Revenge of the Dreamers III listens like a walk through a modern museum of hip-hop, where individuality is framed, flows move like brushstrokes on a Degas, and concepts are tightly woven together like Egyptian silk.
Considering J. Cole’s role as the heart and soul of Dreamville, he plays a massive role here, propping up the record with crossover cuts like “Down Bad” and “Middle Child.” However, what’s most impressive is how in pocket the cast around him is. “Ladies, Ladies, Ladies” is an album standout with breakout star JID and trap vanguard T.I. “Got Me” showcases Dreamville songbird Ari Lennox, assisted by Ty Dolla Sign, Omen and Dreezy.
While the hits shoot straight for the motor cortex with head-bobbing melodic bliss, it’s the deeper cuts where the crew truly comes into their own. On the loose, laid back and self-aware highlight “Lambotruck,” Cozz, Reason and Childish Major poke fun at their lack of stardom, discussing plans to rob their bosses (Cole and “Top Dawg” Tiffith) as payback.
It stands in contrast to a song like “PTSD,” a much-needed dose of humanity that waxes poetic on downward spiral and hardship. A bar like “I ain’t a shooter, but who really is until they provoked/Ni**a this hunger got me finna choke” hits in the chest, the sort of sobering writing that highlights the nuance and poignancy the crew’s capable of.
Even more, the mic-passing entrances and exits build a tension and release that rewards repeated listens, evoking a jack-in-the-box toy with the way it combines the surprising and the familiar. It’s in moments like JID’s smooth closing verse at the tail-end of “Oh Wow… Swerve,” ending as quickly as it began in a brutal bait-and-switch. Dreezy’s anchor spot on the aforementioned “Got Me” is buttery and fantastic, maybe the best verse on this record. This push and pull illuminates the chemistry and creative flow between the Dreamville team, the sound of a crew in sync.
Revenge of the Dreamers III is more than just a cool album. It exemplifies growth and hunger in all forms. The record combines stories of life, love, pleasure and pain into a snapshot of the expansive world of Dreamville. It sounds lived-in, and there’s still so much to explore.
North Carolina native Kerry Blu is a rapper, actor, columnist and teacher living in Brooklyn, NY. In 2014 he founded the Empire State Music & Arts Festival; an annual multi-genre music celebration that takes place in NYC, where he continues to help build platforms for independent artists and entrepreneurs.