorite verse by far. I know Buddy is the ROTD3 sessions MVP, but Venus was a Super Saiyan all 10 days. He's a gifted artist. When the beat drops out with the “fuck it up” ad-libs, it sounds like watching a perfect moonwalk.
3. “LamboTruck” ft. Cozz, Childish Major & Reason
Happy birthday, Childish Major! Man, the way they altered his voice is cool. I imagine Lupe Fiasco using Major's voice for one of the characters from The Cool; it’s the perfect texture and tone for this song. Cozz coming in sounding like he hasn’t eaten a real meal in 10 days. He named every artist in TDE; that acknowledgment grounds the song like a real conversation. This is a modern, less aggressive version of 50 Cent's “How To Rob.” Childish Major killed this hook. I love the bounce to Reason’s verse. Kenny from South Park is one of those pop culture icons who will always make his way into rap verses. “New west nigga me and Cozz be that.” A Lambo truck tour would be worth attending. I wish the world saw IB’s face the first time he heard this record. That tied up bar, hilarious. I hope there are a few more Reason verses later on the album; he was recording nonstop during the sessions.
4. "Swivel" ft. EarthGang
A soul sample! Yo! Wow! The opening is Wowgr8 from EarthGang. Remind me to ask him why he changed his name from Doc. His voice sounds raspy; it's a great texture. This beat is smooth; marshmallow-soft with the soulfulness of a Sunday morning. Wow, I can’t get over his voice; it sounds like the ghost of Tupac jumped into his being. He’s rapping and my skin is crawling. Has this man been to sleep? Rap camp had Wowgr8 recording during the graveyard shift. “I pray for the hunger to be permanent.” That’s a bar. Who is that? Venus! That man has a gospel vocal; it's spiritual. “Swivel” is a great EarthGang record. They’re displaying their strength as a duo. Wowgr8 has to explain that voice, but I wouldn’t be mad if he kept it. Four for four. [Editor's Note: "Swivel" will appear on the upcoming album Mirrorland.]
5. “Oh Wow... Swerve” ft. J. Cole, Zoink Gang, KEY! & Maxo Kream
I love the length of these records. In and out. Smino! He’s talking to a bunch of people. The beat came in gorgeous. Is that Guapdad4000? I don’t know what’s happening. There are so many voices; it sounds like they’re recording in a tent just passing the mic around. Cole! I wasn’t ready for him. Introspective mindset. This production style is fitting. Who made it? That Jim Jones and Hov bar, good imagery. We need the album version of this Cole! Hahaha. He couldn’t help the radioactive bar. “I know it’s better to be sleep that’s why we hate the alarm.” The beat switch. WHO PRODUCED THIS RECORD, INTERSCOPE? That’s definitely KEY! What!? He’s skating. His rap voice is amazing. KEY! into Maxo Kream. My brains are on the floor. This record has been full of surprises. Maxo is a juggernaut running over and through the beat. He is GOING OFF. After Cole's deep thinking, the song became a banger. Whoa, JID, but he’s fading out. Bring it back!
6. “Don’t Hit Me Right Now” ft. Bas, Cozz, Yung Baby Tate, Guapdad4000, & Buddy
I need the rest of that JID verse. Everything is working, somehow. It’s a fluid album, so far. Who is this? A smooth voice. I can’t call it, but he’s silver surfing. Oh yeah, this is Guapdad4000. Too much sauce. Ari Lennox on the background vocals; she's pure honey. Some of these voices aren’t jumping out at me immediately. Is this Bas? [Editor's Note: Yes.] Yeah, this is a hit. A woman just came in with the smoothest trap flow. Sounds like Yung Baby Tate. She's walking on water. This is by far the most radio-friendly record through six tracks. It screams summer. “New day, a new flight I’m boarding.” Traveling is a stunt. “Don’t Hit Me Right Now” is fun. A keeper.
7. "Wells Fargo (Interlude)” ft. JID, EarthGang, Guapdad4000 & Buddy
Wells Fargo stock going up. “Is that my flamethrower?” This song is full of character. Why are they using these accents? Hahaha. JID and EarthGang need a television show. I’m in tears. “Wells Fargo” might be the most unorthodox banger ever made. Is that Buddy on the first verse? Man, this joint sounds like an engineer never touched it. Did they record this cut at a playground? Floors will tremble when they perform this record live. That they had so much energy after 10 days of recording is insane. This energy is absolutely infectious. The last verse is a volcano erupting. Even the interludes are keepers.
8. “Sleep Deprived” ft. Lute, Omen, Mez & Davionne
I appreciate the sequencing on ROTD3. The project is progressing nicely. Lute came in rapping. I enjoy his rap voice. “Signed my first deal off the realist shit I wrote” is a bar. Mez! Their voices make for a great contrast. They have a natural chemistry. I haven’t heard a bad verse, yet. I can’t wait for Mez's new album. [Editor's Note: It's coming soon.] He sounds incredible. Every line is sharp. Who is next? Is that Davionne!? It sounds like her. Just like with Venus, her voice has a spiritualness. I know they look alike, but has Omen always sounded like Common? The Birdbox/blind date line got a chuckle out of me. He reminds me of a poetic rapper from the '90s. This one is starting to drag. I have no idea what’s coming next.
9. "Self Love" ft. Ari Lennox, Bas & Baby Rose
How many samples are on this album? The paperwork alone probably took four months. Ari Lennox! “Self-love is the best love.” She sings from the very depths of her heart. Wait? Is that Baby Rose on the backing vocals? If you don’t know Baby Rose, please do your Googles. [Editor's Note: Yes, it’s her.] She has this arresting texture; a voice full of trembling emotions. She opened for Ari on tour. Bas and Ari sound great together; I can see Bas having a run of features on R&B records. Dreamville should get him in his Fabolous bag. I like this one. The guitar solo at the end is magic.
10. “Ladies, Ladies, Ladies” ft. JID & T.I.
Another soulful record. I’m happy this record made the album. I was at the sessions when JID made his version of “Girls Girls Girls.” I love his silliness. He’s gifted but doesn’t take his gift too seriously. “Her brother pulled a gun on me.” I need him to explain this story one day. I’ll never forget walking into the studio as T.I. was in the booth recording his verse—all off the top of his head. Give me a full album of this T.I. I need him to talk about picking up girls in stolen cars on his next album. “If it happened it was destiny.” I’m dead at him equating karma and genitals. We tapped our glasses of cognac when he left the booth. I’ll tell my kids about this song.
11. “Costa Rica” ft. Bas, JID, Guapdad4000, Reese LAFLARE, Jace, Mez, Smokepurpp, Buddy, Buddy & Ski Mask the Slump God
All the personalities and styles are shining even though this album features an overwhelming number of artists. “Costa Rica” is another one. Dope to see Reese featured. Guapdad’s hook sounds like something Swae Lee would try. More Pyrex beats, please. I love this Jace verse; I’m glad he got in the sessions. Mike WiLL needs to press his button. Mez with another strong contribution. Dreamville is showcasing so much talent. “I flew with the stick, it’s a rocket.” I laughed. “At the airport, this girl asked me, 'Hey, are you, Swae Lee?'” This is another record that will do well at shows.
12. “1993” ft. Buddy, Smino, Cozz, EarthGang, JID & J. Cole
Another song I experienced in real-time. Imagine everyone featured on this song recording in the smallest room in Tree Sound. I believe it was Buddy’s first day at the sessions; his energy was infectious. The production is so West Coast, so dusty and warm. It's like a musical hotbox. “I’m drunk at a party.” Smino has one of the best voices of this new generation. Buddy interrupting doesn't get old. Cozz! This song is the blueprint for his next album. Every verse being interrupted by Buddy was a genius decision. Wowgr8! He’s surfing. “I don’t mumble.” “Stop rapping, start passing.” A drunk party record even though it’s about getting high. JID’s verse is great. Cole! He wrote and recorded live in the room with everyone. It was a moment. Buddy deserves great things. A keeper.
13. “Rembrandt...Run It Back” ft. JID, J. Cole & Vince Staples
Man, my head is spinning. This album is a lot. Love this build-up. These keys are murderous. All the producers are showing out. JID! He sounds pissed. I don’t know who got him ready to punch a hole in the ozone, but I love it. Cole! These two are great together. Cole sounds like a different rapper on these beats. Oh, what is going on? This is a verse! He’s talking cash shit. Vince motherfucking Staples. The gun sounds. What!? The keys switched up. When the drums dropped, I did a backflip. What!? My jaw is on the floor.
14. "Sunset" ft. J. Cole & Young Nudy
Dammit! Bring Vince back! What was that!? What is going on! Pyrex and ChaseTheMoney drops. This is a TRAP beat. Cole is talking about smoke. This beat is intimidating. Cole sounds like a king. Who knew he could rap like this? “BIG ASS CHOPPER MAKE GOD FLINCH.” That’s not a line I imagined Cole saying. This beat is exploding. Cole is telling a story. Did someone pull a gun on him? This record is a favorite. I’m playing this song all summer. Young Nudy! Nudy is out of here. Now that’s a man who has a gun that would make God flinch. This is the record. I need more Trap Cole.
15. “Got Me” ft. Ari Lennox, Omen, Ty Dolla $ign & Dreezy
The album is giving us a lot. But it had to, right? Another slower, soulful record. Ty Dolla is a blessing; he has yet to let me down. This record is a quiet storm. Ari Lennox is a pillow of sweet softness. Dreamville found a pearl when they discovered Ari. “I got you as long as you got me.” Omen with another poetic verse; they must set him up to drop a Like Water for Chocolate. Not a bad verse, but it's dragging. This Dreezy verse, incredible. She has a voice, man. Dreezy has so much promise. Great record.
16. “Middle Child” ft. J. Cole
I didn’t need or want “Middle Child” on ROTD3, but I won’t complain. It’s the biggest record of Cole's career. I remember thinking “Middle Child” sounded like a Drake record, but now, it doesn’t feel that way. If anything, this album is reminding us to leave our assumptions at the door when pressing play on Jermaine. “Middle Child” is one of those songs that, after hearing it 100 times, you can't not sing along. Ah, that Kodak bar. We've had many conversations about that line.
17. “PTSD” ft. Omen, Mereba, Deante Hitchcock & St. Beauty
Two more tracks and I know there are so many gems that didn’t make the final cut. Who is this? I can’t read the voice, it’s a woman, and she sounds great. I need the track listing at the end. Deante Hitchcock! Happy to hear he made the album, too. During the sessions, he was a locomotive. A strong verse. People will be doing their Googles. It’s taking me a second to get every voice. Omen? I think so. [Editor's Note: Yup.] A compelling story. They put records on here; not just a bunch of verses glued together. An infectious ending. Lovely production with great energy.
18. “Sacrifices” ft. EarthGang, J. Cole, Smino & Saba
Last song! They waited until the very end for the six-minute record. Who made this beat!? It sounds soulful and elastic. Venus! He sounds incredible. A man with a voice larger than a mountain. The melody has me. “I make sacrifices, bloody sacrifices.” Amazing. Smi! I’m laughing at the Santa Claus line. “On bro that shit groovy.” That was Monte Booker’s voice. Saba has arrived. He’s killing. “If we ain’t sibling then I can’t relate.” This verse is great, too! I need the Dropbox of all the Smi and Saba verses from these sessions. I need every song made during the sessions. Cole! “You can’t be everything to everybody.” This verse is some of Cole's best rapping, ever. He’s still getting better. There's so much passion in his voice. Oh shit, he has a second kid coming! He’s crying. I think Groove made this beat. His price just went up. Everyone’s price just went up.
Final (First Listen) Thoughts on Dreamville’s Revenge of the Dreamers III:
Revenge of the Dreamers III is a summer blockbuster, the kind of album that defines what a compilation should strive to accomplish. It's a community of talent employing the best of their abilities in unison.
Without any collaboration feeling forced, Dreamville successfully orchestrated 18 songs that function as a harmonic experience. It’s a world where DaBaby can rap with Cole over a soul beat; JID and T.I. can reminisce over the women of their past; Vince Staples can pop in for a few bars or Buddy can spend an entire song interrupting his collaborators. There’s magic in the madness.
Revenge of the Dreamers III isn't a surprise release; however, it is nothing if not full of surprises. Around every corner, someone or something jumps out to stun you. But despite the number of artists who are featured and the lengthy runtime, the album rarely drags. Throwing so many cooks into one kitchen is no easy feat.
Of course, Revenge of the Dreamers III is arriving at midnight following the Fourth of July. No other album this year has embodied the stunning explosion of fireworks.