cha cha by Julia Ismail December 19, 2017
Over the years, DRAM, born Shelley Marshaun Massenburg-Smith, has had many names, including Big Baby, Shelley, Drama Jones, DRAMA J, and D.R.A.M., before lopping off the dots.
And before we keep going, it’s pronounced “DRAHM.”
His consistent identity shift should come as no shock; DRAM is a multi-faceted artist that comes from a multi-faceted background.
He was born in Germany to a military mother, later moving to New Jersey, before finally settling in Hampton, Virginia. He grew up going to the same school as his mom attended in the small city, performing songs since the age of three at family reunions and church choir.
His influences were derived from the church, as well as his mixture of soul and funk. He told Noisey:
“I sang on the choir. My mom had a little gospel group when I was growing up too. But outside of church, I was just on soul music heavy. People like Al Green, or those songs that you automatically know but never know whose song it is.”
Despite being known for rap, DRAM was late on his knowledge of the genre. Flipping through the television channels in the fifth grade, he came across, Jay-Z’s “Hard Knock Life”, telling Noisey,
“I knew the Annie song but I didn’t even know who Jay-Z was. I was watching ‘The Box’ and went to school the next day and asked people did they know about it. They just all looked at me kinda crazy because I was late on it. I ain’t know!”
In an interview with Billboard, DRAM explained his musical background,
“Ever since I can remember I could sing [and] the responses would be so positive — who doesn’t want that? And as I got older the desire to do that just got stronger and stronger.”
DRAM’s break came slowly, then all at once. One day while he was still in high school, his friend Key called him over to the Coliseum Mall in his hometown, where a man named Soul had set up a recording booth.
Both DRAM and Key went off, recording 16 bars. Soul enjoyed their raps so much, he wanted to manage them, but the trio didn’t last long.
DRAM went solo and his career took a couple different turns as he worked odd jobs and tried out college, before re-settling back into his music. In 2014, he met and began to work with Gabe Niles, a relationship that would help launch the start of his career in earnest.
“We’re both wild cards, very carefree, good-natured. We have a lot of the same beliefs, spiritually and vibe-wise — it’s just a real dope pairing. You would think we’d known each other forever.”
Niles, who’s worked with DRAM on tracks like “I Luv It” under the duet Sunny & Gabe, has the same attitude regarding the wide-grinned rapper.
Niles told Noisey,
“His music might not really portray how smart he actually is. But that’s cool because dude is hilarious. The guy you hear singing ‘Cha Cha’ is most likely the same person you’d imagine him being.”
In 2016, DRAM blessed us with “Broccoli” featuring Lil Yachty, four minutes of straight up fun, going platinum four times, and gaining over 300 million streams on Spotify.
It’s DRAM’s originality on songs like “Broccoli” that’s propelled his music career forward.
The most captivating part of his artistry is the positive message he casts with his words, not really encapsulating what we know nowadays as hip-hop, but developing his own sound, best described as “non-rappity rap.”
“Cha Cha”, which has reached over 19 million views on YouTube, is a perfect example of just how far off the rap spectrum DRAM’s genius extends.
In all his interviews, DRAM is what you’d expect him to be; happy, laid back, and encouraging.
A Power 106 interview shows him rapping a lullaby over the beat of “Broccoli”, in what seems to be just a casual interaction with him.
He has garnered a worldwide audience by allowing himself to get lost in his musical genius. For “Broccoli”, Yachty’s part required 6 minutes of his time. DRAM told MTV,
“The crazy thing is I did the verse in six minutes and then I left, and then D.R.A.M. pieced the whole thing together. He just sent it to me the next day as a rough, and it was done.”
As far as a future collaboration goes, DRAM seems like the type to be a spontaneously choice for a song, and vice versa.
“If I ever feel the need to put him on something. If he ever feels the need to put me,” shares Lil Yachty, “Anytime he calls me, I pick up. Every time I call him, he never declines the call. It’s not no fake BS. Whatever it is, whenever we need something, if we’re in the same area, it’s easy, it’s nothing.”
Last month, DRAM dropped a trio of holiday songs on the project #1HappyHoliday, even collaborating with his own mother, BigBabyMom, on the tracks.
DRAM’s inventiveness has placed him in the right spot to exercise his creative genius.
We can’t wait to see how far he takes his music and what issues he’ll his platform to make an impact on.
For now, everyone should be enjoying his lighthearted raps, because no matter what side of the bed you woke up on, they can put anyone in a good mood.