J. Cole and his Dreamville artists cover the latest XXL Magazine for the Spring 2019 issue shot by Jonathan Mannion. The full squad Bas, Cozz, J.I.D, EarthGang, Lute, Omen and Ari Lennox talk individually about their music and more. They touch on the Revenge of the Dreamers III recording sessions plus what each artist brings to the table. You can take a look at some of the article below and check out the full story on XXL.
XXL: Not every artist has the ambition to start a label. Why was it important for you to launch Dreamville Records?
J. Cole: This is something I wanted before I was even signed. I had the whole label name: Dreamville. I remember when I came up with it I told R.J., I told Ib[rahim Hamad]. We were walking through Manhattan. I had the concept back then and I don’t know why. I don’t know if it was because that’s how Jay[-Z] did it, how Ruff Ryders did it. Then me being 22, 23 years old saying, “I want to do that, too.”
XXL: What do you think is your specific role as an artist is on Dreamville?
J.I.D: I’m ratchet, bro. I’m like the Firestarter. Light the spark right quick.
XXL: The Revenge of the Dreamers III’s famed recording sessions took place in your hometown of Atlanta. How was the experience for you?
J.I.D: That’s the most creative shit I ever did. I want to do this for the rest of my life—just collab and record, be around creatives and shit. It’s all respect, all love, no egos. It’s like losing your virginity every night for the first time. It’s that dope. You making relationships with people outside of if you get a song done. Y’all probably exchange numbers. And that’s cool ’cause I like to have a conversation before I jump into creating.
XXL: How did you end up signing with Dreamville?
Earthgang’s Olu: We met Cole and Bas when we were on the road with Ab-Soul. We was in New York. We did a show up there and Cole was digging it. That’s when we started the connection. We just was working and creating with them a little while and they was like, “Let’s make this official.” It was a genuine connection.
Earthgang’s WowGr8: We was kind of doing our own thing, working that indie scene pretty heavy. Then an opportunity opened up that seemed organic, seemed real.
XXL: How do your label mates differ in their creative processes when working with you?
Ari Lennox: Cole usually already knows what he wants, he kind of guides me—unless he’s giving me a beat and he’s adamant that I figure it out. Cozz [picks] a beautiful beat and wants me to do whatever and then he’ll add things to it. That’s how “Freaky 45” came to be. Bas is the same as Cole. He usually knows what he wants. Bas wrote “Icarus” and he had the melody and everything. Bas is a whole genius. I sung what he wanted me to sing and added my little harmonies and background vocals. I love the freedom of penning my own stuff. “Sweat It Out” with Omen, I was really, really involved. That song is always going to be my baby.
XXL: Who were your favorite rap crews growing up?
Lute: OutKast, Goodie Mob, Three 6 Mafia. I’m from the South so that’s all we’d listen to. Pharcyde, shit like that. Those are my favorite. Wu-Tang [Clan] because ODB is like in my top five [artists] of all time.
XXL: What is the thread that unites everyone in Dreamville?
Cozz: Everybody on the squad is humble, real down-to-Earth people. No egos. We take our time with our lyrics. We lyricists and we all different, too. We don’t make the same [music]. We have the Queen of Soul, Ari Lennox. She’s amazing—performance-wise, all together. We have Bas with the vibe. J.I.D do a little bit of everything. EarthGang like a little OutKast. Omen [is] the poet. We got weapons in different areas.
XXL: What feedback did J. Cole give you after you first started rapping back in 2010?
Bas: He was like, “The crazy thing is you got your own style. You don’t sound like nobody. That’s the hardest thing to develop. The rest is just developing as a songwriter, a vocal performer, all of those things.” I didn’t even know what chords were. Now, I can go in a session and be like, “This just needs a bass line, a bridge and some highs here,” or whatever the case would be. I got a speed course from just being around.
XXL: How did you first meet J. Cole?
Omen: I’ve known Cole since he was probably about 15. We were on this fan site for Canibus. We were like stans of this dude. But on the site was a bunch of other rappers. They’d share songs, battle each other. We were both on there, just rap nerds loving the culture, battling. Sometimes just text battles. We became friends through that site. We shared music [and] beats with each other. Eventually, he was going to St. John’s [University]. I had family in New York, [so] we met in real life, like, okay, you’re not a weirdo, I’m not a weirdo. We cool. We just kept doing music together and here we are.