Built like an NFL linebacker, DRAM cuts an imposing physical presence, with a totally disarming and endlessly charming personality. Decked out in a black hoodie, his signature dreads are tucked back and hidden from view, but his signature smile beams through the pink fluorescent haze as he holds court across from me in the third-floor studio at the swanky LVRN (aka Love Renaissance) headquarters in downtown in Atlanta. “Shit is lit as hell!” He exclaims waving his hands around the space. “It’s like the Boom Boom Room from Harlem Nights. Champagne and cocktails!”
DRAM is in town this evening to lend support to the collective, of whom he is most definitely the biggest success story along with contemporaries 6lack and Space Jam Bro. Tonight, in a converted warehouse on the other side of town, LVRN will launch of their new collaboration with Reebok as part of their 3 A.M. campaign, a signature shoe designed by local artist FRKO Rico that reflects the attitude and character of this hip-hop mecca. One of G.O.O.D. Music’s most recent signees Sheck Wes will perform a trio of songs. The drinks will flow. Sneakers will be purchased. Everyone has a great time.
The love and respect that DRAM has for the entire LRVN squad is real, but it starts with co-founder Tunde Balogun, who was one of the first people in the industry to recognize his talents. “It’s so crazy, back in 2014 when I dropped #1EpicSummer, within a week of it, people were hitting me up. Tunde, as well as our mutual lawyer Todd hit me up in the same hour and to this day, they say they didn’t talk to each other about it,” DRAM remembered. “I ended up just rocking with Tun, who was just a no-bullshit, very serious kind of guy. He called me and was like, ‘Yeah, I’m trying to fly up [to Virginia].’ Then he literally flew up. I ain’t have shit. Ain’t have two nickels to rub together at the time. It was just music. It’s been like that ever since.”
Since linking up with LVRN, DRAM’s career has taken off like a rocket. First came his breakthrough single, a collaboration with Lil Yachty titled “Broccoli” that set the world on fire and hit No. 5 on Billboard’s Hot 100 charts, eventually earning a 6-times platinum certification. But that was only the beginning. Shortly thereafter, he unveiled his lengthy, full-length debut album Big Baby DRAM in all its odd and ebullient glory to a wave of critical plaudits, scoring a top 20 showing on the album charts. After that he hit the road, supporting Kendrick Lamar on his mind-blowing DAMN Tour, rocking basketball arenas all across the U.S.
“It was amazing,” DRAM beams as he recalls his time on the road with the Pulitzer Prize-winning Compton MC. “In so many words, it was lit. It was a real learning experience. Something you can grow with. The fact that I’m comfortable in that setting, going back to doing venues that aren’t as big, makes it seem so much tinier and you can just own the f*ck out of a stage.”
When you think of Atlanta and hip-hop, older heads likely conjure images of the city’s biggest forerunners like OutKast, T.I., Gucci Mane, Goodie Mob, Usher and Jeezy. Newer fans, for whom the trap is everything immediately cite more contemporary superstars like Future, Migos Young Thug, and Lil Yachty. LVRN hopes to carve out a space within that landscape all their own, bring in the weirdos and the originals. For them, authenticity is everything. “We represent Atlanta, but we represent a different portion of Atlanta,” co-founder Justice Baiden notes. “We don’t chase artists. We like to help define people from day one.”
Authentic is definitely an adjective you could you use to describe DRAM Another is individualistic. Another is unpredictable. How many other artists out there can you name that have collaborated with the likes of Neil Young, Gorillaz, Erykah Badu and ASAP Rocky? None, right? DRAM is unapologetically himself and prides his ability to keep it real as both a person and an artist.
“I am my own me,” he said, and for the most part that means keeping a positive demeanor even in the face of adversity. “You can still be very pleasant in your surroundings even if you aren’t in the greatest mood. That’s called having etiquette. That’s being tactful. Having a good work ethic. And then when you’re feeling chipper and great, it means something even more.”
Those same traits translate to the team that surrounds him. “Everyone is their own individual, but they all run on the same tangent and energy,” DRAM said. Growing more animated he turns into a full-on motivational speaker. “If you stick to something and you believe in it and you go out with that energy it can happen. This is a management firm and record label that started all grassroots and now we’re here a sneaker company! Like what do you mean? It’s no limitations, and when you think about the time-span and the amount that’s been done in that timespan and everything that everyone’s been doing, it’s shocking. Hands have continued to be shaken, and vibes have continued to be spread. Sky’s the limit!”
While LVRN continues their collaboration with Reebok, DRAM is currently plotting his own foray into the world of fashion as well, albeit a little more tentatively. “I don’t think I’m really good at raising my hand about a lot of things,” he explained. “I feel like I exert the energy, and I do have my ways about going about, ‘Hey, I’m interested about this and this,’ but I never want to overextend myself or become an opportunist, as one would say.”
When he’s not home, home in Virginia, chances are you’ll find DRAM kicking back at his home away from home at LVRN. “Whenever I’m in Atlanta, this is the spot I’m gonna be at,” he said. The last few times I’ve come into town for recording, I’ve been here. This is the headquarters.” Speaking of recording, in case you’re wondering on when we can expect DRAM to drop the follow-up to Big Baby DRAM, he assured me that he’s very hard at work on it. “It’ll come on a good day,” DRAM promises. “A great day! A better day than today.”