Nov 7, 2016
D.R.A.M. On Recording With Neil Young and More
Back in May, D.R.A.M. appeared on Chance the Rapper’s third mixtape, Coloring Book, on a track called “D.R.A.M. Sings Special.” An interlude of sorts, it fit perfectly with the rest of the album in a thematically, providing an interesting direction on an album that was outstanding for a number of reasons. D.R.A.M., in his titular guest track, was given his own spotlight, much in the same way that Chance was given the spotlight on the opening track of Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo, “Ultralight Beam.” A passing of the torch, in a way.
Now, it’s D.R.A.M.’s turn. Big Baby D.R.A.M., his debut album, was released October 21 and allows the Virginia native to wear a variety of different hats. On “Misunderstood,” he trades bars with an autotuned Young Thug. On “WiFi” he croons flirtatiously to Erykah Badu, who mirrors with smooth vocal stylings of her own. And then there’s “Broccoli,” featuring Lil Yachty, and “Cash Machine,” party bangers of our present and future.
This all comes over a year after “Cha Cha”—a hit single and Beyoncé favorite—thrust D.R.A.M. (which stands for “Does Real Ass Music”) onto the scene. He burst through, immediately putting on display the charisma and versatility that makes him such a refreshing and welcomed presence. His positivity is ever present on the record, in radio appearances, and on stage.
On a Friday jam-packed with delayed flights, long car rides, and hour-long sets, D.R.A.M. found a few minutes to catch up with us on the phone in between the madness of a newly-released hit album.
Brooklyn Magazine: I saw you on Conan with Travis Barker as your drummer. What was it like performing with him?
D.R.A.M.: It was real dope, man. He’s a legendary drummer. Beyond his impeccable skill, he’s also iconic. He’s very, very, cool, humble. Even still, after everything he’s already amassed, he fucks with my shit, so that’s really, really dope. We’ve got a mutual respect for one another’s talent.
Were you ever a Blink 182 fan?
A couple of songs, you know, the popular ones, but I never really got a CD or anything like that. Travis Barker had a project where he was just drumming for a bunch of hip-hop and R&B records. I loved that.
So your new album, Big Baby D.R.A.M., showcases the hits, but also slows it down for some as well. Do you have a style that you prefer of the two?
Nah. You know, you go through different moods, different emotions through the days, and our music captures many elements of the ups and downs, the in and outs, and the overall good vibes.
The is very much an album of the time, of 2016—you make references to Pokémon [on single “Cute”], to ‘Netflix and Chill’ [on “WiFi”], things like that…
Pokémon! Side note! Side note—Pokémon, me saying that, that whole confession, that was on June 3rd, 2016, before that app even dropped! I have never played Pokémon Go, ever. I played Pokémon on my Game Boy Advance when I was a little kid.
You were ahead of the curve! You beat the trend.
Ha! How is that? It’s so crazy! We were trippin’ balls once we finally dropped the record, it happened simultaneously. It was weird. In a good way!
You have a lot of modern references like that. Is that something you make sure to do when you’re writing?
No, I consider my music very conversational. It has an introspective point of view, mostly. You know, sometimes you might just say something that sounds sweet. Just something that rings in my ear, like, [singing, like on “WiFi”] Do you got WiFi? It was just random, you know? It’s not, like, an actual thing that I seek out to do.
On that same track, “WiFi,” you collaborate with Erykah Badu. You also have Young Thug on the album, and of course Lil Yachty is on “Broccoli.” You were on Coloring Book with Chance the Rapper. Is there anyone that you haven’t been able to work with that you want to work with in the future?
No. In regards to seeking people out? Nah. But there are collaborations on my bucket list—my number one is Stevie Wonder. He was a great influence to the time that he was making music, and he was a big influence on me, and my take on music years after his time. So, to be able to make timeless music with a timeless musician is epic. It would be epic.
I actually got to meet with the great George Clinton. I linked with him on some stuff. A cat that I’m giddy about actually linking up to work with is Bootsy Collins, one of my main influences. I actually worked with Neil Young! That was great.
What did you work with Neil Young on?
I worked on one of his records, he worked on one of my records. It was really, really cool, man. I mean, a guy from the old school, like, a real, Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Famer. Just embracing my take on music, my sound, and the fact that I’m able to collaborate with someone so legendary, from a whole nother side of the spectrum… it’s monumental. It’s one of those real defining moments, like, ‘you’re really out here.’
I want to ask you about the cover art for the new album.
Yeah, everybody loves the cover art, you’ve got your big happy smile, and your cute puppy (named Idnit)—what went into selecting that?
The project is me. You feel me? My lil’ guy Idnit…I originally wanted the art to be a play off of Cam’ron’s Come Home With Me album cover, from 2002, where he’s holding his baby. Then, when I hold Idnit, you know, he uses his legs like human arms. So I was like, Damn. I thought that would be cool, if we did a full-frame shot in the photoshoot. I was like “Yeah, let’s do it.” And the photographer sent us back some options, and one of them was the picture zoomed in. And we were like “Oh, shit—that’s the money shot right there!” Then it just turned into a portrait. That’s how that came about: Big Baby D.R.A.M. album cover.
And you love it? I mean, everybody loves it, but you have to love it, right?
Without a shadow of a doubt!
Your first big song was Cha Cha. You’ve gone through more singles since, and you’ve got your album out now too. What have you learned in that time period?
The most important thing that’s going to last in your career is relationships. As long as you build those, and you keep those right at all corners, you’ll be good. Keep working, and know that this is still a business. This is what I get paid to do, and every time I’m in a work situation, just be pleasant. Be nice. The energy that you give out is what’s going to come back to you. And 9 times out of 10, If I give good vibes, they’ll come back.
What are you working on now?
I never stop working. Everyday, we’ve been flying city to city nonstop for the last month-and-a-half now, so reeling on riffs in the chair. I’ve been doing features and things of that nature on the road here and there, and I’m looking forward to having a little bit of time in November to get some recording in, and I’ll keep it going from there.
We’re just moving in between pushing what we already have out, and working on new shit. The new shit never stops.
A lot of hip-hop people get really involved in the political world, especially in an election year. I know that’s not really your thing, but have you thought about it recently with the election so close?
Nah, I’m not gonna get into that. The only thing I’m going to say is this: if you know you want to see someone in office rather than the other person? Then go out there and vote. Because if you see that other person in the office and you didn’t do anything about it? You have nothing but yourself to blame.
Big Baby D.R.A.M. is out now via Atlantic Records.
D.R.A.M. will appear at Hammerstein Ballroom on November 19, and Music Hall of Williamsburg on January 20. Tickets are available here.
Photography by Christine Hahn
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