Virginia's Shelley Marshaun Massenburg-Smith, more famously known as D.R.A.M., does real ass music. After being thrust into the spotlight following his single "Cha Cha" and his feature on Chance the Rapper's Coloring Book, D.R.A.M. has released his highly anticipated debut, Big Baby D.R.A.M. Aside from a few missteps, the album successfully captures the versatility and energy of the Hampton native.
With assistance from Young Thug, Erykah Badu, and Lil Yachty to go along with the array of production talent, D.R.A.M. experiments with genres ranging from funk, arena rock, house, and soul, one he has labeled as "Trappy Go Lucky." He discussed the influence of George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic musicians Bootsy Collins and Garry Shider in an interview with Rolling Stone:
They were very loose and free with the way they did their thing and that's always how I wanted to go about it. Ever since I made the 1Epic mixtape that had the "Cha Cha" record up on there, me and [producer] Gabe Niles, we released all our inhibitions and just went at it.
"Misunderstood" features dancing piano keys and a funky bassline to go along with gargantuan stadium rock synths. It showcases the fusion between hip hop and rock, with D.R.A.M. and Young Thug bringing their personal styles together. This is immediately followed by "In a Minute / In House," a split track with a frenzied first half that flows smoothly into the hazy soulful conclusion, riding the trilling snares throughout.
The heart of the album is the 1-2-3 punch of "Cash Machine," "Broccoli," and "Cute." These are tracks that scream for radio play, with upbeat instrumentals, infectious choruses, and lyrics suitable for the Top 40.
The lyricism on Big Baby D.R.A.M. isn't groundbreaking, but works well with the esoteric nature of the overall product. D.R.A.M. is focused on his eccentric, genre-bending vocals and fine-tuning what turns out to be solid songwriting. Subject matter such as being misunderstood, the importance of money, and a blossoming relationship are all here, and give substance to the incredible vocal ability of D.R.A.M.
D.R.A.M. utilizes a smooth soul cadence to enhance the sensuality of the organ-driven "Sweet VA Breeze." Other tracks that benefit from his deep R&B-flavored crooning are "Monticello Ave," Erykah Badu-assisted "WiFi," and "100%."
"Outta Sight / Dark Lavender Interlude" is another split cut and contains a building acid house beat, on the former half, that D.R.A.M. comfortably flows with even after the song completely kicks in. It's one of the few moments where the album seems to be headed into breakthrough territory, only to have that crumble when the second half is revealed to be a phone conversation.
If there is one gripe with the record, it's that it feels scattered. The opening and closing are strong and there are radio-friendly singles in between, but there is a lack of cohesiveness across the entire record.
Upon first listen, I walked away disappointed in a project that had been so highly anticipated within the hip hop community. But after the repeated listens, the discovery is that the treasure of this record is within the enigmatic figure that is D.R.A.M. He's a soulful, upbeat, and talented artist who will not knock everyone off their feet. But that is alright, because he's laid the groundwork for a very bright future in music.
Big Baby D.R.A.M. is now available for purchase on Amazon. Stream it above for free on Spotify.
For more music, news, and tour dates, check out D.R.A.M's Zumic artist page.