It’s 8:00 pm on a Saturday evening in Dallas, Texas and in the midst of the normal hoopla that engulfs the weekend, groups of dedicated fans are strategically planning their road to the Dallas House of Blues.
In less than 24 hours, Fayetteville, North Carolina’s own Jermaine Cole will touch down in the city, along with his Dreamville team, to kick off his annual “Dollar And A Dream” tour for the third year in a row. Through the development of a creative strategy that involves allowing the most die hard of fans to see J.Cole and the team do what they do best for the bargain price of a single dollar, Dreamville has led a re-birth of sorts in terms fan appreciation, while also providing the music industry with a sobering visual reminder about the power of the true fan.
An ode to Cole’s classic Friday Night Lights mixtape, 2015’s Dollar and A Dream tour resulted in an unprecedented turn out in each of the 4 major cities it hit, with a large number of fans arriving at the assumed venues the night before at every stop to ensure their entry. Because the venue of each show is not actually revealed until Cole himself sends out a tweet on the day of the concert with the confirmed location, seasoned Dollar And A Dream fans now take it upon themselves to begin researching possible venue locations in advance in order to narrow down their choices and arrive at the predicted location. Several groups of fans even divide themselves between two possible locations in case one of their guesses is incorrect.
And the kicker?
This year’s most dedicated group of Dreamvillians hit the nail on the head each and every time, in each and every city on the schedule, with hundreds of fans already in line at the correct venue hours before J.Cole or his team had even arrived in the city, let alone sent out the tweet confirming a location.
The Cole frenzy has long been “a thing,” but seems to have exploded significantly with the anticipation of the release of his 2014 Forest Hills Drive album at the end of last year. The instant success of the album was in stark contrast to the gradual growth of Cole’s popularity as an artist that began during his days as an undergrad at St. Johns University in Queens, NY. His close friend and classmate Ibrahim “IB” Hamad quickly recognized Cole’s talent and took the reigns as his unofficial manager after hearing an early recording of him rapping over the infamous Kanye West-produced “Grammy Family” beat. Shortly after, IB convinced a somewhat-hesitant Cole to let him help spread the word about his music and from there, the makings of Dreamville began.
After years of putting in work from every angle possible while on his mission to bring something organic but undeniably legendary to the top of the rap totem pole and to hip hop fans in general, a 24-year-old newly signed J.Cole embarked on his music industry journey as most new comers do: with everything to prove and seemingly nothing to lose. But today, at just 6 years in, it seems Roc Nation’s first born has figured out what many in his shoes take a lifetime to accept, if ever: there’s no need to prove what’s already understood and can’t be denied…and there’s actually much at stake to lose if you’re not careful. Priding himself on coming into the industry not only as an insanely talented lyricist but also a budding producer who would soon transform into a master of both crafts, Cole is recognized amongst his peers, fans and his Dreamville family as a genius of sorts. And what’s more, he’s well aware of what he brings to the table and contagiously confident in what he has brewing beyond the scope of what those outside of his tight-knit circle can grasp as realistically achievable, so much so that it’s never long before his whole team is on board and working to bring his latest vision to life.
Less than a month before dropping his third studio album 2014 Forrest Hills Drive in December of 2014 following the unveiling of a surprise release date, Cole hit the road for a slightly unconventional promo tour where he visited several college campuses, radio program directors and other groups of pop culture influencers to talk about the album and even give some of them an early listen. The most memorable moment of the promo run occurred when a long-time Dreamville supporter from Texas tweeted Cole requesting that he come to Dallas and he replied by securing her address before showing up at her house hours later with his team to give her a first listen of the album. His final stop on the nearly month-long journey was in his hometown of Fayetteville, NC, where he invited 2 groups of fans into his adolescent home to preview the album exclusively.
Three days after 2014 FHD was released, Cole embarked on a sporadic fan appreciation tour, appropriately coined “Fuck Money, Spread Love (F$SL),” where he visited unsuspecting fans in several cities to show his gratitude for their support. The first stop on the journey was NYC, where Cole made his rounds throughout the city to autograph hard copies of the album for fans who tweeted out photos proving that they’d purchased it and sent him their locations. He continued the impromptu cross-country trip for 5 days, doing everything from take groups of his fans to lunch, to popping up at their jobs, to treating them to movies.
He also made headlines when he interrupted his hectic Dollar and A Dream III tour schedule to attend the high school graduation ceremony of a young fan who’d asked him to be there 3 years earlier. Cole made a deal with the fan that if she got accepted into a 4-year-university, he’d hold up his end of the deal and be present to see her walk across the stage. The young fan would later go on to turn his personalized message of congratulations into a tattoo.
Needless to say, the phrases “promo tour” and “fan appreciation” take on a whole new….and much more valuable….meaning where the Dreamville brand is concerned.
From the beginning of Cole’s career and Dreamville’s inception, the fans have always been kept at the forefront of the priority list and never too far out of the loop. What’s more, Cole has mastered the ability to create timeless, classic hip hop that genuinely resonates with every fan from the teenager navigating through adolescence, to the young adult struggling to enjoy youth without making life-altering mistakes, to the fully grown man basking in the best and worst life has to offer. As a result, he’s built one of the most solid, genuine and dedicated fan bases of any artist in any music
In the midst of Cole winning over thousands of new fans every month and taking advantage of the historic success of his 2014 Forest Hills Drive album in 2015 (he became the first rap artist in 25 years to go platinum without a single feature this year), the other members of the Dreamville roster have made sure to keep him on his toes. Strong enough to have built solid individual fan bases of their own, yet humble enough to promote Cole and each other as much as they do themselves, Dreamville artists Bas, Cozz and Omen have become instrumental in the brand’s mounting success.
Imagine a Paris-born, Queens, NY native with an extraordinary ear for stretching meticulously-crafted beats beyond the realm of traditional hip hop as we know it by creating musical monologues through his flow and then using them as a platform for telling the stories that continue to shape his journey through young adulthood. Dreamville’s Bas fits this mold to a T. Making his way into the mix with his 2011 Quarter Water Raised Me Vol.1 mixtape, Bas has brought his growing fan base along for the ride as he continues to elevate at a pace that seems to have him destined for hip hop greatness. Settling comfortably into a one-of-a-kind style all his own, Bas made a memorable mark on the hip hop world in 2014 with several fan-favorites from his debut album Last Winter. Laid back enough to keep audiences vibing with him throughout his sets but turned up enough to leave them wondering what’s next, 2015 saw Bas snag a solo spot in the star-studded line up for Jay-Z’s “Tidalx1020” concert and receive the reception of a rap superstar at this year’s Budweiser Made In America Festival. Bas is sure to make a believer out of even more music lovers with the upcoming release of his sophomore album Too High To Riot, but in the meantime, do yourself a favor and check out his latest single
Perhaps the most unassuming backstory of the Dreamville crew outside of J.Cole’s, Omen’s career path has taken his fans on a journey that they won’t soon forget any quicker than he will. Forming an unlikely teenage friendship with a fellow “rap nerd” who would find himself in the company of hip hop’s elite before either of them reached 25, Omen embarked on his musical escapade alongside Cole while working diligently to build his own fan base in the process. He quietly released his first mixtape titled Do The Right Thing in 2006, before following up with the appropriately titled Delayed in 2010. 2011 saw the release of his impressive Afraid Of Heights project that seemed to solidify his spot as force to be reckoned with among his talented peers and even featured a collaboration with a then newly-minted Kendrick Lamar, who had just begun gaining mainstream traction himself 4 months earlier with the release of his now-critically acclaimed debut album Section .80. In between his own projects, Omen remained an active part of continuing to push the Dreamville brand along with his own, stirring fan curiosity with impressive feature verses on J.Cole’s “The Badness” in 2009 and again on “Enchanted” in 2010.
Omen’s smooth yet amplified flow is vividly indicative of his Chi-Town roots, often drawing comparisons to the likes of Chicago rap veterans Common and Kanye West. By the time the self-proclaimed “Turn Down King” dropped his long-awaited debut album Elephant Eyes on July 21 of this year, anyone following the Dreamville movement was hip and listening at most and intrigued, at least. In November, Omen headlined his very first solo tour, leaving his mark on a handful of cities including New York, L.A. and of course, Chicago. At the close of his intimate NYC show, Omen stayed to snap photos and sign autographs for every single fan who asked. He even had a drink with a few fans before hitting the stage at his Dallas show.
As a fan, can you really buy a better $15 show ticket than that?
The youngest member of the pack, 22-year-old west coast emcee Cozz brings an undeniable skill set and infectious energy to the Dreamville brand, performing before crowds of thousands as if he’s a seasoned pro with years of experience under his belt. After officially becoming a member of the Dreamville family back in the summer of 2014, Cozz spent much of this year learning the ins and outs of tour life while continuing to captivate massive (and at times, unfamiliar) audiences with his fearless delivery of songs from his debut album Cozz and Effect. Since a description alone would hardly do Cozz’s sound justice, I’ll just recommend that you take a listen sometime in the near future and dare you not to find yourself at least on the brink of becoming a fan by the end of one run through. Or you can just keep watch for his upcoming release Nothin Personal, due out any day now.
Now the Dreamville president and still J.Cole’s manager, Ibrahim Hamad has worked with his team to craft the ultimate creative promo strategies for each of the label’s artists, leaving fans anticipating incentives with the release of each single, full project, or tour announcement. In addition to Cole’s unconventional promo tours, Bas’s first project was promoted in the form of a trailer inspired by ESPN’s “30 for 30” series, while Omen’s Elephant Eyes album was predicated by a hilarious “Love & Hip Hop” spoof featuring a who’s who of the Dreamville family including Cole himself, again tapping into mainstream minds and showing fans that attention is certainly being paid while continuing to keep the brand a safe distance from perils of popular culture.
Speaking of family, production and engineering-wise, a large majority of Dreamville’s projects are handled in-house by a combination of the artists themselves and a handful of immensely talented musical visionaries. Among them are Cole’s childhood friend Cedric Brown, Dreamville keyboard maestro Ron Gilmore, Cole’s right-hand producer Anthony “Elite” Parrino, producer Kaleb “KQuick” Rollins and engineer extraordinaire Juro “Mez” Davis; many of whom became a part of the Dreamville cohort early on. As a result, fans have become just as big of supporters of the “behind-the-scenes” Dreamville team as they are of the artists.
IB’s most recent stroke of creativity that led to a memorable hip hop moment in 2015 was the idea to have J.Cole and Kendrick Lamar record freestyles over instrumental versions of each other’s latest big records.
As a result, Cole delivered as only he can over Kendrick’s “Alright” instrumental, while Kendrick tackled Cole’s “A Tale of 2 Citiez,” with both artists dropping the songs for free on Black Friday.
On the numbers side of things, 2015 has been an unprecedented year for J.Cole and the Interscope-backed Dreamville family. The 2014 FHD tour clenched the number 1 spot on Billboard’s “hottest tours of the summer” list, raking in a cool $20.4 million in gross sales, with $16.4 million attained during the North American leg of the tour alone in a less-than-3-month time span. Ticket sales topped out at 570,000 for the 65-city tour, with sold out shows at notable venues such as NYC’s Madison Square Garden, L.A.’s Staples Center, and even a packed house of 15,000 in London’s infamous 02 arena. Outside of the booth, Cole was among some of the most iconic names in music to be announced as a co-owner of Jay Z’s TIDAL streaming service in March. Later on in the year, he also partnered with high-end Swiss luxury brand Bally to help create his own line of boots and outerwear accessories, while IB recently announced the birth of Dreamville Films.
Showing no signs of slowing down as 2016 approaches, the Dreamville squad yet again sent a shockwave through their fan base with the surprise release of Revenge of the Dreamers II, in December. Making the release even more exciting for their supporters as only they can, the team unveiled ROTD2 through a series of cryptic social media efforts. The day before the release, each artist tweeted out a 1-888 number for fans to call and hear a screaming Dreamville team confirm that the project was on its’ way within the next few days. The following day, Cole made a rare Twitter appearance to request fans’ e-mail addresses before sending three lucky Dreamvillains the link to download ROTD2 early. A follow up compilation project to 2014’s “Revenge of the Dreamers,” the mixtape features impressive work from each of the Dreamville artists, along with cameos from their two newest signees; songstress Ari Lenox and North Carolina born lyricist Lute.
Dreamville also dominated the performance circuit as a collective in 2015. Whether together or apart, there has been a Dreamville presence at nearly every high profile concert or festival on the music industry radar. Their impressive run included: The 2014 Forest Hills Drive Tour, South By Southwest, Made In America, TidalxJCole, Neon Desert Festival, Soundset Festival, One Love Hip Hop Festival, Dollar and A Dream Tour III, Pemberton Festival, Tidalx1020 and Red Bull Sound Select.
Their final round of joint performances for this year came as the entire crew hit the streets of NYC for a surprise ROTD2 bar crawl – a series of three free pop up concerts at intimate venues throughout the city over the course of a 4-hour time span. Announcing the crawl on social media just hours before their first stop, the Dreamville wave yet again took over their fan base as fans scrambled to make it to at least one of the locations.
Oh, and if you thought Cole sat this one out or made a fly-by-night, 1-song cameo at the end of it all, think again.
Not only was he involved, he led the way as the entire Dreamville family took to the streets in between each performance, stopping for pizza and engaging with fans with such down-to-earth vibes that you’d never know they’d just dropped the most talked-about compilation project of 2015 a week before. The performances themselves were intentionally less of an actual concert and more of a Dreamville roster open mic night, with each of the artists (including a newly-signed Lute) taking to the venue stages one by one to perform, and then remaining on stage to play hype men for each other. A few fans even hopped on stage to rock with the team at each of the venues, with Cole, Bas, Cozz, Omen and IB all cheering them on as if they were Dreamville artists themselves.
Cole is set to close out the year with a NYE performance at Mandalay Bay’s Light Nightclub in Las Vegas before gearing up for the premiere of the 2014 Forest Hills Drive Homecoming Concert Special on HBO in January 2016, which will air a month before the entire Dreamville cohort gets back to it at L.A.’s Air + Style Festival in February.
The Dreamville team continues to put in the work necessary to push beyond the group think psyche that seems an all too common determinant of how today’s listeners digest music and reach the heart of each individual fan by building an unspoken, yet thoroughly understood, bond that will see listeners find relevancy, relatability and most importantly, authenticity in the music for years to come.
More than just becoming fans of the artists, their supporters have become fans of the movement.
Who’s to say what this seemingly unbreakable bond between this band of best friends-turned-business partners will evolve into over the next few years, but in this moment, there’s no denying that the Dreamville brand is leaving a collective imprint on the entertainment industry to rival that of those who set the standard before them. While certainly not the first or the only to build a dedicated fan base from the ground up, Dreamville is ahead of the curve among today’s music industry conglomerates in ensuring that the love received from their fans is constantly reciprocated, not only through their music, but through their business, their brotherhood and their fearless approach to the unconventional.
Dreamville has proven to be much more than just a brand made up of extraordinarily talented friends realizing their goals as a unit, but also the physical representation of a mindset personified through a combination of hard work, skill set and fearless pursuit of passion that is solidifying them as new leaders of their generation.