D.R.A.M. is unfailingly likeable. The 28-year-old Virginian combines rapping and singing in manner not dissimilar to Chance the Rapper, but it’s his goofy eccentricity which sets him apart from anyone else. His ability not to take himself too seriously is refreshing, and is perfectly captured not only by the album’s title ‘Big Baby D.R.A.M.’, but also by his grinning face on the cover in which he looks like kid proudly displaying his best friend; a fluffy Goldendoodle.
Even on a song where he is stating in no uncertain terms that he now has a lot of money, a rap trope that normally alienates and frustrates, it is delivered with such charm, humour and charisma that it’s impossible to harbour any bad will towards him. In fact, ‘Cash Machine’ is arguably the high point of the album, in spite of its potentially off-putting lyrical themes. When the whole thing is delivered with an obvious sense of ‘how did I get here!?’ atop a joyful piano that brings to mind someone cheerfully playing show tunes in the corner of your friendly neighbourhood bar, it’s hard to feel anything other than happy for the loveable goofball.
His humour and charm is also abundant in the Lil Yachty-featuring lead single ‘Broccoli’ — a genuine contender for best use of the recorder in hip-hop — that contains one of the greatest ever ‘I’ve got paper now’ brags, concerning an acquired taste for “salmon on a bagel with the capers on a square plate”. It’s the perfect imagery for the more upmarket restaurants which he now finds himself able to afford.
The somewhat meteoric rise to new-found stardom (following the global success of ‘Cha-Cha’) is essentially the theme of this album; particularly in conjunction with D.R.A.M.’s attempts to adjust and come to terms with the change of lifestyle. At times it’s celebratory, at others slightly more nuanced, generally with regards to relationships and concerns over the authenticity of female attention he has received since his success.
Ultimately the themes and ideas are nothing new or revolutionary. No new ground is being broken, but the often whimsical and unconventional nature of the album excuses this and makes D.R.A.M. all the more endearing and interesting.
Take Erykah Badu collaboration ‘WiFi’, for example, without doubt the sexiest slow-jam ostensibly concerned with wireless internet that’s ever been recorded. Complete with suggestive wah-wah bass and thinly-veiled innuendo, the song proves that using a Badu feature to have her discuss her readily available internet connection is a stroke of genius.
‘In A Minute/In House’ proves that D.R.A.M. doesn’t always feel the need to hide sexually explicit lyrics behind metaphors, and yet he can go from filth (“I’ll work your ass out for an hour”) to the aptly titled ‘Cute’, the lyrics of which (save for the odd “bitch”) read like something from a teen-pop heart throb: “girl we need to go out on a date”, “I think you’re cute”, “I choose you like a Pokémon”.
The album loses momentum slightly following ‘Outta Sight’, a track that barely requires a look at the production credits to confirm the presence of Soulection (in this case, Chris McKlenney). This may well be due to the shift in tone that this song brings; which despite being a decent track in isolation doesn’t obviously merit a place on the album as a whole, perhaps being better suited to a standalone collaboration.
Were ‘Big Baby D.R.A.M.’ to lose the eight minutes that ‘Outta Sight’ and following track ‘Change My Number’ inhabit (a move that would bring the whole thing to an altogether more concise 45 minutes) it would be difficult to find any fault at all in an album that consistently surprises and pleases with new sounds and new ideas round every corner.
Given the current abundance of new rappers still shy of their early 20s and doing very similar things stylistically, it’s refreshing to hear something different and altogether more interesting from a slighter older but no less exciting name.
Words: James Kilpin
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