In 2016, music connoisseurs were graced with the introduction of acts who injected fun back into hip-hop . These new rappers like Aminé, Lil Yachty and DRAM steered clear of hardcore trap beats, and instead supplied the industry with exultant, infectious records. DRAM stood out with multiple hits that year, including “Cha Cha,” “Broccoli,” and “Cute.” But as much as the Hampton, Virginia native and his fans hold his debut album Big Baby D.R.A.M in high regard, he is now ready to flip the switch and show a different side of his musicality with his upcoming sophomore album.
“For the whole history of me releasing music ever since my first mixtapes in 2014, I’ve had a couple of records that were so jubilant, uplifting and uptempo, just automatic feel good,” the 31-year-old shared. “There’s no denying that those records in the past have been phenomenal, but that was for that moment.”
Although no physical sit down occurred with DRAM for his conversation with VIBE, it was easy to envision his signature smile on his face through the phone as he shared his album-making process from over the last three years, as well as his endless side hustles. From delving deep into songwriting, to partnering with Sprite and LeBron James, he has kept busy and obviously music has consistently stayed on his mind. But he’s taking a new direction musically.
An illustration of this is “The Lay Down.” DRAM’s latest single shows him shifting from his jovial, happy-go-lucky persona into a passionate, seductive lover. The bedroom jam shows off his vocal chops as he shares vocal harmonies with H.E.R. over a beautiful, soulful production by WATT that’s highlighted by a soaring guitar solo at the song’s climax. It’s one of the greatest songs of 2019, and it shows just how comfortable DRAM is with his versatility.
Although his sophomore album has no specific release date, nor a title available to the public (he apologized for the vagueness), DRAM is ready to welcome his fans into a new, previously slightly hidden chapter of his music career.
VIBE: I know you’re currently working on your second album, but you’ve also kept yourself busy this past year with things outside the album making process. Last year you worked with LeBron James and Sprite, recently you worked with them again for a remake of “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” for the upcoming holiday season. What has it been like to collaborate with King James on your Sprite partnership?
DRAM: It’s just really dope how, it places us in the same vicinity. I don’t know, it makes me chuckle because he throws me a can of Sprite every time I see it. I got on these glasses, looking happy as hell. It makes me happy to see it.
In working with Lebron and Sprite do you feel like you learned something from him? What did you admire working with him?
I just admired how the whole thing went down to be honest. That everybody agreed to do it. I think what I took from that is that you can rub shoulders with just about anybody as long as you be about yours and do what you came to do.
Getting into your music, it’s been a minute since you’ve released a project, three years to be exact. You recently just celebrated the three-year anniversary of Big Baby D.R.A.M. In these three years how much have you changed artistically and as a person?
I think it’s more so about growing up. Growing up into what this has become. I can think about it as me putting out a merch project, like a newborn baby. And now I’m at the age of like a toddler, like preschool. No longer having the spoon or the bottle, maybe even have a sippy cup and a bag of chips. It’s just more mature. Things that would excite me and things that I would be eager or nervous about, it’s almost second nature now.
You become accustomed to the lifestyle that comes with putting out an album or doing the things of album mode. Going out and doing shows, and now it’s no better time. It’s so time for the next effort. The question is, what’s going to be next for me and it’s really just growth. Evolution, a slight change of perspective in a sense.
For sure. And then back in 2016, you were releasing records like “Broccoli” which was more feel good and kind of poppy. Now, you just released “The Lay Down” with H.E.R. and Watt, which is more soulful. Why have you decided to go that route? Was it a smooth process for you to go from making records like “Broccoli” and “Cute” to “The Lay Down?”
For the whole history of me releasing music ever since my first mixtapes in 2014, I’ve had a couple of records that were so jubilant, uplifting and uptempo, just automatic feel good. But then as a body of work, its majority is sensual, thought-provoking, emotion-provoking records, such as “Caretaker,” “Wi-Fi,” “Sweet Virginia Breeze,” which was centered on the first Sprite campaign that I was on. These records are really what the core, diehard DRAM fanbase, that’s where, in the grand scheme of things, the whole scale. As the years went on, you aim to grow towards what you really want. There’s no denying that those records in the past have been phenomenal, but that was for that moment. That was what it was.
Now what’s leading the way, it’s the records that’s still with the substance, that keeps the actual diehard fans here and there. It’s like for the outsider, it’s such a sudden change because if you haven’t really delved into the world of “Big Babes” then you wouldn’t get it. To the point where the fans that’s been there for quite some time, they’re right on key. Anyone else who comes just there for that, the instantaneous party, you might stick around or wanna kick back with a Daiquiri, or go back and drink your drink somewhere else.
Getting more into your track with H.E.R. and WATT, what was it like working on “The Lay Down” with them? Was the process of making that song different from any of your other songs?
Oh no! Like I said, it’s second nature. It really just comes. I’d like to say, I can’t really think of myself just off of one lane, I know that I concentrate more toward the sensual, what I was saying previously. There’s no box to put me in. Just last week I was in a session helping a very prominent rapper. I’m coming up with lines for somebody else in a rap song. This whole campaign, it’s really just whatever I put my energy towards, and I’m just very thankful that I have the strength and the feeling that I can do it.
Do you feel like the industry tries to box artists into the specific genre that they first come out with?
I’m not gonna sit here and be the one that’s going to give you a huge leftist, huge rightist position. I think it’s all on what that person that’s there, is the entity, the artist. So no matter who else is behind them, no matter how much shit is going on behind them, it’s all on that person and what they choose to do with their craft. Somebody can go into the game and really be in it for the heart and once the money starts, and then it’s like all right boom, boom, boom, and then they say they want to change, and they’re like “well let me go back to that thing” because the coin is good, everybody wants to get that coin back. Make sure you invest and save, you’re not watching them do enough of that, you still want to keep it around. Some people will go into the trash can, before they compromise their brain.
I think it’s all about balance and knowing your fan base may be slightly different from your true desires that you want to get out there. The thing is lace up and weather the storm if that’s what you want to do or sit back and chill in the breeze if that’s what you want to do. Don’t be mad when the clouds start coming.
It doesn't sound like anyone is willing to jump off of a cliff and see if that parachute comes up with hope and a prayer. Trust me, some hope and a prayer gets you down there if you really believe.
You recently said in a Twitter post that you feel that no one really sings anymore and that there aren’t any “true sangers” out there. Why do you think that is?
You know, it’s very croonery, very “monotone-y,” it’s not daring, it doesn’t sound like anyone is willing to jump off of a cliff and see if that parachute thing comes up with hope and a prayer. Trust me, some hope and a prayer gets you down there if you really believe. Nobody’s channeling, I feel like in the correct manner. There’s some people that are really killing it and making phenomenal music in what they do. What I’m saying is that there’s a certain type of energy, a certain type of presence that is no longer being made, being honored. I’m just here to let that continue to live on, and it never die.
Do you feel like there are still singers that are out today that give you goosebumps, that you feel aren’t monotone-ish or anything like that?
When I hear that girl named Yebba Smith… it’s this girl named Yebba. She’s like low-key, but she’s probably a lot of people’s favorite singers’ favorite singer. She’s gonna f**k up a lot of sh*t. Her sh*t is fire. I stumbled across her at a session at my publisher house, we have the same publisher and she was in the other room and I was like damn bro. They played me her sh*t, I had to walk over to the other room and meet her. When I hear her sing that sh*t f***ing….damn! And that’s what we need, that’s what I’m talking about. All that other sh*t, it’s cool, but c’mon now we need that energy.
I know you also mentioned in your tweet that you’ve also been focusing a lot on songwriting, I wanted to know what your songwriting method is like and if it’s always come easy to you?
Anything can inspire to do something musically. I can hear a door shut funny and have a note and be like oh sh*t. Or something like the phrase “gotta be quicker than that” or something. I like to just use the things that I really feel inside. When I hear it and then when I say it, it’s gotta match. It’s like a secret language that I’m speaking with the beat. I just want to make it feel right.
What more can your fans expect from your second album? What do you hope that they take away from it?
Take away the growth of where I am mentally, where I am musically and to kind of get a better understanding of why I’ve been in kind of a recluse type of state in these years and the things that I’ve been going through in regular life.
Why the three-year wait for your sophomore album?
It needed that you know. I don’t want to sound like that, by saying I don’t want to sound like that of course it’s probably going to sound like that, but it takes time for these type of things. I believe that the bodies of work that I’ve been putting out and more specifically, the first mixtape and then the first album, that really changed a lot of today’s music, to be honest. You gotta give them some time to really cycle out so you can really see how much you’ve influenced music. I promise to God the three-year wait was worth it.