They don’t make rap crews like they used to. They don’t really make as many as they used to either. The days when majors handed a vanity to imprint to every marquee hip-hopper they decided to sign have gone the same way as million dollar video budgets and multiplatinum sales expectations. In the era of the 360 deal, rap labels that double as crews of friends built on camaraderie and shared dreams of shiny suit stardom are a dying breed — but they’re not extinct.
There are a few turn-of-the-millennium-style crews left — namely, Top Dawg Entertainment, home of superstars like Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q, and SZA, and GOOD Music, where Kanye West and Pusha T reign supreme. But there is one label that stands out among its endangered brethren as a place where creativity and camaraderie are still the orders of the day — yet it’s also a label that has surprisingly flown under the radar since its inception, and hasn’t yet received the recognition it deserves.
But, thanks to the recent successes of newly minted misfits like JID, Earthgang, Ari Lennox and the indefatigable independence of its founder and team captain, J. Cole, Dreamville Records is no longer quietly building its reputation on the underground circuit. They’re flying higher than ever and 2019 is the year they wake up the rest of the world to the fact that they might just be the most important up-and-coming rap crew in hip-hop.
It shouldn’t be a controversial take, but there’s almost sure to be some pushback. After all, I mentioned two other rap crews — incidentally, the only two other really high profile ones that could match Dreamville for notoriety and commercial success — but neither of those two other crews really display the same level of group cohesion as Dreamville. Top Dawg has been established for at least as long — Dreamville dates back to 2007, while TDE was established in 2004 but really came together around its core of Black Hippy (Kendrick, Ab-Soul, Schoolboy, and Jay Rock) in ’07 — but has experienced their fair share of public infighting.
Ab-Soul previously expressed frustration with his role on the team, while SZA even professed a desire to quit the game at one point. Newcomers, such as Isaiah Rashad, Lance Skiiiwalker, and Reason, are added at a rapid clip, but sometimes take a while to truly assimilate into the group or endear themselves to core fans, even when they deserve to, and some of the hype for projects from the group’s all-stars tends to overshadow the success of their rookies and role players.