Hip hop, more than any other genre of music, seems to have a strong connection to sports. Dances become touchdown celebrations, being a part of a clever line on a rap song is most athletes’ “I Made It” moment, and several hip-hop legends have either been part-owners of teams (Will Smith, Jay-Z, Nelly) or played a big role in the rebranding of a franchise (Who can forget Drake officially releasing the new Raptors jerseys during OVO Fest?). Hell, it took 1 tweet from Lebron James for Kendrick Lamar to bless the world with unreleased music just this month. Hip-hop and sports go together like weed and superhero movies. You can enjoy them separately, but its impossible to deny that enjoying one makes the other one significantly better.
That is why I wanted to mix the two in an attempt to write up a scouting report, of sorts, for one of the newest dynasties in hip-hop, Dreamville Records. Featuring MVP candidate, J. Cole, and a star-studded line-up of Bas, Omen, and Cozz, Dreamville has inspired many people to chase their dreams (including attempts at saving the world), and changed the landscape of hip-hop. Along with new-comers Lute and Ari Lennox, Dreamville is set to have a huge year. For the unfortunate few who have yet to give the entire roster a listen, this article should help give you a feel of what to expect when you improve your life and check them out. There’s also a Dreamville mix included at the bottom of the article as a starting point for those who want to familiarize themselves with their music. 2016 might just be the year you all decide to stop sleeping on the team that you’ve been dreaming about.
Bodies of Work: The Come Up, The Warm Up, Friday Night Lights, Cole World: The Sideline Story, Born Sinner, 2014 Forest Hills Drive
- His story of coming up as a rapper is Hollywood-worthy
- Versatility as a lyricist and as a producer is incredible
- 3-time platinum album rapper
- 3-time classic mixtape dropper
- Makes an uncomfortable amount of shit/fart references
- Never made “shit scary” in February
The man that started it all for Dreamville, J. Cole is carving his own lane in hip-hop and has already achieved the status of one of the leaders of the new generation.
As the face of the crew, J. Cole reflects a little of what they all have to offer in his music. The hunger, passion, honesty, vulnerability, and soul in his music is something that all the members of the crew share in their art. Even after all the success he has seen up until now, he always has an underdog mentality, and has kept his whole team grounded instead of getting lost in the allure of fame.
The unrivaled leader of the team, J. Cole is making sure that the rest of his teammates get the attention and support they deserve. Never one to ballhog, he has yet to release a body work since his platinum album “2014 Forest Hills Drive”. Instead, he has been busy touring the world with his Dreamville Crew, and played a part in releasing their 2nd collaborative album, “Revenge of the Dreamers 2”.
When it’s all said and done, J. Cole will probably be my favourite rapper of all-time, so my opinion might be a little biased when I say anybody that hasn’t given him a listen yet deserves to go to prison.
Notable Tracks: All of them. I’m not kidding.
Bodies of Work: Afraid Of Heights, Elephant Eyes
- Produces at a high level
- Cole’s peer from his Therapist days
- Style is a breath of fresh air in this new generation of hip-hop
- Lyrically very strong, raps about social issues and common insecurities
- Named after a horror movie
- Nicknamed ” Turn Down King”, which might immediately turn off fans of the “turn up” generation
Most people were first introduced to Omen around the same time they were introduced to J. Cole, as he stole the show on one of the best songs on The Warm Up, “The Badness”. The Chicago native also had strong showings on Friday Night Lights (Enchanted) and Any Given Sunday (Pity). His first tape, Afraid of Heights, included a Kendrick feature before K-Dot received all his accolades. Long story short, Omen has been low-key killing it for a while now.
He met Cole through a Canibus online forum (before social media exploded, forums were the best way to meet people online with the same interests), and they both have been working closely together ever since. The unofficial 6th man of the team, he is the guy who can do a little bit of everything (his production is VERY underrated), and the guy you can count on to give you a solid 16 no matter what style of song. His lyricism range is crazy; he’s written songs about social media insecurities, being under the shadow of J. Cole, and the games we play in relationships. The fact that he produces his own tracks (mostly) helps him get his message across to the fullest.
Bodies of Work: Quarter Water Raised Me Vol 1/Vol 2, Two Weeks Notice, Last Winter, Too High To Riot
- Unique beats that are rare in hip-hop these days
- Polished flow, even though he hasn’t been rapping for too long
- Open-minded lyrics mixed with catchy hooks
- “Fiends”merch is fire
- His real name is Abbas
- His drug-induced poetry might not be as appealing to a white collar lifestyle
- Didn’t pick me for the “Too High To Riot” listening session in Toronto
The younger brother of El Presidente himself (Dreamville manager Ibrahim Hamad), Bas earned his spot on the Dreamville crew in 2013 around the time Quarter Water Raised me Vol 2 was released. The tape is full of potential, and to this day is one of my favourite mixtapes in terms of beat choices. Most people first heard him on the Born Sinner bonus track, “New York Times”, where he teamed up with Cole and New York legend 50 Cent
His tape, Last Winter, helped him go on tour, and he partnered up with TDE rapper Ab-Soul to go on an international tour as well. Spending most of his time on the road (he also opened for J. Coles worldwide tour in 2015) he would be justified for not having more music, but luckily for us hip-hop fans, that was not the case at all.
He released his 2nd studio album, “Too High To Riot”, earlier this month. Personally, it is my favourite body of work so far in 2016, and shows the evolution of Bas as a rapper. His flow is on point on every song, and his lyrics have never been more clear and full of depth. If J. Cole is the MVP of the team, then Bas is trying to make sure he’s the best 2nd option in the rap game.
Bodies of Work: Cozz & Effect, Nothin’ Personal
- Sounds hungrier than Tom Hanks in Castaway
- established a notable style at a young age
- Clever lyrics on heavy beats
- His producer, Meez, is one of the best young producers in the game
- Has a tendency to leave your ass in the parking lot
- Nobody can tell if his rap style is East Coast or West Coast (he hails from L.A)
Unlike the rest of the rappers on Dreamville, Cozz comes from the West Coast, and he brings all the attitude that the West is known for with him. Supremely confident in his ability, he shreds beats with his sharp lyrics, and all it takes is one verse for anybody to see exactly why J. Cole picked up a 21 year old rapper with no albums out as fast as he did. With bars like “The Knife got me feelin’ like I’m Superman/But praying I don’t run into a crip tonight (kryptonite)/That orange Nike sign lookin’ red in a different light” Cozz, like the rest of Dreamville, is able to tell a story through his words and offer more than clever punchlines…but does he ever have a plethora of clever punchlines. One quick example: “You know Cozz be after the bill like Cosby”. Damn.
In my opinion, Cozz was the Rookie of the Year in 2014, and it wasn’t even remotely close. To this day, I push Cozz & Effect on everyone I meet who has yet to hear about Cozz. The mixtape has the kind of longevity that you rarely see from a debut body of work by such a young artist. People like to throw out the “classic” tag easily these days, but Cozz & Effect is one of the few mixtapes you can stamp as a certified classic. He fills the peoples need for the popular trap-influenced beats but attaches some of the most clever and precise lyrics to every song, giving himself a unique sound that not many rappers have been able to come close to in the last few years.
His follow-up tape, “Nothin’ Personal”, really showed the world that the Committee (his personal crew) is ready for the big lights. His producer, Meez, absolutely ripped it as the head producer, and Cozz was able to show versatility and dip his foot in different styles of hip-hop. The Damian Lillard of the rap game, Cozz is showing the world what he can do and that he will leave his impact on the rap game when it’s all said and done. That debut album can’t come soon enough.
Bodies Of Work: West1996
- Hottest rapper out of Charlotte (according to Cole)
- old-school flow on older-school beats
- Referenced Ivan Ooze on a track
- Only had 1 song on Revenge of the Dreamers 2
- His sophomore tape (West1996 Pt. II) has had several push-backs, but should be ready for a 2016 release.
You wouldn’t be alone if you had no idea who Lute was, but hopefully by the end of 2016, every hip-hop fan will know his name. J. Cole showed him love on tour, shouting him out during his 2014 Forest Hills Drive Tour as being the hottest rapper out of Charlotte. Shortly after, Dreamville officially signed him, adding yet another rapper with meaningful lyrics, clear-cut flow, and passionate delivery.
Most people (myself included) heard him on Revenge of the Dreamers 2 for the first time, on his “Still Slummin'” track. Rapping effortlessly about the trials and tribulations of holding on to your dreams over a soothing J Dilla instrumental, that song not only became one of my immediate favourites off the album, but also led me to search the internet for more Lute music. In the words of the great Notorious B.I.G, I needed someone to gimme the Lute.
His last (and only) tape, West1996, was released in 2012, and was received very well by those who were following the rapper. His style is undeniable, a homage to a different era of hip-hop. Unfortunately, to get more music from him we will have to wait for West1996 Pt. II. Being 4 years apart, and having the support of the entire Dreamville crew this time, Lute is set to drop a follow-up that every hip-hop fan should be waiting on. If “Still Slummin'” was any example, he’s ready to make the jump and begin contributing to the Dream(ville)-Team.
- Hypnotizing voice
- Talented song-writer
- Brings a style to Dreamville that they previously lacked
- NC-bred, like Lute and Cole
- Has very little music available publicly
- No official word on when her first body of work will be released through Dreamville, although sources say it will be soon
Finding information on Ari Lennox was like trying to uncover a government conspiracy, except with fewer YouTube links of choppy cellphone videos. After finding her Soundcloud, I was able to give her music a proper listen, and was left with 1 glaring thought: Damn, would a J. Cole/Ari Lennox collaboration be amazing.
Singing over captivating piano keys and smooth guitar riffs, Ari Lennox is clearly not lacking in talent. Her voice is strong, her delivery is full of a calm energy, and the production itself is so vast in style and sound, that it’s hard to label it as just one genre.
Like Lute, she was recently signed to Dreamville, and was put under the spotlight officially following her appearance on Revenge of the Dreamers 2. Her song, “Backseat”, featuring Cozz, is almost impossible to listen to without having her voice stuck in your head for the rest of the day. She was also featured on Omen’s Elephant Eyes album, but as of now there is no official date for her own body of work releasing under Dreamville. Let’s hope it is soon, because she seems to fit right into the mindset and culture that Dreamville is promoting, and her musical ability is obvious.
By signing Ari, Dreamville is showing their commitment to being one of the top, if not THE top, rap crews in hip-hop. They have a versatile roster full of artists that are hungry, talented, and most importantly, dreamers. Only they know whats to come in the near future, but if there is one guarantee I can make, it is that whatever their next move is will be far from their last. Dreamville is here to stay.
Enjoy this mix that a friend, and Toronto-based producer, made with different songs by the Dreamville crew. Any fan of Dreamville will love it, and hopefully it is able to capture the attention of those of you who have yet to take them in.