The debut album from Hampton, Va.’s D.R.A.M. is arriving right as his contagiously joyful “Broccoli” is one of the biggest songs in the country. But while that Lil Yachty collab and D.R.A.M.’s similarly goofy viral smash “Cha Cha” (which heavily influenced Drake’s “Hotline Bling”) can serve as introductions to his optimism and fun-loving style, both have led plenty of listeners to question whether D.R.A.M. has what it takes to last in the music world. Now, following his projects #1Epic and Gahdamn!, debut album Big Baby D.R.A.M. is his biggest opportunity to get more songs on the charts while simultaneously proving his originality and craftsmanship. “Does an album matter?” Sway Calloway asked D.R.A.M. earlier this month on Sway in the Morning, considering the success he’s already had with the album’s singles. D.R.A.M.’s answer was an immediate yes.
For reasons ranging from their overall newness to their specific vocal tics, the 28-year-old D.R.A.M. (which stands for “Does Real Ass Music”) has been compared to guys like Atlanta’s Yachty and Philly’s Lil Uzi Vert. But while Yachty and Uzi have been criticized for their perceived lack of musical knowledge (19-year-old Yachty has admitted to knowing virtually nothing about 2Pac or The Notorious B.I.G., while Uzi refused to rap over an old DJ Premier beat during an appearance on Hot 97), D.R.A.M. has been praised for his “student of the game” mentality. Even with all his influences, though, it’s hard to compare him to any one artist. He routinely sidesteps genre boxes, resulting in songs that bring together elements of rap, R&B, soul, funk, and more.
There was a chance that Big Baby D.R.A.M.’s level of fun would eventually wear thin, revealing a lack of depth. Fortunately, that never really happens. Recent singles “Cute” and “Cash Machine” are lovable for the same reasons “Cha Cha” and “Broccoli” are. Plus, there’s the Young Thug-featuring “Misunderstood”, which seamlessly mixes disparate elements like hard rock guitar and Auto-Tune, and the Erykah Badu duet “WiFi”, where both D.R.A.M.’s and Badu’s personalities carry the track. Elsewhere, lyrics that could’ve been disastrous (“You said that you are celibate/ Well, let’s celebrate the first time you get this pipe”) become forgivable when D.R.A.M. sings them, an ear-to-ear grin undoubtedly on his face. I mean, how mad can you get at a guy when that is his album’s cover art?
While there is something very “2016” about Big Baby D.R.A.M., it also has a couple standout moments of virtually timeless songcraft. After its rapped first verse, potential single “Monticello Ave” starts to sound like a classic ‘70s soul gem that never was, featuring some of D.R.A.M.’s richest vocals on the album. Later, closer “Sweet VA Breeze” is also incredibly smooth with its sweet organ progressions, and it similarly evokes classic singers. It turns out that D.R.A.M. — who was first encouraged to sing by his mother, a member of a gospel group — is as vocally similar to guys like Barry White and Luther Vandross as he is to contemporary oddballs like Yachty, Uzi, and Makonnen.
D.R.A.M.’s lyrics on Big Baby D.R.A.M. feature quite a few references to the internet and technology — song titles include “WiFi”, “Change My #”, and “Password”. It’ll be interesting to see how those sorts of lyrics sound 10, 15, or 20 years down the line, but at the very least, Big Baby D.R.A.M.’s melodies and instrumentation are enough to ensure people will be listening to these songs for a while. Questions about D.R.A.M.’s potential for longevity should stop here.
Essential Tracks: “Monticello Ave”, “Broccoli”, and “Cute”