D.R.A.M. / Photos by Evan Rodgers
“I literally stopped people on the streets like, Beyonce likes the ‘Cha Cha,’” D.R.A.M. told me as we sat down over barbecue earlier this summer. He was riding high on a wave of high-profile endorsements of his music, particularly the slow-burning single that he had made with his friend Gabe Niles and released the summer before. Snoop Dogg was another fan: A clip of him in his dressing room at SXSW listening to D.R.A.M. had aired on Jimmy Kimmel, and Snoop later invited the Hampton, Virginia rapper to visit his home in Inglewood.
“He comes out with a camera in his hand and a long ass, like, extendo blunt or whatever,” D.R.A.M. recalled. “And he’s like, you know, ‘what's up nephew.’” Later, Snoop would bring D.R.A.M. out onstage at a show. These things just seemed to keep happening. A solo look with the song “Caretaker” on Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment's album Surf, put him in the company of artists like J. Cole, Big Sean, and band frontman Chance the Rapper. “My phone, I wasn’t even able to see, like, fucking, my regular shit,” he said of the attention that project brought him. The video for "Cha Cha" now has more than 8 million views; D.R.A.M.'s 1EpicEP is a hit on Soundcloud, and he's currently on a massive tour with Chance the Rapper, Towkio, and Metro Boomin. D.R.A.M. is doing very well.
Then there was also that weird moment of semi-shine, when a guy named Drake made a song called “Hotline Bling” that was first billed as a remix of “Cha Cha” before it became its own phenomenon (it’s currently number two on the Billboard Hot 100). That issue bubbled back up this week, in light of Drake releasing the “Hotline Bling” video and it generating the inevitable comparisons. D.R.A.M. became a trending topic on Twitter after tweeting a series of thoughts on the matter:
“Just performed in Toronto for the 1st time tonight and it was bittersweet. Sweet cus I’m out here sharing my music, my sound with the people.. Bitter though, cus after my performance all I’m seeing is Cha Cha/Hotline Bling comparisons on my timeline. Niggas want to know how I feel about that...Yeah, I feel I got jacked for my record... But I’m GOOD. I’m happy that the VA sound that me & @GabeNiles are steady working on is growing. And in 2016 we gon’ own it, GAHDAMN!.” (He declined to comment further to Noisey. For his part, Drake told FADER, it's "like in Jamaica, you’ll have a riddim and it’s like, everyone has to do a song on that.”)
It would be a shame, though, if that story came to define D.R.A.M., whose music is, as the final tweet in that series suggested, only evolving and getting better. He’s fully embraced the melody and funk sides of his sound that he was growing into, and his new EP, GAHDAMN, which is out tomorrow, is produced as a collboration between Gabe Niles and The Social Experiment’s Donnie Trumpet, Nate Fox, and Peter Cottontale. His riotous live show is like a party of soul sing-alongs mixed with a family reunion. When I saw him this summer in Brooklyn, he dragged an entire roster of Virginia rappers onstage to give them their moment to shine, and he spent his own stage time warbling whatever songs came to his mind like a lounge singer holding court at the dinner club he’s played for decades.
That’s the biggest thing: D.R.A.M. is just as warm and friendly and fun as his music suggests, with a gigantic smile and genuine desire to give credit to his friends as much as to himself. The video for “$,” released yesterday, captures that spirit, showing him in a series of home videos interspliced with him happily paying a visit to family members. D.R.A.M. doesn’t just make music for your backyard cookout, he’s the guy you want to swing by the cookout and who you’ll even be ready to make an exception for if he passes out drunk in the kiddie pool. Not that he would do that. But you couldn’t be mad if he did. Over the rest of that plate of barbecue, I asked him for a little more background about some of his firsties and faves.
Noisey: First kiss?
D.R.A.M.: I was like four. It was vivid, like the girl, she was like older, you know what I’m saying? Maybe like six or whatever.
First time getting drunk?
Ah shit, yes sir! I was at my mother’s [laughs]. My brother, his girlfriend at the time, her step-brother or some shit had this crib out—way up town damn near Williamsburg, Virginia. We’re up there—and I always remember it cause bro had the weed! So he’s rolling up, and at the time I was DARE kid still: ‘brah, no, no.’ He’d try to pass it to me, and I was like ‘what if it hurts?’ and he’s like ‘more for me.’ So what I did, I thought I’d meet him halfway with something, and the dude had like this bottle of some brown—I don’t know what it was, but I mean I drank like five hits of this shit. I’m fucked up. I’m laughing, crying, watching TV, movies and shit. I was 16 years old, drunk as hell. Yes sir. Fell asleep. My brother had to carry me into the house when we finally got back home.
First music that changed your life?
Funk, you know what I’m saying? Like it literally changed the way I went about just going about shit, man. These motherfuckers were doing whatever the fuck they want, and they’re living good off it. It’s because the music is so powerful and the vibes are so positive no matter how wild and crazy they were. I’d never heard anything like that.
“You’re a Fish and I’m a Water Sign”: I mean I’ve said it on many publications, but that’s the fucking one. I’ll never forget it: sitting there, just like vibing out. Like tears falling down, and there ain’t no reason to cry! That shit was just so damn good. It’s a song about fucking. It was just too damn good, man.
Favorite party you’ve ever been to.
Ah man, ah shit… Oh! Yo, yeah, I don’t know if this is the all-time favorite, but as far as recents: the Sean Kelly art gallery party in New York. Kitty Cash was DJing—you know, that’s the sis, so she’s like y’all come through. I had like five fucking gin and tonics. I was already drinking earlier, was high as a bitch, so you know I was just partying, just turning up. This was one of the first times—like, I can count on like one hand, like that early—where “Cha Cha” played at a party.
That shit went up, and everybody was dressed up elegantly, but I was like in fucking nothing. And I dropped two drinks. As soon as one drops and the glass breaks, somebody sweeps it up, and everybody looked at me like, ‘oh it’s charming.’ So you know I had two more drinks, and the second drink I’m talking and slicing it up and that shit dropped, and I was like yep, that’s about it. Everybody starts side-eying and shit, but I’m still grooving, having a good time. The liquor was free! It was free! So I mean what the fuck?! Thank god for open bar.
Favorite weird corner of the internet?
The weirdest corner I like to be in is awkward DMs. I don’t even know if that’s a corner.
That counts. What qualifies as an awkward DM?
All right, I’ve got certain pictures, man. I might send you a few pictures that I’m always sliding in DMs with. Now, it’s charming, but at first it was like kind of creepy. I would just put up random shit, like I got this emoji, it’s one with the person with a shadow of a person behind them, that’s the official creepy emoji. Sometimes, just put like, ‘damn girl.’ Just random ass shit. Now it’s charming, but back then it’s like, ‘um, blocked?’ Like damn. Damn! Baby, I meant it as a term of endearment. I’m watching the way that you move! I love you. Yeah, that’s my weirdest corner, them DMs. I’ve been on a roll lately though. How ‘bout it? Give me some skin.
Gabe Niles: Yeah he was striking out on DMs. He was probably like one for ten.
D.R.A.M.: Get the fuck out of here nigga. [Laughs]. But now I’m about nine, nine and a half. These are facts. They let it be known! You like six of my pictures in one row? You wanna be chosen! Three of them are selfies? Oh, you like to be choiced.
D.R.A.M.'s Gahdamn EP is out tomorrow, October 23.
Evan Rodgers is part of the growth team at VICE. Follow him on Twitter.
Kyle Kramer is an editor at Noisey. Follow him on Twitter.