J. Cole built a career as a rap great with earnest lyrics, a do-it-yourself attitude, and a willingness to play the long game instead of going for short-term spins—and he’s taken that same approach to his label, Dreamville. Cole founded Dreamville Records in 2007 with Ibrahim Hamad while attending St. John’s University, using it as an outlet for his own music and signee Omen, a rapper/producer from Chicago. Cole steadily grew his fan base and signed to Roc Nation in 2010, eventually announcing a deal with Interscope for Dreamville four years later. They’d flesh out the roster with other rising stars—Queens rapper Bas, Atlanta lyricist JID., rap duo EARTHGANG, R&B singer/songwriter Ari Lennox, and others—who all focused on authentic fan connection and grassroots campaigns over grasps for radio. They show their strength in numbers with crew efforts like the annual Dreamville Festival in Cole’s home state of North Carolina and the Revenge of the Dreamers series of compilation records. Revenge of the Dreamers III, released in 2019, was especially powerful: Cole invited more than 100 notable artists, producers, and writers to convene at Tree Sound Studios in Atlanta for what they affectionately called “Rap Camp,” an intimate two weeks of bonding and recording together. And the art lived up to the hype: J. Cole rapped his heart out as the Dreamville squad established chemistry with guests like Buddy, Smino, Guapdad 4000, and 6LACK as if they’d been collaborating for years. Social media fawned over the experience, but for J. Cole and Dreamville, the music always comes first—and that’s a recipe for longevity.