By Grant Golden
April 6, 2022
Photo: Samantha Everette
The inaugural Dreamville Festival in 2019 brought 40,000 people to Dorothea Dix Park in Raleigh. Following a three-year hiatus, the festival doubled in size to a two-day 80,000 person outing making J. Cole’s event one of the largest of its kind in North Carolina. This year’s festival brought some of hip-hop’s biggest acts to Raleigh, alongside a collection of Cole’s frequent collaborators.
Maybe it’s the excitement folks have from years of under pandemic lockdown or perhaps it’s the vibe that Cole and his crew bring, but Dorothea Dix Park was abuzz with positive energy this past weekend. As gates opened, fans were greeted to a large Dreamville arch and an array of art installations perfect for photo opportunities.
The Dreamville crew didn’t only highlight local visual artists; each day boasted impromptu performances from North Carolina Central University’s Sound Machine marching band, which served as a festival highlight. Heads turned from food lines and festival stages to see a congregation of dancers and musicians marching to contemporary hip-hop hits, and fans flocked to catch a glimpse.
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The Dreamville experience felt special because it’s clear there was remarkable attention to detail. Artists and emcees stopped performances to help struggling attendees in the crowd and pass out water. They even introduced an old Grateful Dead tactic of “taking two steps back” before a song started so folks weren’t crammed together.
All of these aspects helped to make Dreamville a downright fun outing. And, while plenty of festivals are fun, it takes a special event to bring together such a spectacular collection of artists. With a unique blend of nostalgia and innovation, Dreamville weekend brought a ton of fantastic musical moments.
DJ Drama’s Gangsta Grillz – ft. Lil Wayne, T.I., and Jeezy
Arguably the most anticipated performance of the weekend, the Gangsta Grillz set highlighted some of the most iconic hip-hop artists over the past two decades. Tracks like Jeezy’s “Trap or Die,” T.I.’s “Rubberband Man” and Wayne’s “A Milli” had the tens of thousands in attendance emphatically rapping along to every word. But it wasn’t just the nostalgia that kept folks around. Each artist had a compelling stage performance, helping to heighten the energy of a crowd that had been soaking in the sun and non-stop tunes for two full days.
— Dreamville Fest (@Dreamvillefest) April 4, 2022
It could be argued that EARTHGANG were the MVPs of the weekend, joining a handful of acts on stage while also providing one of the best performances of the festival. The duo of Olu and WowGr8 brought an even mix of tracks from their latest album Ghetto Gods and 2019’s Mirrorland, with fans equally engaged in both old and new efforts. With tracks like their Young Thug collaboration, “Proud of U,” and their Revenge of the Dreamers III effort, “1993,” EARTHGANG commanded the crowd’s attention with a blend of high energy and slow-brooding bangers. Most impressively, the duo was able to physically engage with the crowd without missing a beat of their complicated rhythms.
JID’s brand of high-energy hip-hop had Dreamville fans brimming with anticipation, easily garnering one of the largest crowds of Saturday’s daytime performances. Opening with a collection of tracks from his first two records, JID’s set ended up heavy on collaborations– making the performance feel truly unique to Dreamville. Bringing along both Mereba for “Sandstorm” and EARTHGANG for tracks like “Baptize” from their Spillage Village work, JID’s performance felt like a party. By the time JID welcomed a mosh pit for the first ever performance of “Stick,” from the new Gangsta Grillz tape D-Day, it was clear that his performance would be a standout of the weekend.
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— Dreamville Fest (@Dreamvillefest) April 3, 2022
As one of the few folks on the lineup who still call North Carolina home, Lute’s set felt like a homecoming celebration. Despite his early afternoon start time, Lute’s audience was full of engaged fans singing along to every hook and rapping every verse. Including highlights from his most recent album Gold Mouf, and “Queen City Slummin’” from his 2012 mixtape West1996, Lute’s performance was impassioned and impressive. His music is heavily driven by emotional lyricism and his affectionate nature shone through with his crowd-work and vocal deliveries. This was a set that helped solidify Lute as one of our state’s finest hip-hop talents.
Nigerian singer Wizkid brought a breath of fresh air to the Dreamville stages with this Afrobeats flair, easily serving as one of the weekend’s most unique artists. One of the few acts with a full band, Wizkid’s performance had an organic and free-flowing rhythm that paired well with his Afropop hits. From start to finish Wizkid had the crowd swaying and singing along to tracks like “No Stress” and “Ginger” from his Grammy-nominated record Made in Lagos. As Wizkid wrapped up his set with his megahit, “Essence,” fans erupted and danced their way over to the next stage with a palpable sense of excitement.
Timing and pacing is a crucial aspect of festival curation, and whoever put Ari Lennox on at sunset during Sunday deserves a gold medal. Backed by a powerful collection of women on drums, guitars, keys and backing vocals, Lennox wowed the crowd with her stellar vocal range and mic work. Whether she was asking folks about backseat fornication or sharing stories of her first apartment in Cary, Lennox had the crowd in the palm of her hand from open to close. Tracks like “Backseat” and “Goat” highlighted her early work, while her newest effort “Pressure” served as one of the set’s highlights. A lot of folks might have missed this set trying to get a better spot for DJ Drama and friends, but those that stayed were treated to a stellar performance.
Bas’ infectious energy and vivacious flows made his set a high point of the festival. Fans raged in mosh pits to tracks like “Costa Rica,” emphatically shouted the words to “Tribe,” and danced to the booming beats of “Boca Raton.” Alongside his wide collection of hits, Bas brought out up-and-coming NY-based B-Lovee for two tracks, and even pulled a fan from the crowd to rap J. Cole’s verse to their collaboration “Lit.”