Revenge of the Dreamers & the Reinvention of the Rap Syndicate
Evan Dale // July 13, 2019
Largely unforeseen, the reinvention of the rap syndicate has been one of 2019’s most intriguing musical storylines. Opposed to hip-hop’s collective past where lyricists, vocalists, and producers traditionally began in group projects, eventually sprouting into individual careers, hip-hop group projects of the current cloth are being patched together from already well-established solo acts. Somewhat reminiscent to Lil Wayne-led 2009 masterpiece, We Are Young Money, though now with a more diverse scale of talented acts involved, a number of hip-hop squadrons have this year gone on to release a project under the collective banner.
In April, out of Chicago came You Can’t Sit With Us – the first collective album from longtime friends and collaborators, Pivot Gang. Though less known as a sum, their individual pieces are some of hip-hop and R&B’s most inventive and experimental names. Saba, Smino, Ravyn Lenae, Joseph Chilliams, Jean Deaux, and Monte Booker fold their risk-taking nature in with the conscious and impeccably thought-out storytelling ability of other Midwest legends. Most notably, Mick Jenkins plays an integral role in the album, and the outcome is one of the more timeless, indefinable, lyrically-endowed hip-hop projects in modern memory.
Just a week or so later, Joey Bada$$-led Beast Coast dropped their debut group project. Expectedly violent and intense, it makes detailed and fluid use of the New York hip-hop tradition while undoubtedly a work of the East Coast modernist cut, drawing into the mix The Underachievers and Flatbush Zombies. Lyricism and energy come first, low-fidelity production a near second.
But at the peak of summer, amongst myriad collective releases in the 2019 hip-hop circuit, there is little doubt that one has quickly come to reign supreme. Everything about Revenge of the Dreamers lll is ridiculous. The world already knows that. It’s the number one global album, and by the helm of a number one global musical force, it should be.
But before we dive in, though nothing should be taken away from anyone involved in the 10-day Dreamville experiment gone horribly, horribly right, respect and thanks needs to be shown first to both Pivot Gang and Beast Coast for setting the reverse rap syndicate wheels in motion. Would Revenge of the Dreamers lll be experiencing its current success without its predecessor 2019 syndicate projects? Probably. But, in absence of You Can’t Sit With Us and Beast Coast’s backing as alternative success stories, would it become the ultimate sparkplug for what is sure to be a barrage of collective works in the near future? Probably not. It’s too good. It’s unrepeatable. But it is the benchmark that the collective hip-hop world needs.
Steadily amassing an arsenal of some of the world’s most talented lyricists and vocalists, J. Cole’s Dreamville has been working for years relatively under the radar. Though always a respected powerhouse, there was never a Dreamville showcase that could have prepared the world for Revenge of the Dreamers lll. One of the primary reasons for the album’s seeming surprise and abruptness is simple: Nearly everyone on the label has exploded onto the global scene within the last calendar year. Sure, J. Cole has been a top-three emcee for a decade, and Bas has earned some serious respect – playing a sort of Schoolboy Q role to Cole’s as Kendrick Lamar, but until all too recently, the incredible talent of Dreamville has gone relatively unnoticed. But, with EARTHGANG’s 2018 Royalty, Cozz’s 2018 Effected, JID’s 2018 DiCaprio 2, and Ari Lennox’s Spring 2019 Shea Butter Baby, Dreamville’s up-and-comers are now shining on an international stage.
But the story goes deeper than that. Revenge of the Dreamers lll, though definitely a Dreamville production, is a more wide-spread exhibition of musical nuance and endless talent than any sole label could hope to unearth alone. The project folds into the cloth modern supercreatives outside the label’s bounds: Smino, Saba, REASON, Childish Major, Maxo Cream, DaBaby, Vince Staples, Ty Dolla $ign. It also includes a potent verse on Ladies, Ladies, Ladies from Atlanta legend, TI – an idol to certainly everyone else involved in the project, shining respect on the past. It is incredibly diverse and indefinable on a series of sliding scales.
Some tracks are brutalist hip-hop deliveries, bringing into the mix a barrage of verses from across the impossibly talented roster. JID, J. Cole, Dreezy, Buddy and EARTHGANG’s Johnny Venus and Doctor Dot stamp Revenge of the Dreamers lll with endless lyrical gunfire. Everyone is keen to JID’s presence on Down Bad and J. Cole’s Middle Child, but the album is bubbling over with innumerable verses worth further dissection. Immerse yourself in Dreezy’s verse on Got Me, Buddy’s verse on Costa Rica, and EARTHGANG’s give and take on Swivel.
Perhaps the most intriguing rap-traditional track comes by way of Cozz, TDE’s new signee REASON, and long-time experimentalist producer, Childish Major. Lambo Truck weaves an intricate and explosive storyline of both lower tier artists working together to rob one another’s labels, while simultaneously doing a great job of creating some sparks – both collaborative and combative – between what are unquestionably the two strongest hip-hop labels in the modern scene: Dreamville and Top Dawg Entertainment.
Other songs carry more low-key vibes, drawing in smooth and sultry vocal deliveries from Ari Lennox, Mereba, DaVionne, Guapdad 4000, and Ty Dolla $ign. Listen to the R&B and neo-soul-inspired hooks on Self Love, PTSD, Sleep Deprived, Don’t Hit Me Right Now, and Got Me.
Others still are completely experimental, explosive, and exonerating Dreamville of any stylistic boundaries existing in current music. With so much talent involved at such a risk-taking time in music history, it’s no surprise that Revenge of the Dreamers lll exists almost sans stylistic delineation, but the fact that the project flows so smoothly even in firm genre’s absence is what’s most remarkable. Especially when considering the violent absurdity of Wells Fargo or the skit-esque old-school dynamism of the aptly named 1993.
As a whole, Revenge of the Dreamers lll is the work of a top-tier hip-hop collective and their incredibly well-connected friends. But it’s also much more than the kind of project that is sure to reignite hip-hop’s storied past of collaborative albums. It’s an hour-long exhibition of what’s possible when hip-hop and that storied past reaches past its fading boundaries and into a surrounding framework of fierce stylistic, geographic, and experimental creativity.