If meme culture has contributed anything to the legacy of J. Cole, it helped establish him as a sort of popular rap antihero: “J. Cole went platinum with no features.” Casual fans could be forgiven for thinking this an indicator of Cole’s friend circle, but his label Dreamville’s Revenge of the Dreamers III compilation goes to great lengths to prove the opposite.
The recording sessions, which took place over a 10-day period in January 2019, reportedly hosted over 100 artists and producers, all of whom were summoned via personal invitation. The songs (and contributors) that made the album, then, are the best of a creative community formed at the behest of “Mr. Nice Watch” himself. Present, of course, is the home team of Dreamville singer Ari Lennox, Queens-hailing everyman rapper Bas, ATL bar specialist J.I.D, songwriter/producer Omen, and Atlanta duo EARTHGANG, among others—along with names that were at one time unlikely to appear on the same playlist as Cole, let alone a compilation album flying his label’s banner. Each of the project’s 17 songs overflows with features, with notable contributions coming from young power players outside of the camp like Buddy, Young Nudy, KEY!, Maxo Kream, DaBaby, and Ski Mask the Slump God.
The spirit of collaboration is audible throughout, as confirmed by Bas, who spoke with Apple Music just after the album’s recording. “It was so easy to create,” he says. “You have so many other creatives that you trust and respect, you don’t have to overdo it. You could do a 16-bar verse or hook or bridge and know that someone else is bringing something dynamic to the table.” The MC, who appears on four songs on Revenge III, clearly isn’t concerned about what working with a wealth of talent means for air space within the project. “I wish we could work like this all the time,” he says.