DJ Drama Interview
|Next Project:||Gangsta Grillz: The Album (Vol. 2)|
|Twitter:||DJ Drama on Twitter|
|Website:||DJ Drama's Website|
Where mainstream listeners are concerned, mixtape DJs aren’t the best-known players in the game, but if there’s one man among them who needs no introduction it’s Aphilliates Music Group cofounder DJ Drama. That’s due in part to his tendency to live up to his name, attracting controversy like iron filings to a magnet, but moreso because he’s one of the best in his class—a major factor in the popularization of the mixtape as a promotional tool, he’s worked on some of the most renowned street releases in hip-hop history (see his and Weezy‘s Dedication trilogy), but one of his proudest moments was undoubtedly Gangsta Grillz: The Album, a star-studded LP so epic that our own Nathan S. closed his review by hailing Drama as the “...undisputed Mixtape (Album) King.”
With the May 19th release of Gangsta Grillz: The Album (Vol. 2), Drama is looking to top the success of his debut, considered by many to be among the best DJ-assembled albums of all time. Though singles Day Dreaming and Ridiculous whet readers’ appetites for more of the DJ’s banging ensemble cuts, it’s the high-powered combo of Ludacris, Willie The Kid, and Busta Rhymes on recently-featured second track We Must Be Heard that truly drove Booth expectations through the roof.
In an exclusive interview with our own DJ “Z,” DJ Drama steps into the Booth to discuss hip-hop’s changing relationship with patriotism, why he’s confident his much-discussed legal troubles won’t put a damper on his sophomore album’s success, and why, despite being blessed with success beyond his wildest dreams, he remains focused on the future.
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DJ Drama Interview Transcription
DJ Booth: What’s going on, everybody? It’s your boy, “Z.” doin’ it real big, and joining me inside the DJ Booth is a Philly-born, Atlanta-based DJ whose commercialization of the mixtape made it one of the strongest promotional forces ever to exist in the rap game. Gearing up for the release of his second major label project, Gangsta Grillz: The Album (Vol. 2), please welcome Mr. Thanksgiving himself, DJ Drama—how you doin’?
DJ Drama: I’m good, big homie. Everything is good, just out here doin’ my thing, stayin’ on the ground as always, promotin’ the new album, May 19th.
DJ Booth: When I got ahold of the new promo photos for this album, the first thing I was drawn to is your impeccable beard. Do you line yourself up, or do you have your own personal facial hair attendant?
DJ Drama: [laughs] Yeah, I’ve got a barber I go to. Shout-out to my homie Jigga in the A-town, he’s originally from Philly. He’s the best in the business.
DJ Booth: You need to set him up with me, because I’ve been havin’ some hard times linin’ a beard up myself, so…
DJ Drama: [laughs] Yeah, it’s tough when you [do it] yourself.
DJ Booth: Are you ever out and you see yourself in the mirror, and you notice maybe a few hairs have sprouted up, you give him a call right away and have him meet you somewhere?
DJ Drama: Well, it’s hard sometimes when I’m on the road. I try to keep it consistent.
DJ Booth: As I mentioned, the brand new Gangsta Grillz album is set to drop on May 19th, but the ‘net has been abuzz about your current litigation with Cash Money. Do you think this distraction is gonna have any negative effects on the new release?
DJ Drama: Nah—actually, in a lot of ways, it’ll just bring more attention to it. Somehow, some way, in the last few years I’ve found a way to live up to my name, DJ Drama; even when things seem simple, here comes another situation! But, you know, I stay in the news, so it’s not a problem.
DJ Booth: Do you ever laugh at the irony of having the name “Drama” and having gone through so much of that in the last four years?
DJ Drama: All the time! Sometimes, I just think about, maybe I should’ve named myself “DJ Easygoin’.”
DJ Booth: [laughs] Yeah, well, then your track record certainly would’ve changed…
DJ Drama: But it comes with the territory; you know, I’m no stranger to controversy, and I’m a strong individual so I have no problem takin’ it head-on.
DJ Booth: That and everything that you’ve gone through makes you who you are anyways, so you wouldn’t wanna change that.
DJ Drama: Exactly.
DJ Booth: Now, Drama, due to the legal proceedings which I know you cannot discuss, there have been reports that Lil Wayne and Birdman are not gonna be working with you now, and are not on the tracklisting for volume two. Does it upset you that the fans who look forward to these collaborations lose out?
DJ Drama: Actually, neither one of those guys were on the album even before the situation. I mean, I have songs with them and whatnot, and we’ve worked in the past, and me and Wayne just worked on a mixtape, and I look forward to workin’ with him again. They weren’t scheduled to be on this album as-is, so that’s not a situation for me.
DJ Booth: On the cover of volume two, you’re poignantly standing in front of our United States flag. Why do you think that patriotism, for the most part, is a lost topic in hip-hop?
DJ Drama: Clearly, at this moment, I am proud to be an American, seeing our new President Barack Obama and change in America and whatnot. Me bein’ the Mixtape President, you know, “ODrama,” I just wanted to express that in some ways with this album.
DJ Booth: Do you think that that’ll ever change? Do you think that what you’re doing can rub off on all the artists that you work with?
DJ Drama: Every artist is their own individual; I can’t say. But I think a lot of people understand that they have very powerful voices within the music business, within young people’s lives in the next generation, so hopefully there will be a handful who [will] take advantage of that.
DJ Booth: Well, you certainly recognize that your responsibility is as more than a DJ. When did you feel as though, because of the platform that you have, the foundation that you built yourself, that you needed to do more than the average DJ?
DJ Drama: Always, to be honest. I grew up in a very radical family, a family that always kept me in political situations, in labor rallies and organizations, marches and things of that nature, so I’ve always been somewhat politically outspoken, and I’ve always wanted to use my voice for more than just music.
DJ Booth: So this was a natural next step for you?
DJ Drama: Definitely.
DJ Booth: First featured at DJBooth.net this past December, the lead single off the new album, “Daydreaming” featuring Akon, Snoop, and T.I. Drama, what did you daydream about the most when you were growin’ up?
DJ Drama: Exactly what I’m doin’ right now, the career that I have: just hopin’ to be one of the greats, and to be a prominent figure in the music business and the arts and entertainment world.
DJ Booth: Could you have ever [foreseen] or imagined all the success that you have had? Has it been at all a surprise, or not?
DJ Drama: It’s definitely been a surprise. I mean, my only goal early on was to get my name on a flyer. When I first started DJing, that was all I wanted to do. [When I was in high school, I used to] go up to the train station and see all those flyers with DJs’ names on them, and that’s what I wanted to accomplish. If somebody [had] told me back then that I’d be performing at the Grammys with T.I., Jay-Z, Lil Wayne, and Kanye West during one of the biggest hip-hop moments at the Grammys in music history, it would have been unbelievable. I just wanted to get my name on a flyer; everything after that was extra. I always hoped for a lot of success, but I never knew that I would be on the cover of multiple magazines or making a second album, or travelin’ the world and being known. My career’s definitely been a blessing.
DJ Booth: Considering all that you just mentioned, is it hard to stay as humble as you are?
DJ Drama: No, it’s not hard. A slogan that we had at the Aphilliates was “It’s all over in three hours.” As much as I’ve accomplished, once it’s done it’s done. It’s yesterday, it’s a memory. It’s all part of my career, but it’s all about what I’m here to accomplish for tomorrow. We have a lot of greats in hip-hop, a lot of people who have done ten, a hundred times what I’ve done, so I’m blessed with what I’ve been able to accomplish in my career but I never wanna take myself overly seriously, or too seriously where I can’t stay down to Earth or just stay a regular person.
DJ Booth: Exactly! You’re only as hot as what you have comin’ up next anyways.
DJ Drama: Exactly.
DJ Booth: Gangsta Grillz: The Album volume one featured 21 tracks, five of which were interludes. Volume two, however is much more condensed, with only 13. What played into your decision to dramatically—that pun was intended—reduce the quantity of records on this new album?
DJ Drama: [I felt like the first album was] the accumulation of my whole time, so I went into it just for that feeling, to try to prove myself. This time it was a little more comfortable, puttin’ this album together. I got a couple of my bangers together and we put out a quality project and there it is: a gift to the people.
DJ Booth: So quality over quantity—it’s not about how much, but how good what you have is.
DJ Drama: Exactly.
DJ Booth: New single which we just recently featured, entitled “Ridiculous.” What do you find the most ridiculous these days? Is it the swine flu, the economic woes, industry politics, what’s up?
DJ Drama: All of that! The swine flu is ridiculous, the economy’s ridiculous, the recession is ridiculous—it’s all that.
DJ Booth: Relatable music, my man; that’s exactly what makes everybody listen to your stuff.
DJ Drama: Definitely.
DJ Booth: Two of your Aphilliates Music Group artists, Willie the Kid and Lonnie Mac, they’re both prominently featured on this new album. What are your expectations for both of these emcees as you move forward, after the album drop?
DJ Drama: They’ve got a lot of work to put in, a lot of good music to make. I believe in their movement and I really like to put ‘em forward so that people can see what I see.
DJ Booth: What do you see?
DJ Drama: Greatness.
DJ Booth: A lot of artists found out that we were gonna be doing this interview, and they sent me Emails saying, “Z, find out from Drama what he looks for in an artist, if had had 15 seconds to hear someone’s music.” So, for someone who would want to be a prospective artist on the Aphilliates Music Group label, what would it take for you to listen to something and be like, “You know what? You got next!”
DJ Drama: It’s hard to say. I know what I like, I have my opinion of music, but also, at the end of the day, my ear is not always the ear of the masses, so a lot of time I respect the music but I also respect movements, and what the streets are sayin’, and what the buzz is on a certain artist. Those are some things I pay attention to.
DJ Booth: Has there ever been an artist who came your way, made you listen to his stuff, you didn’t really feel it, and he later turned out to be someone we know now as an A-list artist?
DJ Drama: Yeah, there is. I’ll say his name: my man Gorilla Zoe. [I’ve known] Zoe for years, and Zoe was somebody that definitely brought me his music, and I didn’t see it at the time. I mean, we were always cool, always homies and everything. He definitely made his way, he got on, and I’m super proud of him. He’s an example of how sometimes, some people may not always see your vision, and that’s to say don’t give up, don’t get discouraged. Me and Zoe are great friends now, and we’ve worked together, I love his work, and I’m definitely proud of him.
DJ Booth: Drama, on top of your own project, you were apart of Yo Gotti’s [most recent] release, and you have Gangsta Grillz editions with Soulja Boy and Gucci Mane comin’ out later this year. Would it be safe to assume that you are constantly overwhelmed and overworked?
DJ Drama: Nah. I look at it like, really I’m underworked and I’m underwhelmed. This is what I signed up for. I love what I do, man—I love it with a passion and I can’t imagine doin’ anything else. It’s a worry when I don’t have things in the works.
DJ Booth: Exactly. You’re just like me: if I’m not busy doing something, it does not feel right.
DJ Drama: Exactly…
DJ Booth: In a video interview, you crowned yourself as, quote, “a legend in his own time.” Now, I feel like if you’re a legend, you’re a legend—it shouldn’t be dependent on the time frame—so, you wanna clarify what you meant by “in his own time?”
DJ Drama: I don’t even remember sayin’ that, so I might’ve just been caught up in the moment. But really, at the end of the day, that’s for the people to decide.
DJ Booth: Drama, go ahead, give everybody a website, a MySpace page, so they can find out more about you and, of course, the brand new Gangsta Grillz: The Album (Vol. 2), out May 19th.
DJ Booth: My man, thank you for joinin’ me inside the DJ Booth. The best of luck in the future.
DJ Drama: I appreciate it, homie!