Though it isn’t saying much, Gangsta Grillz’s current resurgence, especially amongst heavy hitters, has been a fantastic contrast to artists of different pedigrees. For every Call Me If You Get Lost, there is a Free Crack 2 or Dicaprio 2. I could go on and on, but that would be moot since DJ Drama elevates the hyphy exponentially as a mixtape host. So when J. Cole’s label, Dreamville, decided to bring along DJ Drama for their latest mixtape, D-Day: A Gangsta Grillz Mixtape, there was definite intrigue stemming at the core of its style. There are potent verses and vibrant production, and each member of Dreaville gets one great song, sometimes two. It’s safe to say the mixtape hits its target with what it wants to accomplish–sometimes parts of some songs underwhelm me–most times, their free-flowing energy keeps this tape in steady rotation.
Over the past decade, J. Cole and Ibrahim Hamad have amassed themselves one of the better rosters amongst Hip-Hop/R&B labels. It shows in the quality of content they bring to a compilation album under the label and their respective works as solo artists. D-Day: A Gangsta Grillz Mixtape, like past Dreamville records, are a collection of great tracks that refines their reputation in Hip-Hop/R&B, even though not all of the artists aren’t at the heights of some features, like 2 Chainz and A$AP Ferg. With seven artists, J. Cole not included, under their belt, there is a flurry of styles that come on D-Day: A Gangsta Grillz Mixtape, from the club banger “Stick” to the introspective “Ballin In Newport,” there is an influx of styles that have proper cohesion, and DJ Drama is there to make it even more official.
DJ Drama’s intros are the emotional grasp that keeps you entwined. So when he sets the stage for Ari Lennox’s second track, “Blackberry Sap,” you know some fire is about to laid down on production by J. White Made It (known for “Bodak Yellow,” “A Lot,” and “Savage”). Spoiler alert, the height of the fire is parallel to the explosions seen on the unappealing album cover. That description works for many tracks on the album, like “Like Wine” by Lute, “Freedom Of Speech” by J. Cole, and “Ghetto Gods Freestyle” by EarthGang, featuring 2 Chainz. The quality of verses stays consistent for most of the album, with short deterrents along the way, most of which come in the first half. In particular: Reason’s verse on “Hair Salon” and the overall delivery of “Starting 5.” DJ Drama can elevate any track with his presence, but he can only do so much when the tracks aren’t up to par.
However, what I’ve always admired about the label is its focus on well-rounded artists, especially on the lyrical side–it shows with the tracks above and plenty of others, and they match the strength of the production. There is incredible synchronization where they coast through the strength of the rappers while others stand out alongside the artists. Not all instrumentals will stick or add something new to the formula, but Dreamville gets you to listen, even when the beat gets elevated to a higher plateau. “Lifestyle” with Bas and A$AP Ferg delivers these great verses over these crazy overlapping drum patterns that shift on a whim and keep you on your toes as both rappers come with head-banging flows. It’s similarly the case with the flows on “Everybody Ain’t Shit” by EarthGang, “Coming Down” by Ari Lennox, and “Big Trouble Freestyle” by Cozz. On the latter, we hear Cozz rap over the instrumental to “Who Shot Ya?” by Notorious B.I.G., which initially turned my head but corrected it quickly. It’s always interesting to hear the new generation rap over classic beats, even if they aren’t up to par with the swagger held by the originator.
D-Day: A Gangsta Grillz Mixtape picks you up on a whim, and you’re cruising through the whole tracklist, suddenly getting you mesmerized by the hard-hitting verses and their content. We could have received an album filled to the brim with heaters, but instead, there is an array of bangers and introspective flexes that offer some variety. Omen and Cozz, in particular, bring that variety with their more emotionally driven flows that continue to give us a deeper meaning to these artists’ personalities. In “Ballin In Newport,” Omen raps about his struggles and how they subtly taught him to be humble with his success. It’s a breath of fresh air, unlike many others, like Cruel Summer or Dr. Dre Presents: The Aftermath, in particular, considering they have a few highlights.
D-Day: A Gangsta Grillz Mixtape isn’t just another wayward compilation; it finds a home by not being poorly executed. Dreamville has a vision, and the artists reflect theirs, drawing a parallel of who they bring aboard. Their artists are lyrically gifted, and when given the right material, they flourish. It’s heard in their energy, specifically when they eclipse the parameters of what I’d expect on a compilation: B-tier material. Instead, we get a lot of A-tier material to replay amongst a great collection of Hip-Hop albums released this year.