In Hip-Hop’s at times theater like atmosphere, there may be no better primetime player than DJ Drama.
DJ Drama has been through more than your average Hip-Hop DJ can stomach in just one year. His arrest for racketeering by the FBI triggered a domino effect that virtually shut down his mixtape game for a short time earlier this year. His long awaited debut, Gangsta Grillz: The Album, pushed back nearly a whole year because of another “DJ Drama” that popped up who felt he had the right to the name. But most recently, his friend and business partner T.I., was arrested on federal gun possession charges in Atlanta. None of this has fazed him. In the world of Hip-Hop few music executives have more influence than DJ Drama. His Gangsta Grillz compilations have helped define this decade’s Southern rap explosion. He has been instrumental in the careers of rappers like Young Jeezy, Lil Wayne , T.I., Saigon and others. Now he is set to take Gangsta Grillz mainstream and break his own artist; Michigan native Willie The Kid. DJ Drama speaks exclusively to AllHipHop.com about his new December 4 release date, rumors that have been circulating in the media and gives us his views on the federal charges against his dear friend. AllHipHop.com: Hi Drama. How’s everything going with the new album?
Drama: Everything’s great. Everything’s great.AllHipHop.com: So what happened with the original release date? The album was supposed to come out almost a year ago? Drama: I had some complications. One was due to the situation with my name… You know how it goes, “More money, more problems.” This guy from Chicago basically popped up out of nowhere and said he had the legal rights to the name DJ Drama so that complicated things for a moment and then Tip’s album [T.I. vs. Tip] was ready to come out and you know how it goes? He is the big powerhouse over at Atlantic, so the label put all their focus onto his project and rightfully so. That’s my big homie, so we focused on getting his album to platinum status real quick. I went back in the studio, put some more work in, got a banging single done and got me a new date right around Thanksgiving so you know everything worked out for the best. We made the best out of the situation. AllHipHop.com: I know you have made the best of the situation but after you put so much work into a project it must be frustrating to be pushed back almost a whole year? Drama: I mean, it is what it is. It just means that there’s more work to do. For me, my fan base and what I represent is real different from a regular artist because I consistently feed the street with product, with my mixtapes. As long as I keep doing what I do, as long as I stay hot on the streets then I’m good. I was never really worried about it; I was never really thinking, “Oh sh*t are people going to forget about me”. I mean, yeah sometimes I would be feeling impatient to come out but I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. Now I’ve just dropped the single 5000 Ones [featuring Nelly, T.I., Willie The Kid, Yung Joc, Young Keezy, Twista and Diddy] which is a very big song and in the long run the new date will work out for my benefit. It’s a fourth quarter release anyway, star-studded, a lot of powerhouses involved so it’s all good. AllHipHop.com: After the RIAA raid; you had a nice little buzz going; the original December/January release date would have kept that buzz at fever point…Drama: I mean in today’s world we all know controversy sells and I was definitely on the tongues of the media for a minute. I garnered a lot of publicity that a lot of people would usually have to pay for. Me and my movement, The Aphilliates, have done a lot and yeah it would have been good to come out around that time, but that’s not the end of my story, that’s not the beginning of my story; it’s just a chapter in my book. That was never going to define me. The album is still banging, nothing changed. I’m still doing my mixtapes, I’m on the radio more days than I was before and I’m still visible. AllHipHop.com: Regarding the raid and the charges against you, whatever happened? Has that all gone away? Drama: It’s still pending. I am yet to be in court. So we shall see but I’m not in jail so that’s a good thing. AllHipHop.com: So we should keep our ‘Free Drama’ t-shirts for a while? Drama: I mean you can hold on to it just for memorabilia purposes but I hope you don’t ever have to put it on again. AllHipHop.com: Due to that whole situation, did anything to do with your business end up being affected negatively? Drama: Nah. It basically just affected my business positively. It put me on a larger scale. I did a lot of travelling, I got booked for a lot of international gigs and you know the mixtape game as a whole slowed down so that was a definite turn of events, but I think that’s slowly, but surely coming back to life because of people like myself and a lot of other people who are putting in a lot of work to bring the game back to life. I’m a firm believer that mixtapes will never die but overall it didn’t affect my business in any negative way. At the end of the day; the stories in the media are always full of half-truths and you’re always going to have up’s and you’re always going to have down’s. You got to take the good with the bad. A prime example would be Puffy. Look how many things Puff has been through. I’ve used this example before but let’s just say he would have quit after the riot at that basketball game? Then he would never have started Bad Boy Records, let’s say he would have quit after Biggie got killed, let’s say he quit after the trail for the gun charges? You can’t let any type of controversy stop you from doing what you love. AllHipHop.com: Do you feel that Atlantic is really supporting you? Drama: I think in some ways they have yet to see that I have a movement. It’s not something I would say I blame Atlantic for as I do the music industry in general. A lot of labels have got caught up on singles, ringtones and things of that nature. We’ve all seen Shop Boyz with their big song and Sean Kingston and you know I could go on and on, and that’s no disrespect to those guys, but they have these huge singles but they sell no records. Then you have an artist like Common who hasn’t had a lot of video play or radio play out the box and still sold 150 thousand first week because he has a movement, a core fan base and I believe I’m the kind of artist who has a core fan base. People love Gangsta Grillz because of what it represents, it’s not all about spins with me and then again I’ve got my own movement; The Aphilliates Music Group, my own machine so regardless whether I believe the label have done what I believe they should do, I’m going to do what I got to do because that’s all I can do. AllHipHop.com: Does it ever make you ever want to go independent? As far as I can see; you’re doing the work and they’ll make the money. Drama: [Laughs] I mean I’m a team player. You know we may agree to disagree. I may have my opinion. But I’m here to put out a great album, I’m here to make myself money, I’m here to make the Aphilliates money, to make Grand Hustle money and I’m here to make Atlantic money; at the end of the day they gave me the opportunity to do this album and this is business, I know it’s nothing personal. This is my first time out the box so I just want to prove to the people that I have a great album and then do another one and another one and another one. You know what I’m saying? So if it takes me to drop this album and to do most of the promotional work for them to understand what my movement is about, then so be it. AllHipHop.com: Ok let’s go back to your legal issues with your name. What was the outcome? Were you able to keep the name DJ Drama? Drama: Yeah, I’m coming out as Drama. There was an artist on Atlantic a couple of years ago named Drama. He actually was incarcerated and me and him chopped it up, we came to an agreement on a number and he blessed me with the ability to use the name, which I greatly appreciate from him. I was in a situation where I was going to have to change my name because that other DJ Drama guy popped up but then he just disappeared again so he lost out and I won. At the end of the day I’m Drama everyone knows me as DJ Drama; no one else. I’m comfortable with that. When you say the name DJ Dram it’s not going to be a misunderstanding. AllHipHop.com: Glad you sorted it out as DJ Dram just didn’t have the same ring to it… Drama: Yeah. I ‘m not going to lie, I was concerned. Again if my album ended up coming out when it was supposed to come out then it might have come out under DJ Dram when people know me as Drama so everything worked out the way it was supposed to and everything is a blessing. AllHipHop.com: With you original release date; people were kind of making it a battle against you and DJ Khaled… Did you feel that? Drama: [Laughs] Yeah definitely. You know I love Khaled; that’s my boy, my brother. I’m so proud of him for what he’s done for himself and what he’s done for DJ’s in general. He had two of the biggest records out this year; you know what I’m saying? He’s made everybody pay attention. We have a very close relationship and we even talked about it ourselves when we thought we would be dropping on the same day; we knew we had to bring our competitive spirits to it. It makes us work harder, it’s good for the business and I’m just proud that another DJ has got to the level that he’s got too. There are not a lot of artists or DJ’s that can say that they have had pretty much two number one huge hits like he’s had with We Taking Over and I’m So Hood. I think we need things that bring diversity, competition and dialogue into the culture. I thought the Hip Hop Is Dead controversy was great, I thought the 50 vs. Kanye competition was great, I think the South vs. North debate is cool and I think Nas calling his new album Ni**er and the debate it’s causing is great. Any time there is a debate in Hip-Hop it’s good. Even with my release date; December the 4th, from what I hear Scarface is coming out, Ghostface is supposed to be coming out, Saigon’s coming out and I hear Birdman might be coming out as well. So you know a lot of people are coming out on that December 4th date which is great because it’s going to be a great week for Hip-Hop. Yeah it’s competitive but at the same time it represents music and I think it’s going back to the time when I came up and it would be exciting to go to the store and cop albums and you’d have a whole load of choices and options and good music. AllHipHop.com: Album sales have gone down, but Atlanta as a community always seems to embrace and support their own… Drama: I hope so. Yeah. There’s a lot of love in the city. I’ve witnessed that first hand for the eleven years that I’ve been here. I definitely have a lot of people on my side; it’s a good feeling from my peers, to supporters on the street to DJ’s all around. I love what I do, I have a passion for it and I think that comes across when I speak and from what I represent. AllHipHop.com: Definitely. So you were nice enough to play me the album in January when you were in the UK. Since then, what has changed on the album? Drama: The Outkast song is still there. Actually pretty much everything is still there. There was a situation with Universal and one of the Lil Wayne songs didn’t get cleared but Wayne’s still on the album. You know we got the new single [“5000 Ones”] with TI, Nelly, Yung Joc, Willie The Kid, Young Jeezy, and Twista produced by Jazze Pha. The skits on the album are crazy. Lil Jon is still on there. Lloyd is still there. Yeah it’s pretty much the same album with a couple of bonuses. AllHipHop.com: The Lil Wayne track that didn’t make it; was that the one where he went at Wendy Williams? Drama: Yeah that didn’t make it. AllHipHop.com: Do you ever get bothered that sometimes people give the artists more credit than they do the DJ with these types of albums? Drama: No, I don’t get bothered about that. My album is not necessarily just about DJ Drama. It’s about Gangsta Grillz and people know the Gangsta Grillz brand. There are a lot of artists on my album and rightfully they deserve credit, if not I’d be rapping on the album my-damn-self [laughs]. I want everybody to get the credit they deserve as a collaborative effort because that’s what it is. It’s like a Chronic. Dr Dre’s face is on the cover but a lot of people put a lot of work into that album. Sometimes people behind the scenes are just as much as part of the project as the face of the movement. I did a lot of work for this project, I’m the face of it but a lot of people put a lot of work in also to make it what it is. I went through so much this year and I hope everyone is proud of being involved in this album. AllHipHop.com: Ok can we talk about T.I.? A lot of rumors are going around that he was set up? Drama: I don’t really know anything as far as if it was a set up or not. My details are very limited right now. Most importantly for me especially in interviews is to show my support to my homie, my comrade, my friend and my partner. I mean you’ve done interviews with Tip before… Anyone who has ever come in contact with him or seen him and spoken to him out in the streets; you know how much of a human being he is, how down to earth he is, how much of a good person he is. Even being the big superstar that he is. He does a lot of good for Hip-Hop, he does a lot of good for the South and he does a lot of good for his community and family. It’s kind of early to know what the future holds with the situation but we’re striving for the best and we’re hoping for the best. We’ve hit a down point but I’m going to do what I do and ride for him in the mean time. I’m riding for my homie. AllHipHop.com: Do you know if the security guard was a part of the Hip-Hop police? Drama: I really don’t know to be honest with you. Tip’s out right now and we’re just happy about that. He’s on house arrest and house arrest is better than being in jail. AllHipHop.com: A lot of rumors are circulating… One being that Grand Hustle’s all female rap duo, Xtaci are asking for donations now to keep afloat because of this situation? Drama: You know how it goes during these kinds of situations? There’s going to be a billion rumors, a million and one people putting their two cents into the situation. All I know is everybody in Grand Hustle is in full support mode. Anything Tip needs on my end or from anyone in Grand Hustle; we got him! AllHipHop.com: Can we address the other rumor that Atlantic feels that bloggers and media outlets are making things worse for T.I.’s case?Drama: It’s a tough one. I mean the media is the media. As public figures that we are, you have to deal with the press; good or bad. They’re not always going to paint you in a good light or make out that you’re a saint. They report as they see fit. The facts will come out in the end. I personally don’t believe that the judge is putting all his eggs into what the media or what the bloggers are saying about T.I. The facts are going to be the facts. That’s what it comes down too.AllHipHop.com: What do you say to the people who are saying that T.I. is a bad role model or that buying 26 guns was excessive and he should go down?Drama: You got to judge him by his whole track record. Don’t judge him by one event. Judge him by overall what he does and who he is. You got to look at his history. I mean the judge knew his history, the judge was aware of the things he does for the community, the kids, the schools, the youth that are in juvenile and detention centers and things of that nature. Don’t just judge him by one event, judge the man as a man overall. What he represents and how he carries himself. What if everyone just decided after the RIAA raid that I was bootlegger and that’s it? You see what I’m saying? I’d be f*cked up out here. I was lucky that people judged me by everything I represent. A lot of people said a lot of bad things about me when I went through my whole mess… “Drama’s doing this, he shouldn’t be doing that. He deserves what he gets.” But at the end of the day when I walk down the street I get respect and hopefully people will do the same for Tip. AllHipHop.com: Have you spoken to T.I.?
Drama: Yeah I have. Tip is in great spirits. Hes spending some quality time with his family, he was playing with his sons today when I spoke to him. Hes happy to be out and is ready to get back to making some music. Hes real excited about my project too. Tips always been 100% supportive of my movement. So yeah, were definitely keeping our hopes and spirits up. AllHipHop.com: Ok, so let’s end this interview on a positive note. How are things going with Willie The Kid? Drama: It’s going great. He’s got like 60 songs done on deck. He’s got a song out right now called Cha Ching that’s creating a little buzz; Don Cannon produced. Our set up is inspired by The Chronic and Doggystyle. He’s all over my album; on like six or seven tracks. I really think he’s going to be a problem. What he’s going to bring to the game is much needed right now. People are going to think I’m biased but in a year or two I’m going to be able to say, “I told you so”. Watch out. Gangsta Grillz: The Album, December 4th. Make sure you go cop it. I have to give a huge thanks to Sense and La the Darkman; who both co-executive produced this project. They put in a huge amount of work and I couldnt have done it without them. Of course a huge thanks too; The Aphilliates, Grand Hustle, Atlantic and everyone who is involved with this project. AllHipHop.com: So you’re in a good place right now? Mentally and physically?
Drama: I’m loving life. I’m consistently getting challenged by my peers and by my company. We’ve got the album coming out. My mixtape game is back on and popping. I’m on radio consistently. Yeah I feel good about where I am today. You know after the raid, I started working out every day and I dropped 35 pounds, that situation made me say to myself, “Come on Dram, get yourself in shape. Let’s get it together”. So yeah, I’m happy mentally and physically. Life is great. Everything’s great.