'He really believed in me as an executive, a label CEO and a producer. A Dr. Dre to his Jimmy Iovine.'
On Jan. 28, on his 29th birthday, J. Cole walked in his mentor/Roc Nation boss Jay Z's big footsteps once again. At his headlining gig at the Theater at Madison Square Garden, the "Power Trip" rapper officially became an executive, revealing that he had partnered with Interscope Records to form a new label, Dreamville. Attendees at the show, the last stop of Cole's Dreams May Come tour, received a flyer announcing the deal and a mixtape, titled "Revenge of the Dreamers."
"We've been dreaming about a label situation for years," Cole told Billboard over the phone a few days after the announcement. "The deal's been official since late December, and we'd been working on it for a while before that, but it felt too important to just go out and yell it right when it happened. It needed a more grand announcement."
Cole explained that talks with Interscope began when Joie Manda, Interscope president of urban music, reached out to him for a meeting last year. "I thought he wanted me to produce someone over there 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."
Dreamville has been the name of J. Cole's informal crew since before the deal, highlighted by rappers and long-time Cole affiliates Omen, K-Quick and Bas. However, Bas is the only artist who's been officially signed to Cole's joint venture with Interscope yet. The rapper, who was born in Paris to Sudanese parents before moving to Queens, will release Dreamville's first official project, "Last Winter," on March 6. The album will be both given away for free online and be available for purchase on iTunes, according to Cole.
Cole cited Interscope's recent success with Kendrick Lamar as one of the reasons he decided to take Dreamville there. "They had a monster two years -- I'm coming in at the right time. It's a well-oiled machine," Cole said. "When they believe in something, they show it. They pull out all the stops. Every artist wants that kind of power, and if I can utilize that, it's game over. Jimmy Iovine told me that no one turns a spark into a flame like Interscope, and that's what made me choose them."
In 2009, Cole signed a recording deal with Roc Nation/Columbia, through which he released his two studio albums, 2011's "Cole World: The Sideline Story," and 2013's "Born Sinner," both of which topped the Billboard 200. He insisted that his relationship with those labels as a recording artist hasn't changed, despite the Dreamville deal with Interscope. "I love Columbia and I love Roc Nation -- they're the reason I can even do this."
To help keep things with his partners as an artist smooth and streamlined, Cole revealed that he had a team-building retreat for his point people at Roc Nation, Columbia, publishing company Universal, booking agency ICM and management company Bystorm Entertainment. "I wanted to get everyone on the same page," he explained. "I have to be a CEO of myself. The last album should've went platinum with the singles that we had, but I should've rallied the troops better -- that's what that retreat was about."
Although Cole wouldn't discuss when his own next album is coming out -- he'll have his hands pretty full with Dreamville -- he did reveal another short-term goal: a return to Madison Square Garden. But not at the 5,600-capacity theater this time.
"Next year we'll do the arena," he boasted, "and sell that out."