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Shelley — the Virginia artist formerly known as DRAM — is not in the midst of a rebrand. Those who met the singer-slash-rapper with his breakout single “Broccoli” or even his groovy fun-spirited effort, “Cha Cha,” might think so, especially after finishing his second album, Shelley FKA DRAM. However, a deeper look into his discography brings us to efforts like “Caretaker” and “Best Hugs,” proof that Shelley’s soulful agenda has long been entwined in his DNA.
So what do we make of Shelley’s new album? Perhaps it’s a new chapter in his career, but that again plays into the “rebrand” idea that underscores the aged talents he presents on Shelley FKA DRAM. Instead, settling on an acceptance of one’s identity seems to be a much more fitting label for this project. Its ten songs detail Shelley’s shoulder-shrug that precedes a cannonball jump into a journey through the good and bad of love.
Shelley FKA DRAM tells a story of a love so beautiful and wholehearted that it’s worth spending a lifetime dreaming about. Its delicate songwriting wraps its warm hand around the tender production Shelley uses to paint a picture of intimacy to a degree so high that it often seems too good to be true. “Exposure” delivers words that would easily land you the woman or man of your dreams, no matter how many leagues away they might be. “The Lay Down” with HER brings the sounds and atmosphere of bedroom magic for a fiery and passion-exploding anecdote that ends with the fireworks of Watt’s searing electric guitar solo.
In between these songs comes a thought from Shelley. “Isn’t love just beautiful?” he ponders at the end of “Something About Us.” “I mean, every aspect of it / From the pursuit, you know the cold sh*t part / To actually feeling and embracing it.” And you know what? Shelley’s right. It is beautiful to sprout a connection, taking a romantic trip to wherever the heart chooses to go. Unfortunately, the journey isn’t guaranteed to last a lifetime, and the second half of Shelley FKA DRAM sees him become victim to what proves to be a flimsy promise in companionship. It all crashes and burns on “Cooking With Grease” and while he dusts himself off to start all over on “Remedies,” things aren’t the same.
Shelley approaches love with no guard to get around and without a wall to climb over. He makes it quite clear just minutes into the album. “Since we not stoppin’ ourselves,” he sings on “All Pride Aside” which features a sultry contribution from Summer Walker. “I’ll keep lettin’ you if you keep lettin’ me.” Pride blocks some of a relationship’s most necessary qualities from existent: vulnerability, communication, and compassion, just to name a few. Disposing of it is always easier said than done, and when one does, the highs of love feel really high, but its lows hurt more than anything else.
There’s a line on “The Lay Down” that sticks out to me like no other on Shelley FKA DRAM. “Can’t blow my high on airplane mode,” Shelley and HER sing at different points of the song. Life’s moments are what you make of them and not for anyone else to dictate. Keep your head in the clouds because anyone who’s up there with you understands the absolute glory in that. As for those stuck on the ground, they’re not to be worried about because you’re too out of reach for them to pull you down. This same philosophy takes life with Shelley’s sophomore album. As many may have tried to box him in as the artist we hear on “Broccoli,” he dictated his own life and artistry, accepted an identity he always knew he had, and gave the world an album that came from the heart’s core.
Shelley FKA DRAM is out now via EMPIRE/Atlantic. Get it here.
Shelley is a Warner Music artist. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.