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Courtesy of Dreamville

July 17, 2019

TEST SPIN | Dreamville & J. Cole — ‘Revenge of the Dreamers III’

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Historic rap albums are few and far between. With 10 days of sweat, tears and love poured into the 18 song Revenge of the Dreamers III, it’s a ride that’s guaranteed to enthrall. Many of the songs are the empowering projections of Dreamville’s house roster, led by J. Cole. Dreamville artists assembled in the studio alongside a handful of the respectable rapper addendums like Young Nudy, DaBaby, Vince Staples and Smokepurpp.

A dated pop instrumental fades directly into J. Cole’s opener for “Under the Sun.” Bouncy percussion and high notes simultaneously orchestrate the lively, upbeat atmosphere for a strong start to the album. J. Cole’s verse is action packed and livid, jumping from bar to bar with just as much alacrity as his cohosts, but it feels like he leaves a few seconds too soon. Neither Cole nor Lute meet the beat’s momentous potential quite as well as DaBaby, with the North Charlotte rapper’s signature barrage of syllables leaving another full, smug verse in his wake.

“Down Bad” has an instantaneously classic beat based around cartoon-like samples, beefing up the album’s cultural referencing further whilst amplifying hints of its superheroic bravado and upbeat tones. A supersonic JID makes for a mean entrance, and Bas expertly keeps up with the speedy, brutal boy wonder without faltering. Dreamville mastermind J. Cole belts out a memorable verse, and despite his competition, Young Nudy spits so hard that he actually might have the best verse on the track.

On the thoughtful “Oh Wow… Swerve,” J. Cole’s introspective verse lends itself to existential questions to remind listeners that he’s not an afterthougt on this production. Piano keys become twisting, turning synths as KEY! and Maxo Kream enter into the fray. Maxo Kream’s isolated verse really illuminates the actual listening power of the track beyond that beat flip.

A silky smooth and refined ride, “Don’t Hit Me Right Now” is another song about groundwork. It stays elite and the songwriting exhibition is selective for a rigid yet infinitely replayable showcasing. Guapdad 4000’s chorus mantra is a blast, and a bit of an upgrade to his part on the pre-released “Costa Rica.” Both songs are titanic, but this one feels more scheming rather than invigorating.

Throwing a can of gasoline onto a bonfire might put up less smoke than the bombastic and infernal “Wells Fargo.” At its core it’s a traditional flex song, but it’s absurdly energized and much more locomotive than most Revenge of the Dreamers III tracks. The EarthGang and JID trio serve as an electric combo, and Guapdad 4000’s verse spills off just as convincingly. The hefty, hectic percussion and instrumental melody put it as one of the project’s driving forces.

Ari Lennox’s chorus in “Self Love” completely steals the show from any of the rap features, remaining unforgettable with the cool jazz strings and crispy, angelic vocals. Baby Rose flows into the track well enough, but both her and Bas flop when compared with Ari’s performance here.

“Ladies, Ladies, Ladies” is a major switch up for JID and his typical rapping style, ditching the merciless pacing and lyricism of his bars for swooning backing vocals and gentle, reminiscing narratives. The venerated T.I. coasts on the track just as cleanly.

The next caper, “Costa Rica,” begins with Dreamville invitee Reese LAFLARE popping off an absolute blaster of a verse. Afterwards, LAFLARE sits back and lets Bas storm in for a similarly daunting flurry of hits. This is only the start to a supercharged ensemble that goes back to back on a smack of a single. Light strings, horns and an intimidating percussive accompaniment make the track a suspenseful and refined addition that sounds incredibly reminiscent of any instrumental from Star Wars. It’s also host to a striking medley pop culture references, alluding to Star Wars, Dr. Seuss and even Swae Lee. JID’s forceful bars analogize himself to a Jedi with the mind tricks, and “Costa Rica” later closes on a similarly hefty Ski Mask the Slump God verse that likens himself to the infamous Darth Vader, Lord of the Sith.

“1993” is a modernized take on classic boom-bap tracks. It coasts and teeters from bar to bar as Smino, J. Cole, JID, Cozz and Doctur Dot switch it up and keep the joint hot. References to smoking and dealing are plentiful in this track, including the eccentric bar “Since 1993 I’ve been smoking weed, ask about me” from Buddy.

JID delivers a fierce, bopping and dynamic verse on “Rembrandt… Run It Back”, setting the stage for a calculated yet hopping verse from J. Cole that links together nicely. The pair take resounding and powerful pot shots at parallel rappers and their crews in repeated slick fashion. Then, Vince Staples comes in for the kill shot with what might be my favorite guest appearance on the album. It’s quick, but thankfully doesn’t overstay its welcome and the track ends on a perfectly polished cut.

Once again, I love the delivery and heart of Ari Lennox’s singing on “Got Me,” but Ty Dolla $ign’s hook is chafing and completely kills the vibe. Conversely, Dreezy’s part fits seamlessly and her rapping keeps the track lively.

The previously released “Middle Child” makes an appearance on Revenge of the Dreamers III, too. It’s an immaculate song, with the instrumental matching Cole’s flow switching, thematically contrasting the old rap game and the new. Its perilous, impending bass and horns are endlessly invigorating. Each verse is stone cold, and it’s the first song this year that made me ask if I should start taking Cole more seriously.

Cole’s own bars consistently impress throughout the project and show that he’s not slowing down. If anything, Dreamville as a collective are only getting better. The remarkable production quality is there and is mostly in-house. The name brand is rising. And if there’s something that J. Cole is trying to tell everyone, it may just be that kings should just make their own kingdoms.
Cory Koehler is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at ck594@cornell.edu.