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WORDS BY:
MITCH
FINDLAY

PHOTOS BY:
ARMEN
KELESHIAN
SPILL VILL
1

For those who experience hip-hop as escapism, worldbuilding is a priceless quality. Many, myself included, have lived vicariously through countless voices. It wasn’t long ago that I had never set foot in Atlanta. Yet I have heard depictions from a variety of writers across the years. The intellectuals, like Big Boi and Three Stacks, blending reality with dystopian sci-fi elements. The trappers, like Guwop and 21 Savage, who draw power from the bleak, ruthless and formidable. And most recently, a new movement of Atlanta talent, encompassed by Dreamville’s J.I.D and EarthGang.

It’s 1 PM. Standing outside the Spillage Village house beneath a gray, looming sea of clouds, the difference between tangible reality and vicarious living strikes close. The street is desolate, the foot-traffic nonexistent. Trees are barren of leaves, gnarled, southern-gothic embodiments. J.I.D’s golden Pontiac, a relic of hard-fought times, is parked outside. It doesn’t appear to be able or willing to move. Upon knocking the door, I wait for a minute. Like Gucci Mane, J.I.D is peeking through the blinds. He answers, friendly and welcoming, still shaking off the night before. A long one, and understandably so. It is, after all, the final days of the Revenge Of The Dreamers 3 recording sessions.

J.I.D heads back upstairs to prepare, leaving me to sit on the couch. The interior is spacious, open concept. Suitcases, some still yet to be unpacked, line the floors. An ornate door looks pulled from dark fantasy. Empty liquor bottles mark many evenings well spent. Posters of Spillage Village essentials, EarthGang’s Strays With Rabies and Shallow Graves For Toys adorn the walls. A desk houses two studio monitors; a microphone stands in front of them.

J.I.D’s Dreamville debut, The Never Story was recorded in this very room, not far from where I’m sitting. While I wait, a man stirs from his couch-induced slumber. He introduces himself as Malik, a friend and producer (he laced Ariana Grande’s “Better Off”). He too found himself swept up in the week’s creativity.

A cat, official Dreamers invitee Frank Ocean, reigns over the grounds. He’s far less docile and good natured than his namesake. After a while, EarthGang’s own Johnny Venus saunters in, electric with positive energy. He’s marvelling at a banger he recently finished recording, which features Bas, Ski Mask, Guapdad 4000, and Dot. It’s clear the song has him excited; more specifically, the shared creativity of the process. Before long, Doctur Dot is in the house, beelining for a spot on the couch. The air soon fills with fragments of Nightmare Before Christmas lyrics, while Dot and Malik proceed to engage in a heated Super Smash Bros Ultimate tete-a-tete. “You don’t want to see me with Fox,” warns Dot, before taunting an absent Ski Mask’s gaming prowess.

While we wait for J.I.D, Venus settles by the studio desk. A MIDI keyboard is on his lap. He’s practicing chord progressions, marking the distinctions between major and minor. He tells me that he’s teaching himself, that his mother once played the organ. The smell of bud fills the air as the Smash Bros tourney intensifies. Excitement over the ongoing Dreamers sessions, and EarthGang’s own impending MirrorLand, is palpable. The Spillage Village house has come alive.

“WE WASN’T PLANNING ON RECORDING OUT OF THE HOUSE FOREVER. THAT WAS JUST ALL WE HAD.” - J.I.D
2

J.I.D has joined us. He’s wearing a custom designed piece of DiCaprio 2 apparel, where shades of punk rock collide with a colorful homage to Russell Westbrook. While Dot and Venus are both brimming with energy, J.I.D appears more reserved. An observer, quiet and attentive, choosing his words carefully. He’s polite, knowledgeable about his craft and those who came before him.

“Cole got us some jams,” teases Venus, after I ask about MirrorLand. “He laced us with some jams.” Dot echoes the notion. “It’s going to be a crazy year for us,” he promises. Crazy indeed. The nonstop nature of the Dreamers sessions are a prologue to months of nonstop touring; first Europe with Billie Eilish, next North America with Smino. Yet despite the whirlwind pace, EarthGang continue to stay grounded, whether recording at the iconic Tree Sound Studio or two feet from where we’re sitting. “It’s kind of like the same thing,” reflects Venus. “When we used to record here full time, this was the first place Cole pulled up.”

Yet the musical network did not begin with J. Cole. Before Dreamville was Spillage Village, borne of a shared vision between the trifecta. Together, they found themselves at the epicenter of a burgeoning movement.  “It was like a little music scene,” says J.I.D. “We knew everybody, they was always pulling up.”

“We were chillin outside on the trampoline,” adds Venus. “Just chillin, smoking, and making good music. It’s still like that now, but to the thousandth degree.” Yet the ambition was always present. “We wasn’t planning on recording out of the house forever,” says J.I.D. “That was just all we had.”

After moving into the Spill Vill house in 2015, EarthGang and J.I.D. decided to focus on honing their songwriting craft. “Creative fulfillment is always going to rank very high in our priorities,” says Dot. “Really waking up every day and trying to outdo yourself,” adds Venus. Looking back on the Shallow Graves and Strays With Rabies posters behind me, I ask about the main difference between album-crafting then and now. “You get a lot more support, a lot more resources,” says Venus, gesturing to J.I.D. “His shit was on a Billboard. He done did Fallon, a commercial with Westbrook. It takes time.”

“If you indie, you gotta have the money for it,” says J.I.D, before alluding to the importance of word of mouth. “In 2014, [J.I.D] released Para Tu,” outlines Venus. “We released Shallow Graves For Toys in 2015. That summer, any show going on in Atlanta, we were there.” “And we not rapping over our lyrics,” says J.I.D. “We going over raw instrumentals, it’s like a black and white, day and night thing. We stood out.” “As far as the city goes,” adds Dot. “Ain’t nobody that was better live. We built a name, first and foremost, off performing live.”

3

There seems to be a misconception that southern lyricism is a lost art. Of course, the foundational groundwork has been long set, since Andre 3000 took to the pulpit at the 95’ Source Awards, declaring that The South Has Something To Say. Dot, Venus, and J.I.D derive from the same musical DNA. Vibrant imagery and real-world reflections, converging in a marriage of poetic sensibilities and everyman relatability. At their best, their imagery stands alongside the game’s cleverest minds. I ask about their inspirations, with particular emphasis on vernacular and chosen slang.

“Shit, bro, that just comes from being black,” laughs Venus. “This not our first language. The way we talk, it has a rhythm, it has a style to it. We want to make sure we put that into the music. You go out on the street, and it be like, ‘I don’t know what these cats saying.’ I got a friend from the U.K, and sometimes, we don’t even understand what we say. You gotta repeat sentences over and over, and use it to your advantage.” I marvel at a line from Spillage Village’s “Bears Like This,” in which Venus pines for the comfort of “Hippo rumps.” “Big ol’ hippo rumps,” reflects a straight-faced Venus. “Who doesn’t love a hippo rump?”

As with most innovators, the Spillage Village trifecta have studied their predecessors. Revisiting the aforementioned the 95’ Source Awards, EarthGang seem to marvel at the infamous night. “Everybody was going crazy,” says Dot, lying back on the couch. “Snoop Dogg, everybody!” I ask whether they feel Andre’s prophecy held true; whether the South have ultimately succeeding in cementing their message. “Shiiiet,” laughs Venus. “Ask the charts, bro. You see where everybody came for the Dreamville retreat! We came to Atlanta for it. People flock down here, it’s a vibe down here. The city is bubbling over. You got Future boomin, Lil Baby boomin’, Spill Vill boomin. You got so much diversity, shit, we keep it poppin.” As if on cue, all three proceed to begin chanting a zombie-like refrain of “the south will hold you down!”

Throughout the conversation, J.I.D seems to consider his words wisely. It’s evident that part of the lyricist remains at Tree Sound Studios. The creative process, the endless nature of his post-DiCaprio-2 rollout, has yet to take a toll. In fact, he seems truly inspired, a leader in the booth. I ask him about the concept of legacy and whether he ever muses on his own. “We base ourselves on albums,” says J.I.D. “That’s the type of artists we chose to be. Artists that people look forward to dropping albums. Living with the album, as opposed to dropping singles. I personally think of things as a whole, but spontaneity always happens. You might make a song that you didn’t know would make an album.”

“When you become someone of interest, they want to figure out more about you. They want to figure out why they like you,” says J.I.D. “To me that’s important,” chimes in Venus. “Some of my favorite artists are artists you can play their shit anywhere and any time. That’s the pinnacle of creating music.” The conversation shifts into a discussion on “ranking culture,” whereupon hip-hop discourse is centered around an affinity to create a hierarchy of talent. “That’s a healthy conversation,” says Dot, while Venus reflects on the inherent nature of inter-genre competition. “For some reason, hip-hop is the main genre where competition is one of the most important factors,” he says. “It just comes from such a background of representing your city, your neighborhood. You have to hold it down.”  When I ask whether or not any healthy competition ever bleeds into the Spillage Village dynamic, J.I.D smiles. “Iron sharpens iron.”

And thus, we arrive to the topic of Revenge Of The Dreamers. With such a vast array of supporting players, in some ways, it feels like the Dreamville trifecta have a home-field advantage. Yet J.I.D has previously described his own process as an isolated one, and two of EarthGang's formative albums were recorded in the Spill Vill house; such an open-sourced, collaborative session was likely a new experience for all three rappers. I ask whether or not the intensive sessions have yielded any new challenges, and whether that same competitive spirit was lost in translation.

Dot is the first to respond. “These sessions in particular have felt more exciting than competitive. Everybody been going to listen to everybody shit,” he says. “Not even on no cap bullshit. I’m not trying to gas you up. It’s like a circus bro. This n***a out here on a motorcycle! This n****a here got elephants and lions! It’s been the most free art-making shit that hip-hop has ever had,” he continues. “N***as just all in the lab, cooking up, having a good time.”  “People been staying up all night, and we just creating,” adds J.I.D. “That’s the best thing about it. There’s just a lot of good music being made right now. It’s hard to explain.”

J.I.D proceeds to take a moment to appreciate Cole’s involvement in the process. “He’s definitely top three,” he says. “Everyone says Drake, Kendrick. They can do something like this, they have the power to do it. But you never know!” On that note, I ask whether or not we can expect some heat from J. Cole, EarthGang, and J.I.D. in the near future. “He gave us some jams,” reaffirms Dot, his brevity speaking volumes.

REVENGE OF THE DREAMERS
4

Approaching the storied Tree Sound Studios, I am overcome with a sense of awe. The fact that I am privileged enough to attend the Revengers sessions is not lost on me. The week prior to my arrival in Atlanta, I had watched from afar as a cavalcade of artists and creatives lined the studio. The invitation-rollout, a subtle touch of brilliance, worked wonders in setting a fire beneath the game. And here I am, with two days left on the schedule. After that, the Revenge Of The Dreamers 3 sessions will come to an end.

Upon entering the lobby, I am immediately met with a reminder of the building’s history. Platinum plaques line the walls. Outkast’s The Love Below/Speakerboxxx. Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter III. Goodie Mob’s Still Standing. At this point, EarthGang and J.I.D have adventured deeper into the studio’s labyrinthian confines, leaving me to explore the building, soaking in the experience. The first corner I turn, I walk into Vince Staples, who is in the process of departing Studio M. I would later come to discover that J.I.D had essentially set up camp there, embarking on a near-endless string of writing, recording, and vibing to whatever happened to cross his path.

In the meantime, however, I've heard that Venus was in the middle of recording something for a Dreamers cut. I make my way to Studio A, a central room and hub of sorts, overlooking an impressive live room. Venus is sitting by the console, recording an outro section to a melodic, trippy banger. Labelmates Cozz and Bas are also in attendance; the former, a charismatic force, formidable and affable in equal measure, the latter a stalwart, larger-than life presence, exuding gravitas and quiet leadership. Meanwhile, Venus is showcasing an impressive vocal range, prompting Cozz to marvel at his “Jamaican passion.” While it wasn’t a lengthy section, the scope of Venus’ talents are impressive to behold; not only can the man rap his ass off, but he’s got a powerful voice to match.

In the corner chair, Bas is posted up. He had been rehearsing earlier that day, his eyes a reflection of the process. The death of sleep was a uniting reminder across all parties. Yet the nonstop nature of a Dreamville artist is ceaseless. Bas has a Tiny Desk concert lined up, which means an imminent flight to Massachusetts, followed by an acoustic set. All in a day's work. Still, Bas remains a positive presence, tired but not void of good humor. I didn’t see much of Bas in action, though I did catch him in the zone, quietly vibing to some unreleased Dreamers material.

While Venus works closely with the sound engineer, Cozz provides a recap of the day’s events. At length, he speaks about a banger with himself, Dreezy (“Dreezy SNAPPED”, he warns, his voice lined with admiration and a hint of fear) and Guapdad 4000. J.I.D's earlier reflection on the shared, near childlike admiration of the Dreamers material comes to fruition before my eyes. After a while, Dreamville president Ibrahim Hamad pops in, asking if there is anything for Vince Staples to hop on. Alas, the timing. While I did not, in fact, witness Vince Staples laying down verses, I did later hear him reflecting on his “seven or eight” favorite Dreamers selections. Once again, confirmation that something truly spectacular was in the works.

After Venus, called Olu by nearly everyone in attendance, wraps up, Ibrahim settles down for a recap of sorts. The engineer proceeds to queue up the song Venus had been working on, which features Cozz, Buddy, and more. Seeing Ibrahim in action speaks to his visionary status, and provides one integral insight; his hand will be all over the incoming Dreamers III, and rest assured, that is no enviable task. Yet he seems well equipped for the job to come, joking with Cozz about the abundance of eight-verse songs. Cozz finds the overcrowding process rather amusing, a side-effect of the open-ended nature of the sessions. If he, by his own admission, got “murdered on wax,” he would be happy to allow room for the standouts to shine. Ibrahim grins maniacally in response, promising to cut without remorse.

.
5

It’s entirely possible that J.I.D never set foot outside of Studio M. Not even once. The darkened room is a mecca of sorts, in which a new track is being perpetually concocted. When I arrive, J.I.D is buried in a piece of looseleaf, jotting down various fragmented lyrics. A familiar voice fills the air, as Raleigh rapper King Mez is in the middle of laying down a verse. The song in question, a soulful collaboration with Smino, Buddy, and Ari Lennox, finds Mez on a playful tip, lamenting a relationship gone astray with a scathing tinge of dark comedy. Not long after nailing his verse, Mez leaves on a mission, intent on finding Buddy for an essential ad-lib. Ari is already taking to the booth, and proceeds to lay down her verse with the quickness. I ask J.I.D whether he is intending on hopping on board; he seems content to let the track live in its current iteration, appreciating it for what it is becoming.

By this point, Venus has disappeared, and Dot is handling business elsewhere. I make my way back to Studio A, where Cozz has adopted a mission of his own: secure Avion Tequila by any means necessary. The air soon comes alive with a pulsating banger. Beside me, New York production collective ClickNPress (a duo made up of Young Fly and KQuick) and Sounwave, are sitting at their respective setups, creating a beat in real time. The speakers are cranked to ridiculous levels; this is not for finessing frequencies, but strictly for eliciting a visceral response. The producers vibe, the head-nodding infectious, as they arrange and request elements. Vocal samples are integrated and sweet spots are discovered. Snap decisions are made and experimental ideas become mainstays. Nobody says anything for the next ten minutes as the producers put on a show.

After ClickNPress and Sounwave conclude that their handiwork is ready to bounce, a new face enters the room, much to the delight of those in attendance. It becomes clear that the overalls-clad Guapdad 4000 is for the people as he’s quickly swarmed. His reputation precedes him; earlier that day, many had reflected on the “sauce” he added to whatever track he so happened to bless. Guap’s presence seems to spark a renewed excitement for the aforementioned Cozz, Dreezy and Guapdad banger. Luckily, the time has come. Cozz proceeds to queue it up, kicking off an impromptu listening session. The hype is, without exaggeration, absolutely warranted. Videographers circle the room as Cozz delivers a spontaneous lip-sync performance of his opening verse. Next up, Dreezy absolutely bodies her section, snapping indeed. “I got these white teens, like the right wing,” spits Guap, in his own closing moments. Of all the songs I've heard, which, in the grand scheme of things, is only a fraction, this one stood among the highlights.

6

I’m back in Studio M, sitting beside John, the capable and vigilant engineer. An old-school Supah Mario instrumental is playing. J.I.D is in the booth. Naturally, a crowd has formed. Smino is here, as is Buddy. Young MA has even stopped by for a spell. As this unfolds, J.I.D lays down a few takes of free verse. He’s not married to any songwriting confines, but merely driven by a compulsion to rap. It’s entirely possible that this is the manifestation of the fragmented lyrics he was working on earlier. What it really is, however, is a testament. A testament to an unparalleled work ethic, a rapper’s rapper, one who will never waste the opportunity to sharpen his craft.

As he exits the booth, he doesn’t appear attached to his latest creation. In fact, it seems like practice for him. A brief exercise to keep his senses honed. What truly impresses me about the way J.I.D carries himself is the dedication. It doesn’t matter that he recently wrote an entire solo album, with a No I.D.-assisted project in the pipeline. He’s still here, his pen never ceasing to put in work. Quietly leading by example. Tapping into the recesses of the mind only revealed during the depths of insomnia. All of this discerned from what might very well be a throwaway cut. Yet, he continues to put in work. What I saw in that studio shows all the makings of a hip-hop mainstay. One that will drive the culture forward, perhaps one day reaching the very same “top three” echelon from his earlier musings.

7

Dinnertime is over. The lounge is filled with artists. The Aux Cord is being passed around, as I’m sitting against a pool table, soaking in some of the week’s creations. One of the highlights arrives with the return of “Trap J. Cole,” which finds the Dreamville orchestrator taking to an ominous instrumental, like “KOD’s” more sinister cousin; Cole interpolates the child-like “roses are red, diamonds are blue” rhyme for the chorus, showcasing his sheer mastery of flow. Another finds J.I.D. and T.I. exchanging verses over a smooth instrumental, tapping into the spiritual trail once blazed by Jay-Z’s “Girls, Girls, Girls.”

As I leave the lounge, I catch sight of J. Cole. He’s conversing with somebody by the hallway. As he turns, we cross paths, and shake hands. I tell him it’s an honor to be here. He’s humble and appreciative. I can see that he’s got work to do. Ibrahim has beckoned him to Studio A, which I’m politely informed has become an “artists-only” environment. I acquiesce with a “say no more,” and make my way over to Studio M for a final examination.

The room is thick with smoke. Smino, Buddy, and J.I.D are in the midst of creating a vibe-heavy track. “I’ll put a hole in your ass,” seems to be the hypnotic refrain. J.I.D moves like a man entranced, lip-syncing a track that was likely made within the past hour. The song itself is reflective of a bender; surreal, sluggish, and mischievous. It’s getting late. Somehow, J.I.D is still working, as if driven solely by the spirits of hip-hop deities. There is still much to be done, and the Dreamville sessions are nearing their conclusion.

 
0/1000CLOSE
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WORDS BY:
MITCH
FINDLAY

PHOTOS BY:
ARMEN
KELESHIAN
SPILL VILL
1

For those who experience hip-hop as escapism, worldbuilding is a priceless quality. Many, myself included, have lived vicariously through countless voices. It wasn’t long ago that I had never set foot in Atlanta. Yet I have heard depictions from a variety of writers across the years. The intellectuals, like Big Boi and Three Stacks, blending reality with dystopian sci-fi elements. The trappers, like Guwop and 21 Savage, who draw power from the bleak, ruthless and formidable. And most recently, a new movement of Atlanta talent, encompassed by Dreamville’s J.I.D and EarthGang.

It’s 1 PM. Standing outside the Spillage Village house beneath a gray, looming sea of clouds, the difference between tangible reality and vicarious living strikes close. The street is desolate, the foot-traffic nonexistent. Trees are barren of leaves, gnarled, southern-gothic embodiments. J.I.D’s golden Pontiac, a relic of hard-fought times, is parked outside. It doesn’t appear to be able or willing to move. Upon knocking the door, I wait for a minute. Like Gucci Mane, J.I.D is peeking through the blinds. He answers, friendly and welcoming, still shaking off the night before. A long one, and understandably so. It is, after all, the final days of the Revenge Of The Dreamers 3 recording sessions.

J.I.D heads back upstairs to prepare, leaving me to sit on the couch. The interior is spacious, open concept. Suitcases, some still yet to be unpacked, line the floors. An ornate door looks pulled from dark fantasy. Empty liquor bottles mark many evenings well spent. Posters of Spillage Village essentials, EarthGang’s Strays With Rabies and Shallow Graves For Toys adorn the walls. A desk houses two studio monitors; a microphone stands in front of them.

J.I.D’s Dreamville debut, The Never Story was recorded in this very room, not far from where I’m sitting. While I wait, a man stirs from his couch-induced slumber. He introduces himself as Malik, a friend and producer (he laced Ariana Grande’s “Better Off”). He too found himself swept up in the week’s creativity.

A cat, official Dreamers invitee Frank Ocean, reigns over the grounds. He’s far less docile and good natured than his namesake. After a while, EarthGang’s own Johnny Venus saunters in, electric with positive energy. He’s marvelling at a banger he recently finished recording, which features Bas, Ski Mask, Guapdad 4000, and Dot. It’s clear the song has him excited; more specifically, the shared creativity of the process. Before long, Doctur Dot is in the house, beelining for a spot on the couch. The air soon fills with fragments of Nightmare Before Christmas lyrics, while Dot and Malik proceed to engage in a heated Super Smash Bros Ultimate tete-a-tete. “You don’t want to see me with Fox,” warns Dot, before taunting an absent Ski Mask’s gaming prowess.

While we wait for J.I.D, Venus settles by the studio desk. A MIDI keyboard is on his lap. He’s practicing chord progressions, marking the distinctions between major and minor. He tells me that he’s teaching himself, that his mother once played the organ. The smell of bud fills the air as the Smash Bros tourney intensifies. Excitement over the ongoing Dreamers sessions, and EarthGang’s own impending MirrorLand, is palpable. The Spillage Village house has come alive.

“WE WASN’T PLANNING ON RECORDING OUT OF THE HOUSE FOREVER. THAT WAS JUST ALL WE HAD.” - J.I.D
2

J.I.D has joined us. He’s wearing a custom designed piece of DiCaprio 2 apparel, where shades of punk rock collide with a colorful homage to Russell Westbrook. While Dot and Venus are both brimming with energy, J.I.D appears more reserved. An observer, quiet and attentive, choosing his words carefully. He’s polite, knowledgeable about his craft and those who came before him.

“Cole got us some jams,” teases Venus, after I ask about MirrorLand. “He laced us with some jams.” Dot echoes the notion. “It’s going to be a crazy year for us,” he promises. Crazy indeed. The nonstop nature of the Dreamers sessions are a prologue to months of nonstop touring; first Europe with Billie Eilish, next North America with Smino. Yet despite the whirlwind pace, EarthGang continue to stay grounded, whether recording at the iconic Tree Sound Studio or two feet from where we’re sitting. “It’s kind of like the same thing,” reflects Venus. “When we used to record here full time, this was the first place Cole pulled up.”

Yet the musical network did not begin with J. Cole. Before Dreamville was Spillage Village, borne of a shared vision between the trifecta. Together, they found themselves at the epicenter of a burgeoning movement.  “It was like a little music scene,” says J.I.D. “We knew everybody, they was always pulling up.”

“We were chillin outside on the trampoline,” adds Venus. “Just chillin, smoking, and making good music. It’s still like that now, but to the thousandth degree.” Yet the ambition was always present. “We wasn’t planning on recording out of the house forever,” says J.I.D. “That was just all we had.”

After moving into the Spill Vill house in 2015, EarthGang and J.I.D. decided to focus on honing their songwriting craft. “Creative fulfillment is always going to rank very high in our priorities,” says Dot. “Really waking up every day and trying to outdo yourself,” adds Venus. Looking back on the Shallow Graves and Strays With Rabies posters behind me, I ask about the main difference between album-crafting then and now. “You get a lot more support, a lot more resources,” says Venus, gesturing to J.I.D. “His shit was on a Billboard. He done did Fallon, a commercial with Westbrook. It takes time.”

“If you indie, you gotta have the money for it,” says J.I.D, before alluding to the importance of word of mouth. “In 2014, [J.I.D] released Para Tu,” outlines Venus. “We released Shallow Graves For Toys in 2015. That summer, any show going on in Atlanta, we were there.” “And we not rapping over our lyrics,” says J.I.D. “We going over raw instrumentals, it’s like a black and white, day and night thing. We stood out.” “As far as the city goes,” adds Dot. “Ain’t nobody that was better live. We built a name, first and foremost, off performing live.”

3

There seems to be a misconception that southern lyricism is a lost art. Of course, the foundational groundwork has been long set, since Andre 3000 took to the pulpit at the 95’ Source Awards, declaring that The South Has Something To Say. Dot, Venus, and J.I.D derive from the same musical DNA. Vibrant imagery and real-world reflections, converging in a marriage of poetic sensibilities and everyman relatability. At their best, their imagery stands alongside the game’s cleverest minds. I ask about their inspirations, with particular emphasis on vernacular and chosen slang.

“Shit, bro, that just comes from being black,” laughs Venus. “This not our first language. The way we talk, it has a rhythm, it has a style to it. We want to make sure we put that into the music. You go out on the street, and it be like, ‘I don’t know what these cats saying.’ I got a friend from the U.K, and sometimes, we don’t even understand what we say. You gotta repeat sentences over and over, and use it to your advantage.” I marvel at a line from Spillage Village’s “Bears Like This,” in which Venus pines for the comfort of “Hippo rumps.” “Big ol’ hippo rumps,” reflects a straight-faced Venus. “Who doesn’t love a hippo rump?”

As with most innovators, the Spillage Village trifecta have studied their predecessors. Revisiting the aforementioned the 95’ Source Awards, EarthGang seem to marvel at the infamous night. “Everybody was going crazy,” says Dot, lying back on the couch. “Snoop Dogg, everybody!” I ask whether they feel Andre’s prophecy held true; whether the South have ultimately succeeding in cementing their message. “Shiiiet,” laughs Venus. “Ask the charts, bro. You see where everybody came for the Dreamville retreat! We came to Atlanta for it. People flock down here, it’s a vibe down here. The city is bubbling over. You got Future boomin, Lil Baby boomin’, Spill Vill boomin. You got so much diversity, shit, we keep it poppin.” As if on cue, all three proceed to begin chanting a zombie-like refrain of “the south will hold you down!”

Throughout the conversation, J.I.D seems to consider his words wisely. It’s evident that part of the lyricist remains at Tree Sound Studios. The creative process, the endless nature of his post-DiCaprio-2 rollout, has yet to take a toll. In fact, he seems truly inspired, a leader in the booth. I ask him about the concept of legacy and whether he ever muses on his own. “We base ourselves on albums,” says J.I.D. “That’s the type of artists we chose to be. Artists that people look forward to dropping albums. Living with the album, as opposed to dropping singles. I personally think of things as a whole, but spontaneity always happens. You might make a song that you didn’t know would make an album.”

“When you become someone of interest, they want to figure out more about you. They want to figure out why they like you,” says J.I.D. “To me that’s important,” chimes in Venus. “Some of my favorite artists are artists you can play their shit anywhere and any time. That’s the pinnacle of creating music.” The conversation shifts into a discussion on “ranking culture,” whereupon hip-hop discourse is centered around an affinity to create a hierarchy of talent. “That’s a healthy conversation,” says Dot, while Venus reflects on the inherent nature of inter-genre competition. “For some reason, hip-hop is the main genre where competition is one of the most important factors,” he says. “It just comes from such a background of representing your city, your neighborhood. You have to hold it down.”  When I ask whether or not any healthy competition ever bleeds into the Spillage Village dynamic, J.I.D smiles. “Iron sharpens iron.”

And thus, we arrive to the topic of Revenge Of The Dreamers. With such a vast array of supporting players, in some ways, it feels like the Dreamville trifecta have a home-field advantage. Yet J.I.D has previously described his own process as an isolated one, and two of EarthGang's formative albums were recorded in the Spill Vill house; such an open-sourced, collaborative session was likely a new experience for all three rappers. I ask whether or not the intensive sessions have yielded any new challenges, and whether that same competitive spirit was lost in translation.

Dot is the first to respond. “These sessions in particular have felt more exciting than competitive. Everybody been going to listen to everybody shit,” he says. “Not even on no cap bullshit. I’m not trying to gas you up. It’s like a circus bro. This n***a out here on a motorcycle! This n****a here got elephants and lions! It’s been the most free art-making shit that hip-hop has ever had,” he continues. “N***as just all in the lab, cooking up, having a good time.”  “People been staying up all night, and we just creating,” adds J.I.D. “That’s the best thing about it. There’s just a lot of good music being made right now. It’s hard to explain.”

J.I.D proceeds to take a moment to appreciate Cole’s involvement in the process. “He’s definitely top three,” he says. “Everyone says Drake, Kendrick. They can do something like this, they have the power to do it. But you never know!” On that note, I ask whether or not we can expect some heat from J. Cole, EarthGang, and J.I.D. in the near future. “He gave us some jams,” reaffirms Dot, his brevity speaking volumes.

REVENGE OF THE DREAMERS
4

Approaching the storied Tree Sound Studios, I am overcome with a sense of awe. The fact that I am privileged enough to attend the Revengers sessions is not lost on me. The week prior to my arrival in Atlanta, I had watched from afar as a cavalcade of artists and creatives lined the studio. The invitation-rollout, a subtle touch of brilliance, worked wonders in setting a fire beneath the game. And here I am, with two days left on the schedule. After that, the Revenge Of The Dreamers 3 sessions will come to an end.

Upon entering the lobby, I am immediately met with a reminder of the building’s history. Platinum plaques line the walls. Outkast’s The Love Below/Speakerboxxx. Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter III. Goodie Mob’s Still Standing. At this point, EarthGang and J.I.D have adventured deeper into the studio’s labyrinthian confines, leaving me to explore the building, soaking in the experience. The first corner I turn, I walk into Vince Staples, who is in the process of departing Studio M. I would later come to discover that J.I.D had essentially set up camp there, embarking on a near-endless string of writing, recording, and vibing to whatever happened to cross his path.

In the meantime, however, I've heard that Venus was in the middle of recording something for a Dreamers cut. I make my way to Studio A, a central room and hub of sorts, overlooking an impressive live room. Venus is sitting by the console, recording an outro section to a melodic, trippy banger. Labelmates Cozz and Bas are also in attendance; the former, a charismatic force, formidable and affable in equal measure, the latter a stalwart, larger-than life presence, exuding gravitas and quiet leadership. Meanwhile, Venus is showcasing an impressive vocal range, prompting Cozz to marvel at his “Jamaican passion.” While it wasn’t a lengthy section, the scope of Venus’ talents are impressive to behold; not only can the man rap his ass off, but he’s got a powerful voice to match.

In the corner chair, Bas is posted up. He had been rehearsing earlier that day, his eyes a reflection of the process. The death of sleep was a uniting reminder across all parties. Yet the nonstop nature of a Dreamville artist is ceaseless. Bas has a Tiny Desk concert lined up, which means an imminent flight to Massachusetts, followed by an acoustic set. All in a day's work. Still, Bas remains a positive presence, tired but not void of good humor. I didn’t see much of Bas in action, though I did catch him in the zone, quietly vibing to some unreleased Dreamers material.

While Venus works closely with the sound engineer, Cozz provides a recap of the day’s events. At length, he speaks about a banger with himself, Dreezy (“Dreezy SNAPPED”, he warns, his voice lined with admiration and a hint of fear) and Guapdad 4000. J.I.D's earlier reflection on the shared, near childlike admiration of the Dreamers material comes to fruition before my eyes. After a while, Dreamville president Ibrahim Hamad pops in, asking if there is anything for Vince Staples to hop on. Alas, the timing. While I did not, in fact, witness Vince Staples laying down verses, I did later hear him reflecting on his “seven or eight” favorite Dreamers selections. Once again, confirmation that something truly spectacular was in the works.

After Venus, called Olu by nearly everyone in attendance, wraps up, Ibrahim settles down for a recap of sorts. The engineer proceeds to queue up the song Venus had been working on, which features Cozz, Buddy, and more. Seeing Ibrahim in action speaks to his visionary status, and provides one integral insight; his hand will be all over the incoming Dreamers III, and rest assured, that is no enviable task. Yet he seems well equipped for the job to come, joking with Cozz about the abundance of eight-verse songs. Cozz finds the overcrowding process rather amusing, a side-effect of the open-ended nature of the sessions. If he, by his own admission, got “murdered on wax,” he would be happy to allow room for the standouts to shine. Ibrahim grins maniacally in response, promising to cut without remorse.

.
5

It’s entirely possible that J.I.D never set foot outside of Studio M. Not even once. The darkened room is a mecca of sorts, in which a new track is being perpetually concocted. When I arrive, J.I.D is buried in a piece of looseleaf, jotting down various fragmented lyrics. A familiar voice fills the air, as Raleigh rapper King Mez is in the middle of laying down a verse. The song in question, a soulful collaboration with Smino, Buddy, and Ari Lennox, finds Mez on a playful tip, lamenting a relationship gone astray with a scathing tinge of dark comedy. Not long after nailing his verse, Mez leaves on a mission, intent on finding Buddy for an essential ad-lib. Ari is already taking to the booth, and proceeds to lay down her verse with the quickness. I ask J.I.D whether he is intending on hopping on board; he seems content to let the track live in its current iteration, appreciating it for what it is becoming.

By this point, Venus has disappeared, and Dot is handling business elsewhere. I make my way back to Studio A, where Cozz has adopted a mission of his own: secure Avion Tequila by any means necessary. The air soon comes alive with a pulsating banger. Beside me, New York production collective ClickNPress (a duo made up of Young Fly and KQuick) and Sounwave, are sitting at their respective setups, creating a beat in real time. The speakers are cranked to ridiculous levels; this is not for finessing frequencies, but strictly for eliciting a visceral response. The producers vibe, the head-nodding infectious, as they arrange and request elements. Vocal samples are integrated and sweet spots are discovered. Snap decisions are made and experimental ideas become mainstays. Nobody says anything for the next ten minutes as the producers put on a show.

After ClickNPress and Sounwave conclude that their handiwork is ready to bounce, a new face enters the room, much to the delight of those in attendance. It becomes clear that the overalls-clad Guapdad 4000 is for the people as he’s quickly swarmed. His reputation precedes him; earlier that day, many had reflected on the “sauce” he added to whatever track he so happened to bless. Guap’s presence seems to spark a renewed excitement for the aforementioned Cozz, Dreezy and Guapdad banger. Luckily, the time has come. Cozz proceeds to queue it up, kicking off an impromptu listening session. The hype is, without exaggeration, absolutely warranted. Videographers circle the room as Cozz delivers a spontaneous lip-sync performance of his opening verse. Next up, Dreezy absolutely bodies her section, snapping indeed. “I got these white teens, like the right wing,” spits Guap, in his own closing moments. Of all the songs I've heard, which, in the grand scheme of things, is only a fraction, this one stood among the highlights.

6

I’m back in Studio M, sitting beside John, the capable and vigilant engineer. An old-school Supah Mario instrumental is playing. J.I.D is in the booth. Naturally, a crowd has formed. Smino is here, as is Buddy. Young MA has even stopped by for a spell. As this unfolds, J.I.D lays down a few takes of free verse. He’s not married to any songwriting confines, but merely driven by a compulsion to rap. It’s entirely possible that this is the manifestation of the fragmented lyrics he was working on earlier. What it really is, however, is a testament. A testament to an unparalleled work ethic, a rapper’s rapper, one who will never waste the opportunity to sharpen his craft.

As he exits the booth, he doesn’t appear attached to his latest creation. In fact, it seems like practice for him. A brief exercise to keep his senses honed. What truly impresses me about the way J.I.D carries himself is the dedication. It doesn’t matter that he recently wrote an entire solo album, with a No I.D.-assisted project in the pipeline. He’s still here, his pen never ceasing to put in work. Quietly leading by example. Tapping into the recesses of the mind only revealed during the depths of insomnia. All of this discerned from what might very well be a throwaway cut. Yet, he continues to put in work. What I saw in that studio shows all the makings of a hip-hop mainstay. One that will drive the culture forward, perhaps one day reaching the very same “top three” echelon from his earlier musings.

7

Dinnertime is over. The lounge is filled with artists. The Aux Cord is being passed around, as I’m sitting against a pool table, soaking in some of the week’s creations. One of the highlights arrives with the return of “Trap J. Cole,” which finds the Dreamville orchestrator taking to an ominous instrumental, like “KOD’s” more sinister cousin; Cole interpolates the child-like “roses are red, diamonds are blue” rhyme for the chorus, showcasing his sheer mastery of flow. Another finds J.I.D. and T.I. exchanging verses over a smooth instrumental, tapping into the spiritual trail once blazed by Jay-Z’s “Girls, Girls, Girls.”

As I leave the lounge, I catch sight of J. Cole. He’s conversing with somebody by the hallway. As he turns, we cross paths, and shake hands. I tell him it’s an honor to be here. He’s humble and appreciative. I can see that he’s got work to do. Ibrahim has beckoned him to Studio A, which I’m politely informed has become an “artists-only” environment. I acquiesce with a “say no more,” and make my way over to Studio M for a final examination.

The room is thick with smoke. Smino, Buddy, and J.I.D are in the midst of creating a vibe-heavy track. “I’ll put a hole in your ass,” seems to be the hypnotic refrain. J.I.D moves like a man entranced, lip-syncing a track that was likely made within the past hour. The song itself is reflective of a bender; surreal, sluggish, and mischievous. It’s getting late. Somehow, J.I.D is still working, as if driven solely by the spirits of hip-hop deities. There is still much to be done, and the Dreamville sessions are nearing their conclusion.

 
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Tha parker
top comment
Tha parker
Feb 8, 2019

Really your best article this year, Dreamville taking over

  1
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Made_to_Post
Made_to_Post
Mar 18, 2019

Had no idea about this article, great job HNHH

 
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RAB HasNOLimits
RAB HasNOLimits
Feb 11, 2019

good read

 
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sj23
sj23
Feb 10, 2019

Yo Mitch - bravo on this. Very impressive writing. Keep up the good work this was a fantastic read

 
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Jermaine Cole
Jermaine Cole
Feb 10, 2019

These cover stories are easily the best things to read on HNHH. More of this and less of the paparazzi bullshit please!

 
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Hotnewhiphop
Hotnewhiphop
Feb 9, 2019

Great stuff. These cover articles are always solid, keep it coming.

 
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GET THE STRAP
GET THE STRAP
Feb 9, 2019

landfillgang and jid aka joke in disguise..good article but trash artists next time get someone that is actually good

  7
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TheBabeButton
TheBabeButton
Feb 8, 2019

You paint a vivid picture, Mr. Findlay. The south had something to say!

 
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Jo'el C.
Jo'el C.
Feb 8, 2019

Wow! Legit just found out about Earthgang last year. Thanks for this info.

 
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fish
fish
Feb 8, 2019

This is the quality we want to see on HNHH, thank you!

 
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Mitch Findlay
ADMIN
Mitch Findlay
Feb 8, 2019

Thanks to everybody who took the time to read 🙌

 
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Makingtondesires

Great article!!!!!!!!!

 
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PacBigNas3000EmColeKdotWayneHovTip

Good read. Amazing access for the writer. Dreamville on the takeover for real.

 
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Tha parker
Tha parker
Feb 8, 2019

Really your best article this year, Dreamville taking over

  1
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Spirit Sword
Spirit Sword
Feb 8, 2019

Excellent cover stories as always! My favorite one is 2Chainz

 
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🐵 THE APE 🐵

Love it these guys are so real

 
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Rose Lilah
ADMIN
Rose Lilah
Feb 8, 2019

what do you guys think!!

 
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kigwe
kigwe
Feb 8, 2019

I think i like you! Keep it up!

 
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Rose Lilah
ADMIN
Rose Lilah
Feb 8, 2019

@kigwe : ok!!

 
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Spirit Sword

I think u should let me take you out on a date beautiful 🌹

 
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ilexx
ilexx
Feb 8, 2019

🔥💥

 
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Makingtondesires

More of this less of that 😁

 
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Black Brain

This is a great hip hop article really good job guys

 
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Hiphopphilosophy

Great article. Way to take us behind the scenes of an important moment in Hip Hop. I’m ready for the music.

 
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