2, 4, 6, 8… we appreciate d.r.a.m.!
Meet the Virginian wordsmith who Snoop is calling his nephew.
Last year, Hampton, Virginia native D.R.A.M. delivered his debut project #1EPICSUMMER, fuelled by the fun-loving cut Cha Cha. The track incorporates elements of funk woven into sing-song rap and was armed with visuals that as much a music video as it was video game. The video has pushed over 188,000 views — not too shabby for an artist who started his recording career in a mall. The way the story goes is D.R.A.M. recorded Cha Cha as just a party warm-up track - and it turned out to be the life of the party. So much, that D.R.A.M. saw a viable career as an artist. "Music is all I really ever gave a f**k about," he admits.
He was born Shelley Massenburg-Smith, but his moniker is an acronym for Does Real Ass Music, and that's just what D.R.A.M. brings. That realness even shot across the country, as Snoop Dogg heard D.R.A.M.'s music, became a fan, and now affectionately calls him "neffew." D.R.A.M.'s follow-up, #1Epic EP arrived last month, and it's a tight little offering, proving this local hero can take his career to great heights…
2 Occupations D.R.A.M. would do if he weren't a musician
"I used to shoot and chop these club recap videos. I was even thinking about reloading some of them up on a side page or something for laughs. Yo, I will never forget the time at this club called Palace On Plume, they had brought Miguel through, and the club was tellin' me, 'Yo keep on him!' There's this downstairs part and he's standing around and I'm filming, and he walks up to me like, 'Say bro, you think you can like get footage of me when I'm like turnin' up or get like bottles or girls? Something like that, because right now you're weirding me out.' So yeah after a while, the video stuff was getting in the way of my music, so I was like 'Yo, let me set this camera down'. But I would probably go back to doing that on a more professional scale. It's weird though being on both ends, because I was 'paparazzi' I guess and now I'm someone who people want to put the cameras on. It's a cool thing."
"Throwin' events. Me and the homies, we have a knack for having fun. We know how to have fun, and we just want to incorporate that into people's lives. A lot of shit out here is 'darkly influenced' because it's the 'cool' thing to do. But fuck that cool shit. Ain't nobody cool out here."
4… elements of "real ass music"
"Definitely facts. Facts on either yourself, or facts on what you're speaking on."
"You could be saying facts, but people might not feel it or it may not translate well. You've gotta be genuine."
"It's not real if I'm sittin' there tellin' you 'million dollar this, million dollar that' and all types of stuff, and I'm not really trying to make music for the person that's in my lane.
"You've gotta believe in yourself. You gotta sell it, right, and if you're not really confident it won't work."
6… artists who inspire him as an artist
"He's a real rap pioneer! Even as an icon beyond rap, Snoop was one of the first artists you felt like you knew as a person from his lifestyle. From his little cameo in Half-Baked, when he sparked the L, like damn! He's literally like the coolest man. And look at all he's done! Movies, TV shows, the White House! Snoop is a pioneer. A fuckin legend.
"The whole P-Funk movement — George Clinton, Bootsy Collins — that's probably the biggest influence on my music, because they were so about singing their hearts out and not trying to make it look pretty. It was straight in your face, making things happen."
"Personally, he's my favorite, hands down dead or alive. Rest In Peace to all of our fallen soldiers, but dead or alive it's Andre."
"Bilal! You have no idea! Soul Sista was that record for some time, but then White Turns To Grey — that was on his Love For Sale album. It didn't get that mainstream push, but his real cult fans know. Man, Bilal is the illest."
"I love Father. His shit is so dope. You can just turn up and ride to him all day."
"On some real lyricism, man, Kendrick."
8… tracks on #1Epic EP, with fun facts attached
1. Cha Cha
"The line: 'Like a chameleon that's hangin' with Ms. Frizzle' that came from Gabe Niles the producer. We were riding in the car listening to a record, and Gabe was like, 'Yo I got this clip of this chameleon with Ms. Frizzle (of The Magic School Bus) doin' the cha cha dance. If you put this in the song and then you come out with the video, it'll be so funny.' I was like, 'Bruh, I'm not doin' it.' He was like, 'You gotta! Trust.' I was like, 'Man, fuck it.' And then I did it, and when I heard it I was loving it, and a lot of people be yellin' it out."
"I'm sittin' there in the blue room — that's what we call it — and as soon as the beat came on, out of nowhere I shouted "$2!" We started laughing, and they were like, 'That's gotta be the hook right there.'"
3. Mind Gone
"That was with VERY RVRE. We were in the studio basically and they played the beat or whatever and like we just all started jumpin' around. Out of nowhere an idea came into my head, that I couldn't remember the next day for the life of me, but I remembered I had it on voice recorder. So I skimmed through like a 42-minute session and got to where it was at. I was like, 'Yo! That's it!' So then we recorded it, and when we did we were like, 'Yo we got us one.' I don't know, I was just excited."
"That was the most emotional record. I dropped out of 2014 because I was going through a transitional period from a really dark year. 2013 there was mad bullshit goin' on. It just wasn't a good look for me. That record made me reflect on what I was already going through, and what was to come because it was already solid. It was what I had to get off my chest in order to make all the fun records. Those didn't happen until after this one was recorded."
"When I heard the beat it was on some Prince or Pharrell type stuff. It was a feel good record. I love the response from the audience when I perform it too. That was the first feel good record before Cha Cha to be honest."
6. Just One
"That was about this one particular girl. I don't know, she just was never really about that action. I don't know if she had morals or whatever, but we was already rockin' years ago, and then when we got back goin' she was on some whole new wave like, 'I'm not really about having sex' this, that and the third. But then she'd hit me up random times like, 'Oh let's go out and have some drinks.' She even came out to one of my shows and it was lit. Maybe she had to come lay it on me off the strength, but it's random times and I acknowledged that, like 'Just rock with me and I'ma give you some back. Just meet me half way. Give me a reason. I don't even care anymore, but I can apply that to different things."
7. Gotta Go
"Kind of in the same sense as Just One. When a situation is over and done with — even if y'all gonna get up again, it's like what are we doing here? I gotta be somewhere right quick. I know you gotta be somewhere too. I'll holler at you."
8. I Luv It
"Oh my god that's Sunny & Gabe's record. We did that because they're gearing up to drop a slew of new music. I think the first project is gonna be a free project, and being that we were monetizing that one, we thought it would be a slick idea like, 'Let's just put it up there as like a low key bonus.' We all made the record together; we recorded it in the studio. It was just mad good vibes. That was like the finale feel good joint. When it all came together it was like, 'Man this is dope.' And it all just lined up for it to be on the project."
Text Kathy Iandoli
Photographer Richard Perkins