Our Record Label of the Week series allows our writers to connect with their audience in a different manner; instead of presenting a new song they enjoyed or showcasing an artist they saw live, they attempt to explain the relevance and powerful presence of an entire label. Whether it houses a plethora of genres, or sticks to a specific theme, this series aims to provide students with a glimpse backstage – at the men and women that devote their lives to offering us the music that we care so passionately about.
The 28th January was a fine day for J. Cole. It was his 29th birthday so he celebrated in style by headlining a show in Madison Square Garden, New York. This show featured pals Kendrick Lamar and Jay Z, who surprised Cole with a chain. This was not just any iced-up piece of jewellery, it was a rap artifact; Jay’s original Roc-A-Fella chain. “That on your neck is my original Roc chain, and its yours”, rap’s godfather declared. Cole’s chaining day, indeed.
Just before the show, Cole announced that his homegrown record label imprint, Dreamville, had signed a partnership deal with Interscope – the label that had catapulted the careers of Kendrick Lamar, Eminem and Dr Dre. Now, J Cole is a man who puts in the work. Already the master of two platinum albums (‘Cole World: The Sideline Story’ and ‘Born Sinner’) and six mixtapes (‘The Warm Up’, ‘The Come Up’, ‘Friday Night Lights’, ‘Truly Yours’ 1 and 2, and ‘Any Given Sunday’), true to his relentless musical drive, he celebrated by releasing… a new mixtape. ‘Revenge of the Dreamers’ is a mixtape featuring the full Dreamville roster: Omen, Bas, KQuick and Cole himself. This mixtape was handed out to every fan at the Madison Square Garden show, with a hand written note promising: ‘This is only the beginning’.
The 28th January was a fine day indeed.
‘Aye baby tell me have you ever seen a n***a chasin’ dreams
Leavin’ everything he love behind to make this cream
Kisses his momma on the cheek, say, don’t worry I’ll be back
I gotta get you out this shit, I’m a hurry, I’ll speed back
You see, that’s the type of shit the boy be thinkin’ when he dreamin’ ‘
‘Song for the Ville’, J Cole
Dreamville was created during the summer of 2007, two years before Cole was signed to Jay Z’s Roc Nation. The label is seven years in the making, from the dusty streets of Fayetteville, North Carolina to the bright lights of New York. The name is reminiscent of Cole’s constant reference to ‘the ville’ (for instance, see ‘Song for the Ville’, ‘Villematic’). Cole’s dreams that could never be materialized in Fayetteville, a city which celebrated the military more than music, can finally be realized in his fictional city, Dreamville. For Cole, Dreamville is also a platform for others to realize their dreams. In 2011, he created the Dreamville Foundation, a non profit organization created to bridge the gap between the world of opportunity and the urban youth of Fayetteville – that very same gap that led J Cole to move to New York. True to Cole’s Dreamville philosophy, the foundation’s goal for the urban youth is to have a dream, believe in their dream, and achieve their dream.
Dreamville’s partnership with Interscope will see the major label busy themselves with the heavy lifting, whilst the creativity remains with the Dreamville team. Cole states that Dreamville will provide “the artist, the direction, the guidance, the music, the new ideas” and Interscope will provide the “muscle and years of experience of really giving artists the proper push”. Dreamville’s Dreamvillians are a mix of rappers and producers with many being adept at both, showcasing the label’s solid vision for the future.
Since his 2009 Roc Nation deal, it is clear that Cole was following the teachings of his mentor. Dreamville’s signing to Interscope is “definitely a path that’s been made possible by the Dr. Dres and the Jay Zs – these guys who had amazing artistic ability in terms of rapping and production and song writing, but also had a double-sided executive mind”. Like Jay Z and Dr Dre before him, Cole is much more than just a rapper; he’s creating and nurturing rap and in truth, he’s building its future. Kendrick Lamar stated that Cole “was one of the first people to accept me in the music business”. If J Cole is recognizing talent like Kendrick Lamar, and bringing it to the fore, then rap is in perfect, beautifully manicured hands.
‘It’s the feeling in the air you bout to drop a real classic
He said Cole, “A lil’ birdy told me on the low you got an Illmatic”
Nobody touching Nas nigga it’s more like Villematic
These Fayettenam tales be paying off well’
‘Villematic’, J Cole
Now, many rappers start record labels. Cole’s Dreamville joins the ranks of other Interscope-affiliated outfits that include Dr. Dre’s Aftermath Entertainment and P. Diddy’s Bad Boy Records. Yet, this venture is more than a vanity deal for J Cole: “As an executive it gives me the opportunity to sign acts and break them, but as a producer it allows me to produce someone’s entire album and put it out – that’s what I really look forward to”. What is more, Dreamville is not a regular record label. For instance, the team employs guerilla marketing strategies; for Cole’s 2013’s Dollar and a Dream tour, tickets to shows announced online on the day of the show were sold for $1. In fact, it was this “grass roots, out-of-the-box approach to connecting artists to their fans” that attracted Joie Manda, Interscope’s president of urban music, to Dreamville. In fact, it was Manda that reached out to Cole: “I thought he wanted me to produce someone over there [at Interscope] and I was excited about that, but then he told me that he really believed in me as an executive, a label CEO and a producer. A Dr. Dre to his Jimmy Iovine. He had the vision”. For Manda, Dreamville is the kind of label “that can help move the music industry into the future”.
Dreamville has been seven years in the making and is the “result of years of learning and figuring this game out”. On 28th January, upon Dreamville’s deal with Interscope, the release on its first collective mixtape and as Jay Z gifted Cole an original Roc Nation gold chain onstage in a fitting rap changing of the guard, you can’t help but feel that J Cole’s time has finally come.