Our favorite moments from Dreamville Fest 2023

By Grant Golden

April 4, 2023

Photo: Izzy Nuzzo Photo 

Raleigh’s Dorothea Dix Park housed one of the largest music events the state has seen this past weekend, as Dreamville Fest brought 100,000 attendees from 50 U.S. states and 23 countries to the Oak City. Founded in 2019 by hip-hop megastar J. Cole has quickly become one of the country’s most anticipated events, combining contemporary icons with nostalgic throwbacks and talented up-and-comers to bring a diverse mix of artists and attendees. This year’s lineup sold out in weeks with a heavy hitting lineup featuring Drake, Usher, Burna Boy, Lil’ Durk, and many more.

Photo: Sam Shapiro Media / Dreamville Fest

Displaying a cohesive vision from the Dreamville team, the festival expanded their footprint in Raleigh with pop-up stores, panels, and free outdoor shows throughout the week leading up to the festival. Lines wrapped around the block nearly all day for the Dreamville merch pop-up store on Friday, but there were more events for attendees to enjoy. Lute’s Gold Mouf Garage at Raleigh’s Union Station boasted old school cars, DJs and performances from acclaimed locals acts like Sonny Miles and Shame Gang. The Contemporary Art Museum housed a day full of panels and conversations with creators like 9th Wonder, Timbaland, Ari Lennox, and more, capped off with the Gene Brown Beatdown featuring esteemed producers like Khrysis, D.R.U.G.S, Bink, and Nottz.

These pre-party events helped to cultivate a sense of community for this large-scale festival, tapping into many of the city’s local creatives to both introduce attendees to the Dreamville vibe and also showcase North Carolina talent. Throughout the evening on Friday though, all events were abuzz with chatter around how Dreamville planned to address the impending storms that were ravaging the Southeast. While the weather ended up holding out, the festival did push the start time back for Saturday to 3:00 pm.

While the weather held up on Saturday, there were sound issues on the Rise stage throughout the day. Photo: Beth Saravo / Dreamville Fest

The weather held up, but production issues dampened a lot of Saturday’s acts on the Rise stage. Jessie Reyez’ full band was unfortunately full of muddied audio, EarthGang both started late and was plagued with sound issues including mics and tracks cutting out, and City Girls’ brand of trap music was overpowered by sub-bass with little ability to hear the vocals. Despite the audio problems, fans packed close were still bringing high energy, but those roughly halfway through the crowd were standing fairly still and looking disinterested throughout the sets on the Rise stage Saturday. 

Thankfully by Sunday these problems were resolved and attendees were treated to one of the strongest single-day festival lineups Raleigh has seen in recent memory. Capped off with a star-studded co-headlining set by Drake and J. Cole (featuring Lil Uzi Vert, Lil Wayne, and 21 Savage), Nigerian Afrobeats superstar Burna Boy, and lively sets from Summer Walker, J.I.D and more, Dreamville Festival corrected course and dazzled with a polished, well-run event. 



Here are some of our favorite moments and performances from Dreamville Fest 2023:

Burna Boy

Dreamville Festival has made a point of highlighting international artists alongside iconic North American acts, and few artists across the globe are as popular as Nigerian megastar Burna Boy. Burna delivered a stellar performance on Sunday evening, backed by a robust live band filled with saxophones, trumpets, backing vocalists, keys, guitar, and more. Full of polyrhythms and anthemic melodies, fans sang and swayed to a collection of career-spanning hits. Love, Damini standout “Last Last” got one of the biggest reactions of the evening, but staples like “On The Low” and “Kilometre” resulted in massive singalongs from fans in attendance. Burna’s live production was easily the largest of the festival, and his performance was well received.

Burna Boy delivered a stellar performance on Sunday night, backed by a robust live band. Photo: Brandon Todd / Dreamville Fest

Usher

It’s easy to forget how many hits Usher has until he parades them out on stage. His 20-plus song set was full of chart-topping tracks like “My Boo,” “Burn,” and “OMG,” all performed with an unparalleled sense of finesse by the Atlanta-based R&B singer. Backed by an impeccably tight band full of brass and backing vocals, Usher effortlessly danced and sang across the stage, keeping the crowd in the palm of his hands the entire set. At one point in the evening he teased a special guest, convincing the crowd Beyoncé was joining him for a song, only to reveal it as an April Fools joke. While City Girls joined him later in the evening for their collaboration “Good Love,” Usher didn’t need any guests for one of the best performances of the weekend.

Usher’s setlist: 

“Caught Up”
“U Don’t Have to Call”
“Love in This Club”
“Party”
“Lil’ Freak”
“Lovers and Friends”
“The Matrimony”
“Hey Daddy (Daddy’s Home)”
“My Boo”
“I Need a Girl”
“Superstar”
“You Make Me Wanna…”
“Bad Habits”
“Bad Girl”
“GLU”
“Nice & Slow”
“Burn”
“Confessions / Confessions Part II”
“Good Love”
“OMG”
“Yeah!”

Ari Lennox

Dreamville’s own Ari Lennox proved why she’s one of the brightest stars in R&B with her stellar set on Saturday evening. Backed with a full band, Lennox captured the attention of the tens of thousands in attendance with her impressive vocal range and unforgettable hooks. Her set was a fairly even mix of tracks from her first and second studio albums, Shea Butter Baby and A/S/L, with highlights from each getting an equal amount of love from the crowd. “Whipped Cream,” “Pressure,” and “Shea Butter Baby” served as standouts of the evening, but it was hard not to be wowed by the harmonies displayed on “Boy Bye” alongside Charlotte’s own Dexter Jordan. Every year Ari Lennox gives one of the standout performances at Dreamville Fest, and one can only imagine that her star is poised for even further greatness. 

Ari Lennox’s setlist:

“POF”
“Waste My Time”
“Outside”
“Gummy / All Night Long”
“Boy Bye”
“New Apartment”
“Whipped Cream”
“Broke”
“Shea Butter Baby”
“Pressure”

Waka Flocka Flame 

Few acts can command a crowd like Waka Flocka, and his mid-day Sunday set was easily one of the liveliest of the weekend. Flocka is known for his dread-shaking, mosh-pit ready club bangers, and he delivered just that with classics like “Hard In Da Paint,” “No Hands” and “Grove St. Party.” Flocka jumped into the crowd and generally caused a ruckus with his hype man throughout the afternoon, even bringing out rap trio Travis Porter to the crowd’s delight. While other acts at the festival like J.I.D brought mosh-ready energy, few could compare to the intensity of Flocka’s set.  

 

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J. Cole + Drake

It should come as no surprise that the festival founder swung for the fences with his closing set, but few could expect the parade of hits that Cole and cohort Drake brought on Sunday. The two pulled out deep cuts from across their discography while peppering in some of their biggest contemporary hits. Drake’s surprise guests gave the set a larger than life feel as the crowd roared along to hits like “Knife Talk” and “The Motto,” but older tracks like “HYFR,” “Marvins Room,” and “Started From the Bottom” got equal amounts of love.

J. Cole and Drake on stage closing out Dreamville Fest 2023. Photo: @ItchyEyePhotos / Dreamville Fest

Cole kicked off the beginning of this collaborative set, giving fans an equally deep selection of tracks from his catalog. Cole opened with a mixtape favorite, “Who Dat,” and later shared “Villematic” from Friday Night Lights, followed by a plea to Kanye West to “clear the sample” of his “Devil in a New Dress” track so that Cole could put it on streaming platforms. Cole’s set felt like a homecoming celebration, and as his Dreamville cohorts J.I.D, EarthGang, Bas, Lute, Cozz, and Omen joined him on stage, it was hard not to bask in the celebration of one of North Carolina’s most important artists. As he came up for an encore after Drake’s set finished, he played the festival out with “No Role Modelz” and a slew of fireworks, marking the end of the weekend. 

Fireworks at the end of J. Cole’s set at Dreamville Fest 2023. Photo: Dreamville Fest

Drake’s Setlist:

“SICKO MODE”
“Over”
“Headlines”
“HYFR”
“Started From the Bottom”
“Energy”
“Know Yourself”
“Nonstop”
“God’s Plan”
“F.N.F. (Let’s Go)” – GloRilla
“XO TOUR Llif3”- Lil Uzi Vert
“Just Wanna Rock” – Lil Uzi Vert
“Marvins Room”
“Wu-Tang Forever”
“Practice”
“The Motto” with Lil Wayne
“Uproar” – Lil Wayne
“A Milli” – Lil Wayne
“Knife Talk” – 21 Savage
“Rich Flex” – 21 Savage
“I Will Always Love You” – Whitney Houston cover

Drake brought out Lil Wayne for three songs, “The Motto,” “Uproar,” and “A Milli” at Dreamville Fest in Raleigh, NC. Photo: Simon Chasalow / Dreamville Fest

J. Cole’s Setlist:

“Who Dat”
“Middle Child”
“9 5 . s o u t h”
“m y . l i f e”
“a lot”
“A Tale of 2 Citiez”
“Fire Squad”
“Power Trip”
“The London”
“Planez”
“Under the Sun” with Lute
“Down Bad” with Bas, Cozz, EarthGang, and J.I.D.
“Stick”
“Villematic” / “Johnny P’s Caddy”
“G.O.M.D.”
“Wet Dreamz”
“Love Yourz”

Encore:

“No Role Modelz”

 

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