Revenge of the Dreamers III isn’t an album, it’s a showcase. For 10 days in January, Dreamville Records gathered a multitude of rising stars and producers behind the label’s commander-in-chief J. Cole to record a series of bangers in an Atlanta studio.
For some of the label’s rookies and late bloomers, this was an opportunity to be exposed to legions of new listeners for the first time. For other invitees, whether it’s Deante Hitchcock baring his soul on “PTSD” or Jace gliding through the crisp soundscape on “Costa Rica,” every artist gave some of their best performances to date. Out of the dozens of acts that appeared on the 18-track album, Billboard handpicks seven stars from this explosive release.
7. Young Nudy
Trying to keep up with J. Cole can be a tall order, but Young Nudy certainly held his own against the lyrical behemoth. On “Sunset,” Nudy’s whispered ferocity gleams, as his flow matches Pyrex and Chasethemoney’s hazy and sparse beat. If his full verse on “Down Bad” would’ve been included on the album, the East Atlanta rapper’s shining star would have undoubtedly have been higher on this list.
“I wish a n—a would like Liam Neeson/ I don’t even need a reason.” The second Lute actually turned Liam Neeson’s racist scandal into an impressive punchline on the album opener “Under The Sun,” he carved a spot on this coveted list. The North Carolina rapper only appears on the album twice, but, whenever he appeared, his bars came in avalanches, growing in momentum and intensity until the magnitude of it all was understood at the end. Plus, you have to respect someone who “signed a deal off the realest shit I wrote,” as he so succinctly rapped on the sleeper track “Sleep Deprived.”
Whenever Mez appeared on Revenge of the Dreamers III, a flurry of witty entendres followed at an impressively dizzying pace. He bursts out the gate on Pyrex-produced “Costa Rica,” rapping about how “n—as got me tight like Arthur’s fist.” While he dazzles on the aforementioned track, It’s his self-reflective performance on “Sleep Deprived” that blows listeners away. He juggles Adventure Time and apartheid metaphors with recollections of the perseverance it took to finally become a self-efficient MC.
4. Ari Lennox
Though the R&B side of Dreamville is noticeably scarce on the album, singer-songwriter Ari Lennox helps bridge the gap with her honeyed vocals and unflinching demeanor. Ari floats effortlessly on “Self Love” while creating sweet-sounding melodies on “Got Me.” On the latter, Ari sings along with Ty Dolla $ign and proves she can hang with the hitmaker, while delivering a rewind-worthy R&B banger.
Outside of J. Cole’s “Middle Child,” EarthGang proved to be worthy of having a solo track on the album. On “Swivel,” the Atlanta tandem flex their lyrical muscles, as Johnny Venus’ animated flow and Doctur Dot’s gravelly voice create an earworm too hard to ignore. Imposing their will over the Bink-produced track, EarthGang keeps fans salivating for their long-awaited debut with their impressive outing.
Buddy is lethal because of his sheer versatility. He can steamroll through his foes with his steely flow, or deliver soul-stirring croons that fuel the spirit. On “Wells Fargo,” Buddy does the former, using a double-time flow to truck his way through the two-minute interlude like a demolition derby. What makes Buddy’s presence even more compelling, was that he was admittingly on mushrooms during his time at Dreamville’s rap camp.
Longtime Dreamville producer Elite, who produced “1993,” once recalled “anytime [J.I.D.] saw an opening for work to be done he would come up to me and be like, ‘Hey, can we record something?’” That’s the sort of tenacity that made J.I.D the most inescapable force on ROTD III. Even on a song like “1993,” which is structured so no one rapper raps a full verse, the lyrical virtuoso still finds time to rap about how “the weed so strong it got me stressed/ the stress so strong it got me weed” and brings the term “genital smooch” into the world. Add to that the fact that he’s the only artist, including J. Cole, to appear on four straight songs (“Ladies” to “Rembrandt…) and it’s clear why he’s deservingly the MVP of Revenge of the Dreamers III.