"I’m trying to solidify myself as a staple in the game..."

Listening to D.R.A.M. describe his diverse and multi-platform listening habits isn’t surprising. The Virginia native’s debut album ‘BIG BABY D.R.A.M’ demonstrates the kind of eclecticism that comes from having a world of music at your fingertips.

“I like to listen to a few of the records from (Travi$ Scott’s) ‘Birds In The Trap Sing KcKnight’” he begins, enthusiastically. “‘sweet sweet’, ‘beibs in the trap’, ‘first take’, ‘the ends’, I find myself listening to that shit damn near everyday. Then when I’m on a plane, I like to listen to ‘The Best of El DeBarge’, it’s so dope. I also have my likes on SoundCloud, the most ‘SoundCloud’ rap shit. It’s like a set of five or six records that I just play back to back Yachty, Ugly God, Little League Larry, ATM. Very low key.” D.R.A.M lives in the present, learns lessons from the past and keeps a finger on the pulse of tomorrow.

Our call with the 28-year-old began ten minutes prior to this description with a forewarning from his publicist: "His name is pronounced Dram," like drama, "not Dram" rhymes with ham. It seems that nobody on the press run has been making the mistake of literally spelling his name out; D.R.A.M. The dots between each letter hide a layer, a reminder that he "Does Real Ass Music", but that doesn't need to be spelled out any more.

Back in April, D.R.A.M released the eccentric ‘Broccoli’ on SoundCloud. The jaunty track sees him and Atlanta’s Lil Yachty - who was introduced to him by Rick Rubin - paying tribute to weed over an addictive concoction of piano chords, flutes, snares and bass. Over six months the cult hit fol-lowed an unlikely trajectory that saw it chart on US Billboard, eventually swiping the number one spot from under Drake’s feet, and subsequently garnered a Grammy Award nomination for Best Rap/Sung Performance. “No matter how good something may feel to you, if it’s outside of the norm it takes time to grow on people,” he acknowledges, reflecting on the song’s success. “Repetition is key. Even if they don't understand it at first, they start buckling. They've got a handful of the people that they follow talking about it. You keep hearing that, you end up like 'What is this? Aight, let me check this out!’"

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No stranger to the sleeper hit, last year’s ‘Cha Cha’ took a similar route to infamy, steadily bubbling on SoundCloud for a couple of months before soundtracking one of Beyoncé’s Instagram posts and exploding. “I still can’t believe the whole Beyoncé thing,” D.R.A.M confesses. “Her showing as much love in the public eye - as well as out, which is probably more important to me - the fact that somebody of that stature listens to me and wants to see me prosper is really good. I've got to pinch myself!”

Riding off the back of these hits as well as co-signs that extend from Queen Bey and Rick Rubin to Chance The Rapper, SBTRKT, Major Lazer and Erykah Badu (the latter of which recently reported that a collaborative EP with D.R.A.M is in the works), 'BIG BABY D.R.A.M' shows that D.R.A.M’s talent stretches far beyond a viral hit or a catchy hook, demonstrating an impressive balance of versatility and cohesion. A musical journey in the truest sense; he performs musical theatre with Young Thug, a slow jam about Internet connection with Erykah Badu, then doles out a bag of infec-tious pop hits and finishes up with a organ-lead ballad about strolling in the Virginia breeze.

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I was definitely high as hell off the tree.

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On paper it may sound unfocussed and scatterbrained, but it makes total sense through the lens of D.R.A.M’s contagious positive spirit as he expertly drags his love of Soul and P-Funk right into the centre of the modern rap landscape. “We’d have to start with Isaac Hayes and then shortly after Curtis Mayfield,” he dishes excitedly, considering the menu of classic soul that he’d serve up to a contemporary rap. “Then you got Marvin, Teddy and Al, they’re my picks out of conventional soul. But my biggest influence is the whole P-Funk collective. I love everything that they stood for. I truly study them.” So much so in fact, that when he first heard ‘You’re A Fish And I’m A Water Sign’, from the 1978 album ‘Motor Booty Affair’, he burst into tears. “It’s not even a sad song,” he admits, reflecting on his reaction. “It’s a song about making love, full of aquatic innuendos. I was definitely high as hell off the tree. In my room it was pitch black. It’s very bass-heavy, the whole vibe and then the choir…” he trails off. “It’s so beautiful!”

The upbeat aura that emanates from D.R.A.M is his most vital gift to the world, even despite his undeniable musical talents. While 2016 has been a particularly dark year on a global scale, from increasing police brutality in the US, to Brexit and Donald Trump, D.R.A.M strives to bring the light. “I did my research years ago,” he admits. “I’ve shed my tears. I realised at the end of the day things will be what they'll be. We're sitting here wallowing, basking in this negative vibe. Let's get our heads out of that. Let's focus on this good vibe and then that may spark a good idea that would have never happened.”

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Let's get our heads out of that. Let's focus on this good vibe...

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D.R.A.M wears his huge grin with pride in almost every photo or video; on his album cover as he hugs his dog, in his 'Cash Machine' video as he covers the neighbourhood in bills raining down from a pink cannon. In a world of posturing and pouting for the 'Gram it's a refreshing and important outlook. "That's part of the reason that I've got as far as I've got and why I'm going to continue to go,” he explains. “If you enter a situation with good vibes, all around love and positivity, 9 times out of 10 it's going to come back to you. You can be cool without being anti-ass n***a. There's nothing uncool about showing love in a room full of people that are already excited to see you.”

Right now, unable to bask in the glory of his debut release, D.R.A.M is focussed on keeping his calendar full, and making progress on a daily basis. “Nothing happens overnight, but it can all vanish overnight,” he explains of his drive. “That's the biggest thing I learned. I haven't got to sit down and relish in the moment because I work everyday.” At the moment he’s content with the fact that he can ask people if they’ve heard his album, without having to hand them a D.I.Y release from the trunk of his car - and yet the success of at least one his objectives is undeniable. “I’m not just a rapper,” says D.R.A.M, clarifying one of his most important goals for the album. “I consider myself a singer that raps, but above that just an artist in general. I want people to see my contribution to music. It’s not a fluke.”

Despite having a bona fide hit under his belt, his attention is firmly focussed on sticking around for decades to come. “As far as me and what I do, I just can't let anything that's going on right now shape my contribution to music. I’m trying to solidify myself as a staple in the game.”

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Words: Grant Brydon

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