An unabashed historian of the culture, J. Cole is attuned to the various rites of passage that elevate rap artists into the rarest of stratospheres. While those accolades and milestones may differ from rapper to rapper and evolve over time, there are certain boxes that must be checked off in order to truly be considered one of the greatest of your time, let alone of all time. And for post-millennium rap artists, particularly those bred on southern soil, releasing a mixtape under DJ Drama’s Gangsta Grillz banner is an achievement that signifies one’s status and rank.
Fully aware of this, Cole looks to etch his name alongside the likes of Lil Wayne, T.I., Jeezy, and Gucci Mane with D-Day: A Gangsta Grillz mixtape, which showcases his Dreamville crew while doling out sporadic doses of his own lyrical exploits. “Oh, I know you n****s didn’t see this coming,” DJ Drama acknowledges on “Stick,” a boisterous opener pairing J.I.D. and J. Cole with Sheck Wes and Kenny Mason atop production by AraabMuzik, Beat Butcha, and Christo. With J.I.D. and Cole’s more lyrical stanzas contrasting with Sheck and Kenny’s penchant for pandemonium, the track makes for an epic introductory cut that takes Cole out of his comfort zone with positive results.
Dreamville’s northern ambassador, Bas, connects with fellow New Yorker A$AP Ferg on “Lifestyle.” Elsewhere, lute, Cozz, and Omen form a triangle offense on the WYLDFYRE-produced cut “Starting 5,” which may have benefited from additional guest spots for the sake of aligning with the title and theme of the song. A collective born out of its founders’ affinity for collaboration, Dreamville’s stable of artists is the main draw on D-Day, but space is made for additional talent to get in on the fun. G Perico and Reason contribute riveting performances alongside Cozz on the ghastly groove “Hair Salon,” while 2 Chainz joins EARTHGANG on “Ghetto Gods Freestyle” before reappearing alongside Young Nudy and J.I.D. on the brooding thumper “Barry From Simpson.”
D-Day is largely comprised of rap. However, the mixtape’s finest moments come courtesy of Dreamville’s resident songstress, Ari Lennox, who’s also become Cole’s most popular and acclaimed recruit thus far. Listeners waiting patiently for the follow-up to her 2019 debut, Shea Butter Baby, are treated to a pair of solo selections from Lennox. Reworking the soul classic “I’m Going Down” into “Coming Down,” an infectious, modernized take on the original, and purring her sensuous desires on the bedroom romper “Blackberry Sap,” Lennox’s contributions are sure to ramp up the buzz surrounding her anticipated sophomore effort to a deafening crescendo.
Dreamville’s evolution is evidenced throughout the entirety of D-Day, with each artist on the roster offering noteworthy contributions to the project. Yet, as the head of the ship, J. Cole is looked upon to set the tone and deliver in his own right, a task he seemingly pulls off with ease. Dropping a litany of rewind-worthy bars on “Stick” (“You crazy, you think you gon’ take from me/ Not for extortin’, treat problems like Orkin, I call up some n****s I know that’s gon’ spray for me”), kicking stream of consciousness flows on “Freedom of Speech,” and demolishing Drake’s “Pipe Down” instrumental for the mixtape closer “Heavens EP,” Jermaine equips himself well, matching efficiency with excellence in his triumvirate of appearances.
Announced less than 24 hours prior to its release, D-Day: A Gangsta Grillz Mixtape captures Dreamville in the midst of their free-wheeling flow of creativity, which has accounted for some of the best compilations from a label or collective in recent memory. While not as explosive as previous offerings like Revenge of the Dreamers III, D-Day is a quality mix of selections that may not place Cole and company on the Gangsta Grillz Mt. Rushmore but is indicative of their stature as one of the most formidable, self-contained crews in music today.