It’s been a troublesome year for DJ Drama. Drama (a.k.a. The iPod King, a.k.a. Barrack O. Drama), who has become renowned for showcasing mainstream and lesser-known artists on the mixtape rap circuit through his Gangsta Grillz mixtapes, had a surprise run-in with the Fulton County, Ga., SWAT team.
The Recording Industry Association of America sent the team into the Atlanta offices of Drama’s Aphilliates Music Group and confiscated 81,000 mixtapes, four vehicles and anything else they could get their hands on. Drama and fellow DJ and producer, Don Cannon, were arrested on racketeering charges and spent the night in jail, released on $100,000 bonds the next day.
And if that wasn’t enough, earlier this fall he faced more legal issues when a (much) lesser known Chicago DJ sued him over rights to the name “DJ Drama,” claiming he had it first and prompting the Atlanta DJ to alter his moniker.
“You can Google for 400 pages and you wouldn’t see anything about this guy,” the Grand Hustle DJ said. “It’s all good, though. I’ve been through so much already – this is not a big deal.”
So when DJ Drama’s long-awaited full-length debut Gangsta Grillz: The Album was finally released, the name on the cover simply read “Drama.”
The album starts with a skit called “Setup,” Drama’s take on the investigation and raid of the Aphilliates’s building back in January. The satirical sketch pokes fun at the fed’s action: “The first officer/officers on the scene to apprehend Mr. Don Cannon and a Mr. DJ Drama will receive a bottle of Scotch on the house.” The skit is reinforced through “Takin’ Pictures” with a massive collaboration of Young Jeezy, Willie the Kid, Jim Jones, Rick Ross, Young Buck and T.I. all contributing to the discussion of the legal scrutiny of hip hop. Buck sheds light on the fed’s excessive interest in rappers, saying, “They snappin while we trappin’ / Tryin’ to find out what happened / They wanna lock me up before my album go platinum.”
The album is essentially a hip-hop version of “The A-Team,” assembling a crack team of producers, rappers and singers to solidify the mainstream mixtape. The immense list of producers ranges from Lil’ Jon and Cannon to the well-known heavy hitters like Mannie Fresh and Hi-Tek. He doesn’t discriminate on featured artists either, including East Coast rappers like Jadakiss, Freeway and Lloyd Banks in the pool of Southern lyricists.
The thing that sets Drama’s album apart from other contemporary DJ discs are his extraordinary collaborations. In a true Memphis, Tenn., arrangement, Drama teams Three 6 Mafia consort Project Pat with the Dirty South legends 8Ball & MJG on “187,” produced by Memphis native Drumma Boy. The standout track is the followup on OutKast’s song series “The Art of Storytellin’, Pt. 4,” adding Marsha Ambrosius from Floetry on the hook. The Atlanta natives are in regular form on the track and Andre 3000 addresses the critics saying, “I started out starvin’ / Now they got me out here Brett Favre’in / Tryin’ to see if I still got it.”
Drama doesn’t have much of a voice in the album but uses hip-hop vet Lil’ Jon and comedian Katt Williams to promote Gangsta Grillz in respective interludes. Diddy (a.k.a. “the Grand Imperial King Combs”) makes his own contribution to Drama’s street cred, explaining the necessity of the mixtape circuit and the meaning of Drama’s nickname, Mr. Thanksgiving. He exclaims, “Ain’t nobody doin the shit that he does / Everybody’s eatin!” But Drama does take a moment to assert his authority himself, saying, “I’ve realized recently that I was born for this position / I took the fall for hip hop / And I stand before you stronger than ever / Watch what comes next.”
Though it’s a masterful compilation, it’s still a compilation, and the artists aren’t always consistent. Meager contributions from Drama’s fellow Grand Hustle artists Young Dro and Big Kuntry King on “Aye” and the unpalatable loop on the beat of “Grillz Gleamin’ ” are just a couple of the shortcomings.
But a few sloppy verses from sloppy rappers can’t ruin the album. It’s a solid piece of street music and is just notch in Drama’s belt.
4.5 out of 5 stars
Gangsta Grillz: The Album