Revenge of the Dreamers III, J. Cole + label-mates’ newest baby, arrives at somewhat of a lull in Gen-Y underground hip-hop. The 18-track compilation is not a chain-dripping, high-profile release à la DJ Khaled (i.e. the artist-stacked Father of Asahd) but a quirky, seeming lovechild of tireless mix-board nerds born of the 90s hip-hop aesthetic who pass out in the studio, wake, produce, and repeat. It’s not cohesive and it’s not organized; rather, its just as stream-of-consciousness as a collage imagined by Jermaine Cole should be.
RoTD III teases new material, including the spacey, breakout cut from the upcoming Mirrorland, “Swivel (Feat. EARTHGANG)”, which features Bink! on production and the aforementioned Atlanta rap duo on a steady, sedate cypher over cymbals: [“all it really take is time and dedication, I pray for the hunger to be permanent”…].
There’s a slow jam or two (see “Ladies, Ladies, Ladies” and “Don’t Hit Me Right Now”, featuring Cozz, Bas, etc.) and some female presence that shows up for late-night feels. The swooning vocals of Ari Lennox, the 28-y/o D.C.-born singer-songwriter who made waves on Shea Butter Baby joins Baby Rose and others on “Self Love”, a jazz-tinged ballad doused with Summer Walker-ish alt R&B gloom; [“tired of all this faking, wearing all of this makeup, and meanwhile feeling complacent/ Fitting in, feeling basic, and meanwhile tryna replace him”].
Part-time R&B singer/part-time rapper Dreezy rolls in on “Got Me”, an Ari x Ty Dolla $ign x Omen vocal collab atop a muffled, 808-ified Faith Evans sample. The ’95 “Come Over” chorus drowns in and out while the four wallow, 90s slow-jam style: [“Call me when you’re lonely, call me when you need somebody/I got you long as you got me…”].
Fuzzy, 90s vinyl sounds emerge on “1993”, a track crafted with a Pharcyde-esque beat easily meshable with dorm room rap battles and old-school, basement vinyl spinnings. Cole joins in the freestyle-off at 3:30, just before interruption of goofy banter from collaborator Buddy, which includes playful taunts about his dreads.
RoTD III, as non-radio as it is, is a compilation album fitted in a comfy blend of reckless (“LamboTruck”, “Wells Fargo”, “Costa Rica”), classic-era roots (“Sleep Deprived”), and lonely, late-night ponderance (“PTSD”). It’s the inner workings of Dreamville producers, crooners, and rhymers actualized in full-album format, all the while wrapped up in trademark, J. Cole-modest packaging.