J.I.D – “The Forever Story” review

This is the 3rd full-length album from Atlanta emcee J.I.D. Emerging in 2010 off his debut mixtape Cakewalk & joined the Spillage Village collective lead by the EARTHGANG around that same time frame, he dropped 2 more mixtapes as well as then an EP after that & signed to J. Cole’s very own Interscope Records imprint Dreamville Records in 2017. He has since made himself home there with The Never Story & DiCaprio 2, but is returning after 4 long years in the form of The Forever Story.

After the melodic “Galaxy” intro, the first song “Raydar” kicks off the album with a heavy bass-line & some hi-hats provided by Nonstop da Hitman talking about how “when it rains, it pours” prior to the beat switching up into more dramatic saying he’ll “steal the cattle then burn the farm”. “Dance Now” however samples “Yoel’s Niggun” by Zusha talking about making ‘em dance with his 9 whereas “Crack Sandwich” takes a more rugged route acknowledging that you can tell that he never had shit.

The EARTHGANG tags along for the KAYTRANADA/JD Beck-laced “Can’t Punk Me” reminding everything that nothing will stop them leading into Baby Tate & 21 Savage coming into the picture for the chipmunk soul/trap banger “Surround Sound” produced by DJ Scheme talking about putting the rap game on their backs & snatching crowns. “Kody Blu 31” incorporates a crooning sample in the mix encouraging listeners to swang on, but then the Lil Durk-assisted “Bruddanem” shoots for a more mellow aesthetic thanks to DJ Khalil talking about loyalty.

Meanwhile on “Sistanem”, we have J.I.D over some spacious boom bap production describing the tour life leading into the romance-driven “Can’t Make U Change” that starts off with a funky instrumental from Dreamville in-house producer Elite & switches into a melodic vocal loop. “Stars” opens up with a hazy BADBADNOTGOOD beat & J.I.D talking about having his goals set with E. Jones changing it up into boom bap turf as well as a stellar Yasiin Bey verse for the outro while “Just in Time” with Lil Wayne takes a more symphonic approach talking about having the time today.

“Money” throws a guitar & some live drums courtesy of Khrysis into the mix confessing that’s all he really needs while the song “Better Days” weaves some piano chords into the chord talking about balancing the highs & lows. The closer “Lauder Too” is a futuristic sequel to a highlight off The Never Story laced by James Blake & Thundercat with the bonus cut “2007” ends the album is a 7 & a half minute epic looking back on J.I.D’s life throughout the past 15 years & it’s a shame that the sample couldn’t get cleared because it’s a great choice for a closer.

I’ve gone on record numerous times saying that J.I.D’s the future of Dreamville & if The Forever Story doesn’t further prove that, then I don’t know what to tell you because it’s a great sequel to his full-length debut & I’ll even say it’s arguably better than The Never Story. I admire that he comes through with more in-depth stories throughout, the production is incredibly dynamic & the feature list is pretty tight.

Score: 4.5/5

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Bas – “[BUMP] Pick Me Up” review

This is the 2nd EP from French emcee Bas. Breaking out onto the scene with his debut mixtape Quarter Water Raised Me a little over a decade ago, he eventually signed to J. Cole’s very own Interscope Records imprint Dreamville Records at the beginning of 2014 & his full-length debut Last Winter a couple months after. His sophomore effort Too High to Riot would go on to become one of the best albums that Dreamville has ever put out, but his last album Milky Way wound up being a bit of a mixed bag for me. That being said, I was very much looking forward to [BUMP] Pick Me Up given the singles he teased us with.

“[Eyes on You]” with Galimatias is a decently spacey R&B duet that kicks off the EP taking about being entranced by one another while the song “[Admire Her]” with Gunna of course goes into rubbery trap territory describing their admiration for bitches who be fully loaded & it’s slightly better than what we heard at the beginning. The penultimate track “[The Jackie]” with J. Cole & Lil Tjay finds the trio over a melodic yet bouncy instrumental from T-Minus telling motherfuckers to stop playing with them & “[The Others]” ends the EP with a peppy ballad encouraging listeners to be grateful for all they have.

Even though [BUMP] Pick Me Up happens to be significantly shorter than Milky Way, I happen to think it’s a tad bit more superior than Bas’ last album & certainly fits as a short batch of summertime jams. The production is a lot more fun & the performances from the features alongside Bas himself are a lot more catchier.

Score: 3.5/5

Dreamville Records – “D-Day” review

This is the 4th showcase compilation from Dreamville Records. Founded in 2007 by J. Cole & his manager Ibrahim Hamad, the label has proven itself to be a dominant force in the mainstream hip hop world for the past decade with the Revenge of the Dreamers trilogy even though the last installment was a bit of a disappointment. However after giving a 24 hour notice & with Dreamville Festival returning this weekend, the crew is having DJ Drama host D-Day.

“Stick” by J.I.D, J. Cole & Sheck Wes finds the trio over a triumphant araabMUZIK instrumental talking about being strapped whereas the “Ghetto Gods Freestyle” by the EARTHGANG & 2 Chainz goes into a more skeletal direction even though I do enjoy the battle bars. “Lifestyle” by Bas & A$AP Ferghas a lot more meat on the bone thanks to Cole behind the boards with both MCs talking about the lives they live currently leading into the jazzy “Starting 5” by Cozz, Lute & Omen talking about having shooters.

Meanwhile on “Coming Down”, we get a full blown Ari Lennox solo cut asking when her mans is coming over a sample of Mary J. Bilge’s rendition of ”I’m Goin’ Down” just before “Hair Salon” by Cozz, G Perico & Reason finds the trio over a psychedelic Chuck Inglish beat pondering why anyone would talk shit about them. “Freedom of Speech” by J. Cole goes into chipmunk soul territory with the help of Jake One talking about the energy switching whenever he pops up, but then “Blackberry Sap” is yet another Ari Lennox solo cut that I find to be inferior to “Coming Down”.

“Like Wine” by Lute comes through with a dusty boom bap banger full of braggadocio while “Jozi Flows” by Bas & the EARTHGANG works in a flute to talk about being misunderstood. “Barry from Simpson” by J.I.D & 2 Chainz mixes some horns with snares encouraging listeners to get shit done while “Everybody Ain’t Shit” by the EARTHGANG follows it up with a fun “fuck you” anthem.

The song “Ballin’ in Newport” by Omen over a piano instrumental from Ging & !llmind while the “Big Trouble” by Cozz comes through with an impressive freestyle accompanied by samples from Doug E. Fresh, David Porter & The Trammps. The whole thing ends with “Heaven’s EP”, where Cole freestyles over the “Pipe Down” instrumental & killed it harder than Drake did.

Even though I honestly didn’t know what to expect from this compilation, I actually happen to like it more than Revenge of the Dreamers III. The production’s much better, they relied less on features given how inconsistent they were almost 3 years back & the whole roster come through with improved performances too.

Score: 3.5/5

EARTHGANG – “Ghetto Gods” review

This is the 4th full-length album from Atlanta duo EARTHGANG. Consisting of Olu & WowGr8, the pair started out a little over a decade ago dropping 3 mixtapes along with 2 albums & an EP independently before J. Cole signed them to his Interscope Records imprint Dreamville Records in 2017. This resulted in a trilogy of EPs leading up to their major label debut Mirrorland, which revealed themselves to be one of the best artists that the label has to offer. They went on to give their Spillage Village collective some shine by dropping their 4th album Spilligion on Dreamville the next year but now, they’re back in effect with the long-awaited Ghetto Gods.

After the “GLOW” intro, the title track opens the album with the duo talking about how anyone who thinks they can fuck with them are crazy on top of a symphonic trap instrumental whereas the Future-assisted “BILLI” is pretty much their own “Life is Good” down to the way it’s structured except this is way more exciting. [J.I.D] & J. Cole tag along for the funky “WATERBOYZ” talking about getting this money & fucking the fame leading into the “HEY BOO” interlude.

Meanwhile on “AMEN”, we have EARTHGANG coming through with a decent R&B flavored slow jam just before “ALL EYES ON ME” takes a cloudier route with the help of JetsonMade talking about wanting their homies free. “LIE TO ME” follows it up with some intoxicating synth melodies asking to be true but then after the “JEANS” interlude, the duo bring Baby Tate into the picture for “BLACK PEARLS” trying to brag about their women getting new bodies & falling flat on their faces.

After the “NEEZY’S WALK” interlude, the lead single “American Horror Story” returns to funk turf expressing their desire to be free while “POWER” comes off as an passionate pro-black anthem. After the “ZAZA” skit, the song “SMOKE SUM” goes into boom bap territory to talk about blazing some trees while the penultimate track “STRONG FRIENDS” is a fiery ode to being mentally healthy. “RUN TOO” ends the album with a spacey banger talking about what a life it’s been for them.

It took them a little over 2 years to finally give Ghetto Gods to us & at the end of the day, I like it a little bit more than Mirrorland. Few songs I could’ve done without, but the whole concept of finding God in you is very well thought out & their production game is continuing to progressively improve.

Score: 4/5

Cozz – “Fortunate” review

Cozz is a 27 year old rapper from Los Angeles, California who caught the attention of J. Cole in 2013 with the single “Dreams” & eventually signed to the North Carolina veteran’s Interscope Records imprint Dreamville Records. His full-length debut Cozz & Effect would come out the next year, which was followed up with the debut mixtape Nothin’ Personal as well as the sophomore album Effected & the 2nd mixtape Aftermath of My Dreams. But after dropping a couple singles throughout these last couple months, Cozz is finishing off Dreamville’s year with his debut EP.

The title track is a cool guitar/trap ballad about being blessed that he’s still alive whereas the gospel vibes of “Higher Power” fits really well given the subject matter of belonging to God. “Juice Bars” has one of the weaker instrumentals on the EP trying to rip off D4L’s “Laffy Taffy” even though the boastful lyricism is ok, but then “So Am I” has a more nocturnal sound talking about he & his boys being witit.

I really dig the boom bap production on the song “Addicted” even though I don’t care for the thirsty lyricism while the penultimate track “Control Problems” with YG weaves in an uneventful trap beat despite the lyrics about letting God handling their issues. That being said: I think “Cry” is a powerful closer looking back on his parents domestically abusing each other & the cops coming to their house.

Now this is far from being one of the best EPs I’ve heard all year or anything like that, but a good majority of Fortunate is pretty solid. Cozz is really starting to elevate on the mic & the production game is starting to improve as well. Very curious to hear where he’ll go with his next album.

Score: 3.5/5

Lute – “Gold Mouf” review

Lute is a 32 year old rapper from Charlotte, North Carolina who came up almost a decade ago as a member of the short-lived Forever FC as well as his debut mixtape West1996 a little bit after their disbandment. This would catch the attention of local legend J. Cole & he would sign Lute to his Interscope Records imprint Dreamville Records the very day the label dropped their 2nd showcase compilation Revenge of the Dreamers II in December of 2015. Fast forward to his full-length debut a couple years later being a respectable sequel to his breakout tape but now, he’s enlisting Rapper Big Pooh to oversee this sophomore album of his.

“100” is a dreamy boom bap opener about keeping it real whereas “G.E.D. (Gettin’ Every Dolla)” has a bit of a lush trap instrumental speaking on making the money. “Myself” addresses being extroverted with a meditative Trox beat, but then “Be Okay” has a bit of an R&B-flare optimistically looks forward to the future in the midst of dark times.

Meanwhile on “Eye to Eye”, we have Cozz tagging along for a piano ballad about how real recognizes real just before “Changes” vibrantly details that he’ll never switch up like a lot of other cats did. “Ghetto Love” is a decent romance cut that I can do without whereas “Amen” with fucking Little Brother gets on the boom bap tip takes another whack at it doing a much better job with it’s spiritual references.

Saba comes into the picture for “Birdsong” to talk about living how they want over an alluring vocal sample leading into the dusty, boastful “Flossin’” featuring Shady Records’ very own Westside Boogie & produced by Marco Polo. The song “Life” vulnerably details how he handled the hurdles 2020 threw at us while the penultimate track “Overnight” is a guitar ballad reminder that Rome wasn’t build in a day. “Crashing” serves as a cloudy finisher saying he’s been stuck in his ways & been in control of his own faith.

For anyone who enjoyed the West1996 duology, I think you’re gonna like Gold Mouf just as much if not even more. Big Pooh brings in a gang load of fresh faces behind the boards to demonstrate their talents, the features are well-picked & Lute’s at his most honest lyrically.

Score: 3.5/5

J. Cole – “The Off-Season” review

This is the long-awaited 6th full-length album from North Carolina rapper, singer/songwriter & producer J. Cole. At this point, I’m pretty sure everyone & their mom knows who dude is. Especially given the universal acclaim of projects like The Warm Up, Friday Night Lights, Born Sinner & my personal favorite: 2014 Forest Hills Drive. However, his last 2 albums 4 Your Eyez Only & K.O.D. were both released to mixed reception. Matter of fact: my review for K.O.D. is amongst my most controversial. I don’t get shit for it anymore but at the time when I gave it a 6/10, Cole stans were on my ass for the next 2-3 weeks. Even to this day: my opinions on that & 4YEO haven’t changed at all but that’s not the point. I was given hope for The Off-Season given his feature run (most notably “Family & Loyalty” off the final Gang Starr album One of the Best Yet) along with his L.A. Leakers freestyle just a couple of days ago.

The opener “95 South” pays homage to Cam’ron’s “Killa Season” from J. Cole’s flashy lyricism to even The Heatmakerz-influenced production provided by Boi-1da. Cam’ron himself makes an appearance during the intro & outro. Even the “Put Yo Hood Up” sample during the last 40 seconds is pretty cool. The next song “amari” has a more mystical feel to it instrumentally with T-Minus & Timbaland as Cole while the track “My Life” serves as a sequel to “a lot” off i am > i was from it’s soulful trap production co-produced by Jake One & Wu10 down to the surprise 21 Savage & even the subject matter.

“Applying Pressure” jumps into boom bap territory going on about how you just gotta flex sometimes whereas “Punchin’ the Clock” details teetering between enlightened & insanity over a Tae Beast instrumental that has a bit of a ghostly yet jazzy feel to it. He later incorporates a fucking Willie Hutch sample on “100 Mil” talk about how he’s been getting better over time & even though the instrumental on “Pride is the Devil” is somewhat similar to “Can’t Decide” off Aminé’s last album Limbo, I do enjoy Cole & Lil Baby’s takes on egoism quite a bit.

Meanwhile on “Let Go My Hand”, we get an instrumental from DJ Dahi & Frank Dukes that almost takes me back to 1999-era Joey Bada$$ with lyrics about making sure his son is equipped when he gets older before “interlude” incorporates a Tommy Parker sample to talk about coming a long way. “The Climb Back” has a well-flipped[Brief Encounter sample throughout with Cole rapping about being assessed as one of the all-time greats while the penultimate track “Close” surprisingly samples MF DOOM’s “Valerian Root” as the lyrics talk advise being patient with God. Then the album finishes off emotionally with “Hunger on the Hillside”, which is Cole jumping on some strings to say he’s gonna be the same man when he retires.

Although I’d have to say my current Album of the Year so far is a toss-up between Death & the Magician or Haram, I’m not gonna deny that this is hands down the most consistent J. Cole album I’ve heard since Forest Hills Drive. He sounds like he has a fire under his ass performance-wise & it’s refreshing to hear him bringing outside collaborators into the fold. If he keeps it up, It’s a Boy & The Fall Off could both shape up to be epic finales in his career.

Score: 4/5

EARTHGANG – “Mirrorland” review

The EARTHGANG is a duo from Atlanta, Georgia consisting of Olu & WowGr8 that’s been at it since the very beginning of the decade. They dropped 3 mixtapes, an EP & 2 studio albums independently until J. Cole signed them to Dreamville Records in 2017. They promoted this new association with a decent trilogy of EPs & not even 2 months after appearing on Revenge of the Dreamers III, the time has come for their highly-anticipated major label debut.

The opener “LaLa Challenge” finds the duo flexing over an instrumental that starts off slow, but then breaks into a faster pace by the end. The next song “UP” brush off their doubters over an oracular instrumental while the track “Top Down” challenges their opponents over a bassy trap beat. The song “Bank” of course talks about the paper over an immense instrumental while the track “Proud of Up” with Young Thug sees the 3 paying tribute to women all across the world over a gleaming beat.

The song “This Side” talks about paranoia over a settle yet dark instrumental while the track “Swivel” that originally appeared on Revenge of the Dreamers III a couple months ago talks about overcoming their insecurities over a funky beat. The song “Avenue” gets confessional over a groovy instrumental while the track “Tequila” with T-Pain of all people is a dedication to the titular alcoholic beverage over a Latin instrumental.

The song “Blue Moon” gets sensual over an instrumental with an amazingly charming vibe to it while the track “Trippin’” with Kehlani is of course a lust anthem with a playful instrumental. The song “Stuck” finds the duo simping over a boom bap beat with a down-tuned guitar lead while the penultimate track “Fields” talks about never changing over a MOSTLY skeletal beat. The album then finishes with “Wings”, where the EARTHGANG talk about their hustle over a psychedelic beat.

Personally, this is the duo’s best work yet. The instrumentals are decent, but the hooks & the verses are mostly pretty great. If you wanna hear Johnny & Dot continue to hone their unique style, then give this a listen.

Score: 3.5/5

Dreamville Records – “Revenge of the Dreamers III” review

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Dreamville Records is a record label founded in 2007 by J. Cole & his manager Ibrahim Hamad. They released their first showcase compilation in 2014 & followed it up at the tail end of 2015. But now with an ever-growing roster, they’re coming through with a 3rd showcase comp that was recorded in only 10 days.

The album opens up with “Under the Sun”, where J. Cole gets with Lute & DaBaby flex over a soulful trap beat. The next song “Down Bad” by Cole, Bas, JID, the EARTHGANG & Young Nudy talk about their origins over a Bomb Squad-inspired instrumental from Pluss while the track “LamboTruck” by Cozz & Reason talk about being underappreciated over a decently relaxing instrumental. The song “Swivel” is a chilled out preview of the EARTHGANG’s upcoming 3rd album Mirrorland while the track “Oh Wow…Swerve” sees Cole talking about his current spot over an atmospheric beat, but then Maxo Kream talks about trapping over a gritty trap beat. The song “Don’t Hit Me Now” by Bas, Buddy, Cozz & Yung Baby Tate spits that gun talk over a mellow beat while the track “Wells Fargo” by Buddy, the EARTHGANG & JID talks about robbing a bank over a vibrant beat.

The song “Sleep Deprived” by Lute, Mez & Omen talks about coming up from nothing over a somewhat funky boom bap beat while the track “Self Love” by Ari Lennox, Baby Rose & Bas is an ode to just that over a mellow beat. The song “Ladies, Ladies, Ladies” by JID & T.I. is basically the modern version of JAY-Z’s “Girls, Girls, Girls” while the track “Costa Rica” by Bas, Buddy, JID, Jace, Mez, Reese LAFLARE, Ski Mask the Slump God & Smokepurpp sees everyone getting boastful over a lavish trap beat. The song “1993” by Buddy, Cole, Cozz, the EARTHGANG, JID & Smino talks about alcohol over a fittingly intoxicating boom bap beat while the track “Remembrandt…Run It Back” sees JID & Cole paying homage to the iconic YoungBloodZ joint “Damn!”, but I also really love how the beat switches from a druggy vibe to something more energetic as soon as Vince Staples starts rapping.

The song “Sunset” by Cole & Young Nudy fire back at those who want smoke over an eerie trap beat while the track “Got Me” by Ari Lennox, Dreezy, Omen & Ty$ is a decently moody love anthem. The song “Middle Child” is pretty much J. Cole taking a jab at doing a Drake joint while the penultimate track “PTSD” by Mereba, Deante Hitchcock & Omen sees the 3 talking about simply just kicking it over a fitting instrumental. The compilation then finishes with “Sacrifices”, where Cole & the EARTHGANG team up with Smino & Saba to talk about their sacrifices over a funky beat.

I don’t know what else to say beyond that, this was disappointingly mediocre. The production was just decent & while I can appreciate they brought outside features in on this one, but it doesn’t help the fact that there are WAY too many cooks the kitchen.

Score: 2.5/5

J.I.D – “DiCaprio 2” review

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J.I.D is a 28 year old rapper from Atlanta, Georgia who released his 1st mixtape Cakewalk in 2010 & joined EARTHGANG’s Spillage Village collective that same year. He dropped 2 more mixtapes as well as then an EP (to which this serves as a sequel to) after that & signed to J. Cole’s Interscope Records imprint Dreamville Records last year, dropping his full-length debut The Never Story just a few weeks after the deal. But now as we reach the end of November, he’s delivering his highly anticipated sophomore album: a sequel to his 2015 EP.

After the “Frequency Change” intro, we go into the first song “Slick Talk”. Here, J.I.D. brags about his skills over a haunting beat. The track “Westbrook with A$AP Ferg is a charismatic club banger with some nocturnal bells throughout while the song “Off Deez” with J. Cole sees the 2 viciously attacking their critics over a decent trap beat. The track “151 Rum” vividly describes life in the streets over a trap beat with a prominent vocal sample while the song “Off da Zoinkys” is an anti-drug anthem with a wavy instrumental. The track “Workin’ Out” vents about depression even with his newfound success over a prominently beautiful sample of Helen Merrill’s 1954 rendition of “Don’t Explain” while the song “Tiiied” with 6LACK & Ella Mai is a drab & corny love ballad.

However, the track “Skrawberries (For da Ladies)” does a better job at being romantic than the previous cut does. Especially with the mesmerizing instrumental from J. Cole & the late Mac Miller. The song “Hotbox” with Joey Bada$$ & Method Man is about smoking weed over a punchy piano instrumental rap while the track “Mounted Up” celebrates where he is now over a boom bap beat with some sinister piano chords. The song “Just da Other Day” discusses his rise in the game over a bland trap beat while penultimate track “Despacito Too” angrily talks about being whatever he wants over this murky boom bap beat. The album then finishes with “Hasta Luego”, where J.I.D lets go or his painful past to become the artist he is know over a nocturnal beat from WondaGurl & Cubeatz.

Overall, this is just as solid as The Never Story & I’ll even say it’s better than the first DiCaprio. The production has stepped up for the most part & lyrically, J.I.D continues to prove each & every single one of us that he truly is the future of Dreamville Records.

Score: 3.5/5