Virginia rapper D.R.A.M., who burst onto the scene with infectious hits “Cha Cha”, which captured the attention of Chance the Rapper and Beyonce, and current top 5 single “Broccoli”, arrives with his debut full-length album — and it represents a very refreshing surprise in the current landscape of hip-hop music. D.R.A.M. himself is a lot more musically inclined than you might think after hearing the chilled-out ode to drugs that is “Broccoli” — his singing voice and overall ear for the technical aspect of music are actually very impressive, far beyond your average rapper. D.R.A.M. is an active member of a gospel choir, and his deep and silky voice suited for traditional R&B is showcased much more than his raps on the album.
However, both sides of D.R.A.M. are charismatic and just the right degree of over-the-top. Just like the recently released NxWorries collaboration Yes Lawd!, Big Baby D.R.A.M. blends together excellent musical aspects and humour to a very successful degree. Only with D.R.A.M., it feels less like a joke, and more like his actual endearing personality. When he utters a line that might elicit an eye-roll coming from another rapper, you just smile along with the goofy grin on his album cover. It also has a puppy on it. How could you be mad at the man?
The overall sound of the album is very soulful, which might come as a surprise to a listener who has only heard “Broccoli”. D.R.A.M. understands that the kind of voice he possesses allows him to be somewhat of a lothario, and clearly thinks this is hilarious. These tracks are backed by sounds of twinkling jazz pianos and in-your-face brass instruments, offering elements of early R&B that span the project, both in serious homages to the style on songs such as “Monticello Ave” and “Sweet VA Breeze”, and parodic on songs like “WiFi” and “Password”. The production list reads like a who’s who of hip-hop producers in demand, with contributions from The Social Experiment’s Donnie Trumpet, as well as Charlie Heat and Mike Dean who have worked extensively with Kanye West. Mainstream pop producer Ricky Reed, who is seemingly out to appear on every album this year, continues to confound me. How can the same man produce something as inane as Jason Derulo’s “Talk Dirty” and something as brilliant as “Cash Machine”, carried by its infectious piano melody?
Big Baby D.R.A.M. has quite a few things going for it. I have revisited many of its songs out of the context of the album just to hear them again, which is something I don’t usually do before a review. The songs are just that much fun that I have to hear them. D.R.A.M. proves himself as an incredibly dynamic artist, seemingly knowing exactly the right component or feeling to put in a song at the right time — for example, the raps aren’t there very often but when the track needs a bit of an energy boost D.R.A.M. knows.
The album’s three-pronged attack of completely legitimate R&B/Soul tracks, energetic hip-hop bangers, and hilarious amalgamations of the styles provides a song for any mood. And D.R.A.M. really is hilarious: some examples of song concepts on this album include “WiFi”, a duet with legend Erykah Badu where D.R.A.M. displays his interest in a girl due to her strong WiFi signal, “Password”, a short track running through D.R.A.M.’s panicked internal monologue as his girl checks his phone, “Cute”, where D.R.A.M. subverts a monstrous trap beat by singing in a squeaky falsetto “I think you’re cute/Oh yes I do”, and “Outta Sight/Dark Lavender Interlude”, in which D.R.A.M. implores his girl to “Just call me a little” — too much is annoying, and not at all has him worried.
At times, on songs that are more dominated by rap, D.R.A.M. doesn’t go all out with his huge voice, opting instead for the halfhearted and more gravelly singing voice you hear on the chorus of “Broccoli”. On the clear-cut hip-hop track it works, but more often it does not on the songs with more soulful instrumentation. He can also tend to get a bit self-indulgent, and I would too if I had his voice, but some songs drag on longer than they need to. Specifically, the songs where two different concepts are shoved together with a backslash: “In A Minute/In House” and “Outta Sight/Dark Lavender Interlude”. But again, D.R.A.M.’s intent is so earnest that you can’t help but applaud.
The emergence of D.R.A.M. as a hitmaker and prominent artist is going to be very interesting for the world of hip-hop music. He is fully capable of creating both a bombastic earworm, and a more R&B based urban hit. And with the famous friends he has, he should turn up in other places as well. I would be very surprised if “Broccoli” turns out to be a one-hit wonder.
Favourite Tracks: Cash Machine, Broccoli, Cute, Sweet VA Breeze, Monticello Ave
Least Favourite Track: In A Minute/In House