You’ve got to be pretty creative and confident to make a track about a Latin American ballroom dance, and then a tune about a green stalked vegetable. But, if you do real ass music, then that’s to be expected. Hailing from Virginia, D.R.A.M (whose name is an acronym for Does Real Ass Music) shot to attention with his infectious track ‘Cha Cha’.
Back in 2014, I remember clearly surfing Soundcloud for new music for my radio show and this tune popped up, standing at only 900 plays then, I was hooked by its randomness, it was just fun. It wasn’t long before it reached the ears of the likes of Beyonce, Chance The Rapper and Erykah Badu – and even Drake (it is hotly debated that it inspired his ‘Hotline Bling’) and it was ‘Cha Cha’ that fuelled D.R.A.M’s career and eventually became a viral hit.
Fast forward two years, endless industry co-signs, ’1Epic’ EP and one ‘Gahdaam’ mixtape later, D.R.A.M re-created the viral success of ‘Cha Cha’ with a playful, green laced number. With Lil Yatchy on the assist, ‘Broccoli’ has gone double platinum, was in countless ‘end of year’ lists for 2016, and earned D.R.A.M his first Grammy Nomination, for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration.
D.R.A.M is a self-confessed workaholic and his debut album ‘Big Baby D.R.A.M’ contained ‘Broccoli’ as well as other guest features from Young Thug and Erykah Badu, and a bonus track, ‘Workaholic’. If you want proof of D.R.A.M unstoppable work ethic, just head over to his social channels; you’ll see him performing with the same energy every night, or in the studio, and what’s the one thing he’s constantly doing throughout? Smiling.
As we sit down for our interview D.R.A.M greets me with a warm embrace, it’s the third time I’ve sat down to interview him. We last spoke during his first London trip in 2016, right before the release of his album. At the time he’d kept his cards close to his chest, and didn’t reveal the features except, “it’s just the Big Baby all over”. With his long dreadlocks and toothy grin, D.R.A.M now tells me about the overall reaction since releasing his debut album. “It’s been overall great… Really, really great, we’re gonna pack it up soon… But I couldn’t be more appreciative”.
From D.R.A.M’s energy his appreciation is undeniable. Having grown up in Virginia, ‘Cha Cha’ came at the age of 25 for D.R.A.M, at a point when most were telling him to give up on his dreams of becoming a musician. Yet, stylistically D.R.A.M is an outlier of hip-hop and both R&B, he sings in a sort of falsetto style, and raps tongue in cheek about the most random of things, in his now signature ‘trappy-go-lucky’ style. He recently performed an operatic version of ‘Broccoli’ for NPR, “Yeah, I kinda was [joking] but it was like I wanted to create something different. It’s such an established platform and that song has been performed lots too, so I wanted to add something different to that. So many revered.. is that a word? Ok let’s say renowned artists have been on NPR and I wanted to add a little bit of humour to it”.
Injecting humour is now what D.R.A.M is becoming known for, his latest video for ‘Cute’, released on Valentines Day, sees a muppet version of D.R.A.M on the hunt for love. “The video for ‘Cute’ that was all his idea” – he laughs pushing his manager, “It was that whole Cousin Skeeter theme, you know the TV show? He gets all the bitches… Cousin Skeeter is that dude from One on One, and Bill Bellamy as this voice of this muppet, he was that N****, he was the one who got the girls, but he himself, not the puppet, was always shy. So we ran with that concept for the video concept. These guys made the puppets, they’re perfect at puppet making, they’re super talented and trained in making them, cost like $1500. The puppet is in the NYC Atlantic office, I’m finna about to snatch it back, it’s too dope.”
I don’t see how people always find something. It’s like a reach.
For those 90’s babies among us, Cousin Skeeter was a Nickelodeon comedy show about a boy whose cousin, a puppet, comes to live with him. But not everyone was a fan of D.R.A.M’s ‘Cute’ video. On a recent article on DJ Booth, they critiqued D.R.A.M for his lack of dark-skinned women in his videos. When asking D.R.A.M about this, he gave a heavy sigh and shook his head, “Man, I love all women… Ya feel me? Like to be honest, that was…” Continuing to shake his head, in pure confusion, he adds: “Why would you discredit mine and SZA’s ‘Caretaker’ video? That was the most passionate I ever showed myself on screen. I don’t see how people always find something. It’s like a reach. But you’re sorry, and I forgive you. My whole thing is, like they discredited videos – like the ‘Broccoli’ video, didn’t we have two sisters? Like they don’t care, they should carry that shit somewhere else man.”
So how about giving credit where credit is due? Enlisting the ultimate 90’s R&B Queen, Erykah Badu on his standout ‘WiFi’ a super smooth ballad, D.R.A.M impressed upon us his certified crooning abilities, channelling his inner Barry White. D.R.A.M tells me how his collaboration with Erykah Badu is just the start of something smoother: “Me and Queen Badu are working on an EP together… Like 5 tracks, give or take. It will be just enough – just a touch. ‘Wi-fi’ is like the basis of it, so it will sound a bit like that. But this shit is gonna be hard. We’ve recorded most of it, like bits and pieces of it.” Adding more anticipation into the mix he adds, “I think my viral hits come from re-birthing. I think from the project from me and Queen Badu, ‘Wi-fi’ will be that one. But it will just be a case of rebirthing it and showing a different side of it to the people. For the video, I’m not gonna give away much, but I’ll say this, you might not need a jacket.”
I’m still on my way up and you see things so differently. You see there’s still so much more work to be done.
Queen Badu aside, there’s another important lady in D.R.A.M’s life, probably the most important women, his mum. Rocking up to the Grammy’s earlier this year, donning a priest-like scarf, with his mum in tow. “Going to the Grammy’s was a very humbling experience to say the least. I’m still on my way up and you see things so differently. You see there’s still so much more work to be done. I took a lot of energy from it, it was tackling fuel – like memories that got me charged up”. It wasn’t just ‘Best Rap/Sung Collaboration’ D.R.A.M was in the runnings to win at The Grammy’s. Having featured on Chance The Rappers, ‘Colouring Book’ album, on ‘D.R.A.M Sings Special’ he creates a sort of nursery rhythm singing, “you are very special, every one is special”. Having supported him from early, D.R.A.M only has good words for Chance, “I couldn’t be happier for him, he is just an amazing guy over all. He got the moves man, he be making the moves. It’s been love from jump, they been fucking with me since 2014. That shit, I got a Grammy, because I featured on ‘Colouring Book ‘and it won Best Rap album, I’m due to get one on my feature for that. That’s gonna go straight to my Momma’s house!”
You could argue that D.R.A.M’s best work comes from features, he works well with other artists and producers. If you look back at D.R.A.M’s back catalogue of music, you’ll notice that on collab’s he brings the fire, yet holds his own verses down. While Erykah Badu, Chance The Rapper and Lil Yatchy features are pretty normal for a hip-hop/R&B artist, his up and coming feature could be his most obscure yet. “From the UK, I wanna find King Krule… But coming soon, I’ll be with the big dogs. I’ve got a feature with the Gorrilaz coming out on their album”. And while a Virginian singer/rapper collaborating with a trip-hop virtual British band isn’t the first thing you’d expect from D.R.A.M, it’s exactly what’s coming. Offering up a pretty vivid description, D.R.A.M sheds some light on exactly what his fan scan expect from the up and coming collab, “The song sounds like… Well think about having an argument with your friends, just before you’re due to go to the club, they piss you off so you go off to do your own thing. Imagine a village sunset or a sparkly night… And you’re just riding off on your own to your spot, to get your groove on away from your acquaintances. It’s like groovy and funky”.
I think he knows he’s a known dog, in a weird way
It’s D.R.A.M’s imagination, charm and genre-blurring style that’s got him this far. On appearance he says ‘hip-hop’ artist, but his gospel-soul-rock and giddy phrases defy the traditions of hip-hop. The album cover of ‘Big Baby D.R.A.M’ is a close up smiling shot, cuddled up with his dog, ‘Idnit’. When I mention Idnit, D.R.A.M eye’s light up; “He’s very missed, by me! He wasn’t able to come because of certain things. He went on tour with us on the bus throughout America. He came on stage with me like three times… I think he knows he’s a known dog, in a weird way. If I’m out and with him people huddle around him and he gets a little scared.”
While life on the road might not be the best of lives for the avid dog lover, it’s the result that D.R.A.M has been and is holding out for. Although his music may be jovial and he’s often seen wearing a huge smile with his dog, that’s not to say D.R.A.M isn’t to be taken seriously, “I see myself on top of this shit, involved in many things. I can feel it, that’s what I’m working towards. As an entity, as Big Baby” he says after playing me the new Gorrilaz track. “The doubters are not even half my jury. I always say I haven’t got time to say I told you so – I got somewhere else to be!”