[Ed. note: The Dreamville Festival, which was scheduled for Saturday, was canceled because of weather concerns shortly before press time. It has not been rescheduled yet.]
Though the unofficial "North Carolina hip-hop month" started early with the Beat N Bars Festival moving to late August, between that, Hopscotch, Art of Cool, and the heavily anticipated Dreamville Festival, a critical mass of hip-hop culture in the Triangle looks closer than ever.
J. Cole's Dreamville festival is a big move for Raleigh and the Triangle as a whole because it shows a significant cultural shift that is beginning to develop in the area. We haven't seen a wave of major hip-hop artists on the same stage since the days of Petey Pablo. While Beats N Bars caters to the more underground hip-hop, and Art of Cool targets the more mature jazz audience, Dreamville Fest plants the flag for mainstream, popular hip-hop in the Triangle.
Cole, a native of Fayetteville, has been keeping an eye from a distance on the North Carolina scene. He's maintained an artist compound in an undisclosed location in the Triangle, signed Charlotte native Lute to his Dreamville label, and also brought the likes of J.I.D. and Earthgang to Motorco for a sold-out show—the RocNation signee has obviously been plotting a major move for North Carolina for some time. Who else do you know with the foresight and clout to bring Nelly out of retirement?
During the early parts of his career with RocNation, Cole caught ridicule from North Carolina, with criticism that questioned what he'd done for the community he'd come from. But Cole, previously appearing under the moniker of The Therapist, was noted to be a regular attendee of Microphone Mondays at the Local 506 in the early aughts. At that time, he was another "local" artist on the scene, and it wasn't until he left for St. Johns University and made his roots in New York that his artistry was recognized on a national level. Cole stayed relatively silent about his involvement with the North Carolina scene, and since releasing Cole World: The Sideline Story in 2011, has been contributing to North Carolina hip-hop through direct action, like bringing Drake and Jay Z to Fayetteville, rather than connecting it with the world of mainstream music through features on songs.
The relationship that Cole has with North Carolina has no doubt been a difficult one. When he came to Chapel Hill in 2009, he was thoroughly overlooked. Passing out mixtapes to students on campus hoping to connect with the college audience, J. Cole seemed more like the artist we see in the local scene than the megastar that we see today. His appearances in North Carolina became few and far between, from headlining UNC's homecoming in 2012, to his own homecoming show in Fayetteville for the release of 2014's Forest Hills Drive. Cole has made sure that each time he comes home, he makes an impact on the culture.
In Raleigh, J. Cole looks to reveal his master plan that he may have been formulating since the earliest days of his career. His festival's lineup features Cole alongside luminaries like SZA, Nelly, and Young Thug, hometown heroes Rapsody, King Mez, and Lute, and an undercard of artists on Cole's Dreamville label, including Ari Lennox, Bas, and Earthgang. Not only has Cole created his own path to be regarded as one of the greatest hip-hop stars of this era, but he has successfully launched a label to pull up rising stars, too. Cole is making history by making it happen in Raleigh over any other larger market.
It took a multiple Grammy-winning artists to bring a hip-hop festival of this caliber to North Carolina, but North Carolina is finally being recognized for its hip-hop scene, and it looks to be a gathering comparable to an A3C in Atlanta or Broccoli City in Washington, D.C. The mainstream movement has made its way to North Carolina, and the gates have opened right here in Raleigh.