J. Cole & Ed Sheeran Are Making Statements. The Music Industry Needs to Listen.

Last week (July 5) J. Cole’s Dreamville collective released their third compilation album, Revenge of the Dreamers III. Featuring contributions from J. Cole, Ari Lennox, JID, Bas, Young Nudy, DaBaby, Smino, Saba, and many more, Revenge of the Dreamers III is an instant classic.

Hip-hop is by far the most the most collaborative genre. Recently we’ve had terrific collaborative albums from Beyoncé and Jay Z (EVERYTHING IS LOVE), Lil Baby & Gunna (Drip Harder) and Drake & Future (What A Time to Be Alive). Label/collective albums are also common, think Cruel Summer or Dynasty: Roc La Familia. Collaborative albums allow artists to break new creative ground, expand their audience, and introduce new talent to the mainstream.

Over 100 artists and producers were involved in the making of Revenge of the Dreamers III with a close-to-even split of Dreamville artsits and non-Dreamville artists. According to the documentary that Dreamville released about the album, 124 songs were recorded in 10 days. The documentary showed rappers, singers, and producers, jumping from studio to studio and sharing ideas and freestyling verses. We were able to see songs get cut from the album and verses get reworked and reworded. Most importantly, we got to see the process and product of true collaboration between artists without ego. Some highlights on Revenge of the Dreamers III are the hilariously sinister “Wells Fargo”; the updated old-school vibe of “Down Bad”; and the soulful crooning of Ari Lennox on “Self Love.”

Various Dreamville artists via YouTube.

Over 100 artists and producers were able to gel their respective sounds and visions into one cohesive 17-song album that, surprisingly, does not feel like a chore to listen to.

On July 12, Ed Sheeran released his latest project, No.6 Collaborations Project. The new release acts as a sequel of sorts to his 2011 No.5 Collaborations Project. The aforementioned release preceded Ed’s debut album, +, and featured collaborations with grime artists such as JME, Wiley, and P Money. Now, close to a decade later with a slew of #1 hits, Diamond records, and Grammy awards under his belt, Ed has ratcheted up the scale of his Collaboration Project by 100. No.6 Collaborations Projects has an eye-popping roster that includes Khalid, Bruno Mars Camila Cabello, Chris Stapleton, Justin Bieber, Travis Scott, H.E.R., Meek Mill, Cardi B, Chance the Rapper, Stormzy, Eminem, Ella Mai, and more. Yep, you read that right, all those artist and more.

Album artwork for No.6 Collaborations Project via Apple Music.

The new project was preceded by the delightful yet safe “I Don’t Care,” a blockbuster collaboration with Justin Bieber. We were then gifted the hip-hop-leaning “Cross Me” with PnB Rock & Chance the Rapper and the basic “Beautiful People” with Khalid. Truthfully, none of the pre-album singles were truly intriguing until “BLOW,” the final track of the album which features Bruno Mars and Chris Stapleton. Based on the names of the artists involved, it would be a safe assumption that “BLOW” would be a bombastic pop banger or a schmaltzy ballad. In actuality, “BLOW” is a hard rock-influenced track with heavy guitar and drums. Chris and Bruno already have elements of rock in their music, so their voices rip across the track with the gusto of the likes of Dave Grohl. Ed does get slightly lost on the track, but the sound of “BLOW” is so unexpected for every artist involved that it’s definitely worth it. I highlight “BLOW” because whether you love it or hate it, we may have never seen this particular collaboration and this particular sound if not for Ed’s project.

Ed was able to gather an incredible roster of artists to create music that pushed their boundaries and challenge the expectations of the audience. Ed may have played it safe on a couple of songs, but on the ones where he didn’t, he and his collaborators definitely did not hold back.

The music industry needs more projects like Revenge of the Dreamers III and No.6 Collaborations Project. Art is based on and thrives off of authentic and genuine collaboration. When artists “collaborate” for the sake of a hit (like Justin Bieber and Billie Eilish on the “bad guy” remix), audience feel that inauthenticity. Projects like the ones Ed Sheeran and J. Cole spearheaded bring new excitement to the music scene. Fans made “I Don’t Care” a smash hit and will likely do the same with “South of the Border,” Ed’s collaboration with Camila Cabello and Cardi B. In addition, projects like these help give a platform to new up and coming artists. Yung Baby Tate, Guapdad 4000, Zoink Gang, and Maxo Kream have all already benefited greatly from their exposure on Revenge of the Dreamers III. At the end of the day, collaboration albums are fun and a welcome break from the traditional album cycles that artists, and fans alike, are often locked into. Here’s to more projects like these in the future!

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