Dreamville Records was founded in 2007, after the release of J. Cole’s first mixtape, The Come Up. Ibrahim “Ib” Hamad, Cole’s friend from college, serves as A&R and President of the label. That same year, Omen was signed to the label.
So far, all three of Cole’s albums have been released under the label, in collaboration with Roc Nation and Columbia.
In early 2014, they made two huge announcements: they inked a distribution deal with Interscope Records, and signed Queens rapper Bas, the first of a slew of new artists to sign to the label.
Later that year, LA based rapper Cozz would sign to the label. Most recently, they signed Charlotte, NC rapper Lute and singer-songwriter Ari Lennox earlier this month.
What makes Dreamville so successful is the way they’ve been able to market themselves. This has mostly to do with the fact that they have no other choice.
Aside from Cole, no artist on the label has a big enough following to simply market themselves like a regular rapper signed to a major label.
It almost seems like Bas, Omen, and Cozz are still unsigned rappers with how much in the trenches fan boosting they have to do.
If you go to one of their concerts, there’s very little glitz and glamour. Just a bare bones hip hop show, unless Cole is present of course. In some ways, they follow the same format that Cole did; the only difference is that they’re doing it in front of the whole world.
Dreamville uses cross promotion to push their music to the masses. Much like other smaller labels (ex: TDE, Jet Life), when one of their own releases a project, everyone changes their profile picture to the album art, and promotes the project like it’s their own.
Also, of the albums that have been released under the Dreamville label, all have featured an artist from the roster or production from one of the in-house producers.
Because all of them came into the fold with different fan bases, their cross promotion creates fans of not only that artist, but the entire roster. This is vital to the success of smaller labels when it comes to doing joint tours and compilation albums, as buyers are more likely to shell out money for a concert ticket or album if more than one artist they like is there.
In addition, even before an artist is officially signed to the label, there is usually some sort of cosign by someone already at the label.
Before he was signed in 2014, Bas appeared on “New York Times” from Cole’s second album, Born Sinner and also on “Cousins” from his EP, Truly Yours 2.
Lute received a shoutout from Cole at a concert a year before he was signed. Ari Lennox appeared on “Sweat It Out” from Omen’s debut Elephant Eyes.
Then there’s concerts. Dreamville as a whole is probably the most creative when it comes to finding interesting ways to promote and conduct concerts, which college age kids (the majority of Dreamville’s fan base) really enjoy.
It all started in 2013 with Cole’s first “Dollar & a Dream” concert series, where he performed The Warm Up in its entirety while charging just $1 to get into a show. In a genius move to make draw attention to the shows, the location wasn’t named until an hour before.
I myself attempted to get to the Raleigh, NC show in July 2014, but failed miserably, but I digress. Cole would continue with 2014 and 2015 editions of the concert series, performing Friday Night Lights during the 2015 version.
From that point on, touring became a vital part of promotion for Dreamville. As soon as Bas was signed to the label in January 2014, he went on tour as Cole’s supporting act.
When he released Last Winter he went on a small 10-day tour, then followed that by going on a 24 city nationwide and international tour with Ab-Soul.
Soon after Omen and Cozz released albums in 2015, they went on short tours within the next month or two. In addition, they were all supporting acts for Cole’s 2014 Forest Hills Drive Tour.
Most recently, on December 12, the labelmates (who move more like a family) surprised fans with 3 shows in one day in NYC with a bar crawl from DROP NYC in the East Village to Cake Shop and finally to SOBs in SoHo.
SN: This is small, yet commendable. All of the Dreamville apparel and merch that the roster wears to concerts and other public appearances, is (or was) actually available for purchase on their website.
The “Fuck Money, Spread Love” hoodie that Cole wore on Late Night with David Letterman when he performed “Be Free” can be purchased RIGHT NOW here. If an item isn’t available at Dreamville’s website, it’s available at the specific artist’s website (ex: Bas’s FIENDS shirt is available here).
While apparel isn’t the only thing, it’s an important part of building a committed fan base. Dreamville makes it a point to make their brand something that all fans can be a part of.
Another major component of Dreamville’s marketing success is simple. When you see them, whether that’s at shows, or on social media, or in interviews, they really seem like a family. Since Bas, Omen, and Cozz came up around the same time, they all seem like brothers who have gone through the same struggle and it brought them closer.
Cole seems more like a big brother to everyone rather than some overarching Panopticon of surveillance like some label bosses do. Even el presidente, Ib, acts as more of a big brother than anything else with the roster (possibly because Bas is his actual little brother).
Most of all, they seem like they’re having a blast. ALL THE TIME. You don’t see that often, especially in hip-hop, where everyone’s so focused on being tough all the time. I think that’s what makes Dreamville identifiable.
I think that it all goes back to before Roc Nation, when Cole was an unsigned artist with some buzz. Back then, Dreamville was nothing but a movement among Cole fans, a phrase and hashtag to add to their posts on social media about Cole.
As things began to materialize, it was implanted into the consciousness of fans that it was the crew of Cole, Ib, Omen, etc. As time passed by, Dreamville was still just as important to fans as before.
Because of that, shifting from it being just a phrase, to Dreamville Records, a full fledged record label with distribution and a full roster of artists, in the minds of fans, wasn’t that hard of a thing to do.
And more so, it wasn’t hard for casual listeners to latch on (or at least give it a chance) was because they were already familiar with it.
Since the beginning of Cole’s career, him and Ib set things in motion perfectly for Dreamville to be where it’s at today. Following the path of success that Cole took, signees of the label have enjoyed early critical and commercial success.
Only time will tell if they can continue the momentum, but by the looks of it, the sky’s the limit for Dreamville.