“Follow your heart. Don’t follow what you’ve been told you’re supposed to do,” Jermaine Lamarr Cole, aka rapper J. Cole, said in an interview. And that’s what he did in this atypical new album.
After his “Revenge Of The Dreamers III” album dropped on July 5, it has remained at the top of the Billboard charts, peaking at the number 1 spot. ROTD3 is the third studio album created by Dreamville, J. Cole’s label which features the rappers Bas, Cozz, Omen, J.I.D, Lute, Earth Gang and J. Cole himself, and singer Ari Lennox all with their own unique sound. In addition to this they invited tons of outside artists and producers including Cleveland rapper Dababy and famous producer Kenny Beats, making it a truly special project.
Because of the uniqueness of each member, each song feels completely unattached from the last. It’s hard to listen to this album as one cohesive project; it’s a much more enjoyable experience if you listen to it as a collection of solo songs rather than an album. Despite this, each song has something different to offer and any fan of hip hop should be able to find a song they enjoy.
The album kicks off with “Under The Sun” which is easily one of my favorite songs from the album. It has a relaxing and melodic beat which uses a gospel sample as the intro. The sample sets the mood for the whole song. On top of that it uses vocals from famous Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar singing, “I woke up for some money” as the chorus. It really brings the whole song together.
J. Cole fittingly takes the first verse of this album, which he made possible through years of his own classic rap albums and slowly assembling the Dreamville team. The lyrics of this first verse are fairly basic and don’t have any particularly deep message. But, he does use some clever word play including at least one double entendre. What he lacks in lyrics he makes up for in every other way—the flow and rhythm of Cole’s verse really brings an upbeat energy and creates an unshakeable anticipation for the rest of the album.
Next is Dreamville rapper Lute who proves his own abilities in this verse. He has a slightly more gritty cadence than Cole, but his fits perfectly with the beat and the overall tone of the song. Even with less experience, he is nearly able to keep up with Cole’s impressive flow. He even drops a couple of really great lyrics, like in the middle of his verse where he raps “I don’t even need a reason, loyalty over treason,” to show his loyalty to Cole and the rest of the label.
The final verse is rapped by North Carolina artist Dababy, a feature no one could have seen coming because of his unique style. It seems like it would be out of place with the Dreamville cast. Despite this, he is able to hold his own against Cole and Lute in this masterpiece.
I am also a big fan of “Self Love” and “Sleep Deprived.” In both these songs there’s a chill beat, and Ari Lenox introduces beautiful vocals with clear RnB and soul influences. It’s incredibly refreshing for a rap album.
“Self Love” has a great message of being confident in yourself and not changing yourself for other people. Ari and the artist Baby Rose take turns singing the hook of the song, “self love is the best love, buy your love is the worst drug…” Ari and Rose have beautifully alternating vocal tones with Ari taking higher notes while Rose focuses on the lower end of the spectrum. Overall it’s a really beautiful song with a beautiful message that even someone who's not a fan of rap could enjoy.
The final gem from this album is a song called “Wells Fargo.” This song has a surprisingly large roster of four rappers, considering the song is only about two minutes. This song is not a lyrical or storytelling masterpiece but its a fun song to listen to and I can’t help but keep coming back to it. Even before the music starts I find myself amused by the intro where the rappers talk in fake wealthy British accents and plan to rob a Wells Fargo bank, saying things like “your grace is that my flame thrower beside you” and “ my lord, my lord, please hand me the bazooka”. Along with the funny undertones of the lyrics, I find the chorus beyond catchy and JID’s flow in the first verse is easily one of the most impressive off the entire album.
Even though I love this album and a lot of the songs on it, like any album there are some songs I don't like at all and I feel like they have no replay ability after the first listen. You may not agree but one of my pet peeves in hip hop is when there’s a beat switch in the middle of a song, instead of one good complete song you end up getting two broken segments of songs with no chemistry whatsoever which makes it nearly impossible for me to listen to more than once.
Because of this I really don’t like the songs “Oh Wow...Swerve” and “Rembrandt...Run It Back.” Ideally these songs would be broken in two separate pieces both of which would be better than them being squished together under the guise of being one song. However if you were to break them in half, both halves would still need significant work to be able to be considered complete songs.
Overall this is a great project and I highly recommend everyone listens to it at least once. Even if you don’t like most of the songs, chances are there will be at least one which you will enjoy. Along with the music, Dreamville uploaded a documentary showing their process in making the album on their YouTube channel. The documentary shows the artists and producers writing and practicing lyrics, creating beats and getting to know each other. In only 10 days the Dreamville team and those they invited created about a hundred songs then narrowed it down to the 18 best ones which appeared on the album.