Over the weekend, 40,000 attendees showed up at Dorothea Dix Park for J. Cole’s Dreamville Festival. Last September, the event was postponed due to Hurricane Florence, so the Dreamville team has been working relentlessly alongside Scoremore to ensure that everything went off without a hitch. However, this minor setback would end up propelling Dreamville Festival into something bigger than itself. Locals have emphasized that a decade ago they never would have imagined something like this happening in Raleigh, North Carolina. The significance of J. Cole bringing an experience like this to his hometown is huge beyond measure –Dreamville Fest posed as a moment that many will never forget.
A few days before the festival, I had the opportunity to attend a panel with Dreamville president Ibrahim Hamad and Scoremore’s Sascha Stone Guttfreund that was hosted by For the Students. Both figures expressed how this relationship wasn’t built overnight, but was something that they have been working on together for years. After this weekend’s festivities, it’s obvious that the chemistry between the two parties goes beyond a business partnership. When asked about what the earlier stages of Dreamville entailed and whether he felt like they exceeded those expectations, Hamad explained that they “were just in the moment” and “the goal was just the next step.” He adds, “When we always sell out shows me and Cole always look at each other like ‘damn we really sold out that’s wild,’ because you can never take things for granted. You can’t act like it’s a given.”
Upon entering the festival, I was drawn to the Mac Miller and Nipsey Hussle murals that were spread across the grounds which fans immediately took in. The festival also had a wide variety of local food vendors along with a sand sculpture and photo booths. The lineup included a wide array of acts, from Raleigh native Mez and North Carolina hero Rapsody to Teyana Taylor, Big Sean, 21 Savage, SZA, Saba, Nelly, and 6LACK. And of course, the Dreamville roster Omen, Lute, Ari Lennox, Bas, Cozz, J.I.D, Earthgang, and J. Cole were also on the lineup.
Dreamville artists Lute and Omen both previewed new music during their sets. Earthgang set the stage on fire with their energy. J.I.D was a standout performance of the night, and Bas’ set was electric. He brought out a fan to rap Cole’s verse on “Lit” and the crowd erupted.
Meanwhile, Big Sean gave the crowd a very touching tribute to Nipsey Hussle. “I want to dedicate this moment right now to Nipsey Hussle the great,” he said. “I know I’m talking to the crowd right now but I want to talk to Nipsey too. Thank you for teaching everybody so much. Thank you for the inspiration.”
When Cole finally came out on stage, he spent a brief moment taking it all in; he’s certainly come a long way. He reminisced on his days of selling his mixtapes in North Carolina while smoothly transitioning into “Grown Simba” off his The Warm Up mixtape.
“These are not hits, these are classics,” he said. “I don’t care if you don’t know one word. This is for me.”
The connection that Dreamville has with its fan base was very evident. With this festival, Dreamville was able to have a physical place that embodied their message. “We are all here for the love of people, for the love of life,” Cole said. With arms locked around each other, the audience swayed to the beat as Cole closed out his set with “Note to Self.”
- Words & Photography: Hibak Mohamed