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

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

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. Cole – “K.O.D.” review

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With his last album 4 Your Eyez Only being delivered at the end of 2016 & then doing a few features since then, North Carolina rapper/producer J. Cole unexpectedly announced a free show in New York this past Monday. It was there that he performed his 5th full-length album in it’s entirety & went on Twitter shortly after the show to announce that it was coming out for everyone else this weekend. After an intro, we go into the title track. Here, Cole gets in your face about people cramping his style as well as responding to the people saying he should have more features over a murky instrumental. The track “Photograph” has a lame topic about trying to hook up with a random girl he found on social media over a guitar/trap beat while the song “The Cut Off” talks about a disloyal woman over a somber beat.

The track “ATM” energetically talks about his fame & wealth over a laidback beat while the song “Motiv8” talks about moving on despite having all these demons over some funky bass. The track “Kevin’s Heart” goes into the point of view of a drug addict over a smooth trap beat, but it’s really corny to me. The song “Brackets” talks about his success over a smooth beat & the track “Once an Addict” talks about his mother’s alcoholism over a settle beat. The song “Friends” is basically him pouring his heart out to a drug-addicted friend of his over a gloomy beat while the penultimate track “Window Pain” talks about everything he wants over an atmospheric instrumental. The album closes with “1985” sees Cole is reflecting on his whole life up until this point over a vibraphone-boom bap beat.

While this is definitely better than Cole’s last album, that’s not really saying much. The production & the concept aren’t too bad, but his singing voice & the hooks ruin it for me. I really had hope that J. Cole would bounce back given his features on the new Jeezy album Pressure & the upcoming Royce da 5’9” album Book of Ryan but at the end of the day, this is just another mixed bag for me

Score: 3/5