J. Cole and Drake perform at the 2023 Dreamville Festival. (Photo Courtesy of BlackPressUSA.com)

By Forward Times Staff

J. Cole’s Dreamville festival aimed to reach new heights in its third year. Fans went crazy the moment the lineup was announced with Cole himself and Drake as co-headliners for the second night. Getting those two superstars in one place is a major feat in itself — the only thing harder to pull off in Raleigh, N.C. during the festival might have been getting an Uber after the show, with a reported 80,000 fans crowded into Dorothea Dix Park to see them. 

On top of that, attendees on April 2 were treated to several surprise special guests as GloRilla, Lil Uzi Vert and Lil Wayne all graced the stage during J. Cole and Drake’s set. 

The crowd was full of Dreamville and OVO merch, with some fans rapping every single word — literally, every single word — during J. Cole’s set. Before performing any song, Cole promised attendees a special night as soon as he stepped onstage. And those who got to see two of hip-hop’s most favored titans would have to agree: it was a show as unforgettable as track nine on Drake’s first album.

As prompt as a headliner could be, the Fayetteville star kicked off his set around 9:30 p.m. with a performance of “Who Dat.” It was fitting for his hometown crowd, as the 2010 single served as an ode to his North Carolina roots and the first commercial single many heard from the rapper back then, when he was preparing to release his studio debut, Cole World: The Sideline Story, after several mixtapes. From that point on, Cole performed more recent hits like 2019’s “Middle Child,” 2021’s “My Life,” his 21 Savage collab “A lot” and of course 2014’s “Fire Squad.” The moment Cole said “hands in the air” on that last song, the festival’s grounds erupted as he paced both sides of the stage, jumping while displaying impressive breath control as he rapped every word.

After swiftly moving through fan favorites like “Power Trip“ and “The London,” Cole decided to dedicate the next part of the set to the Dreamville roster, one that he and his partner and Dreamville co-founder Ibrahim “Ib” Hamad have been developing since 2014. J.I.D, Earthgang, Bas, Cozz, Lute and Omen all hit the stage at once before performing tracks like “Under the Sun” and “Down Bad” from their latest compilation album, Revenge of the Dreamers III. Cole also did his verse on “Stick” live for the first time. The only member not on stage was R&B sensation Ari Lennox, and Cole gave her a special shout-out.

Drake and Usher chat backstage at the 2023 Dreamville Festival. (Photo Courtesy of BlackPressUSA.com)

As Cole’s set started to approach the 30-minute mark, fans were all wondering, “When is Drake going to come out?” That question was answered the moment Cole performed the self-love anthem “Love Yourz.” Cole called for all the lights to go and handed it off to the Boy himself, who hit the stage in “SICKO MODE,” naturally. Drake then wasted no time throwing it back to some classic cuts he performed at his recent Apollo show like “Over,” “Headlines,” “HYFR,” and even later in his set “Marvins Room.” “My brother told me to do some songs you don’t normally perform,” Drake said as he ran through deep cuts without time to finish one whole song.

Then came the special guests, starting with Memphis’ own rising star GloRilla, who had missed her set earlier that evening and shared the stage with Drake to perform her hit single “F.N.F.” Drake let it be known he was not done with special guests as Lil Uzi Vert emerged from backstage to perform hits like “XO TOUR LIf3” and “Just Wanna Rock.” Lil Uzi Vert’s microphone was having some technical difficulties, but that didn’t stop him from stealing the show as he put his mic down and he hit the viral dance to his hit single. 

After Drake arrived back on stage to do some fan favorites from the Nothing Was the Same and Take Care eras, Lil Wayne jumped out during his verse for “The Motto,” and fans went wild at the sight of Weezy F. Baby. “The boss is here,” said Drake. After just two songs, Lil Wayne left the stage as fans screamed for more.

Next, it was time for some tracks from Her Loss, and 21 Savage joined Drake onstage to perform “Knife Talk” and “Rich Flex” to close out the night of special guests. While fans waited for Drake and J. Cole to perform some of the tracks they have together, like 2013’s “Jodeci Freestyle” or 2010’s “In The Morning,” that never happened. But both rappers took the time to give each other their flowers. 

“It gives me chills to watch you give us the soundtrack to our life,” J. Cole said to Drake. And when Drake was ready to close out the night, he did it with a singalong of the Whitney Houston classic “I Will Always Love You” — dedicating those words to Cole with the help of the festival crowd.

The article was originally published by the Houston Forward Times.