D.R.A.M. should sound exhausted.
Calling during a whirlwind of radio spots on the East Coast, he would have every right to be on autopilot by this point. His year already has included performances at the BET Awards and “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” and his breakthrough single, “Broccoli,” has ascended the Billboard charts so fast that the 28-year-old, who only commercially released his first single last year, has gone from obscurity to stardom in near-record time.
Instead, he answers the phone with, “Hey, booooo!” and a chuckle. Talking through the smile he’s known for — almost all his promo shots show him with a big smile, dancing or cuddling his dog — D.R.A.M. (pronounced “drom”) sounds fresh and upbeat.
“Y’know, I just like to keep the wheels turning and hitting up every corner of the world as possible to spread love and positivity,” he says.
That positivity comes in the form of his music, which D.R.A.M. dubs “Trappy Go-Lucky,” a mix of heavy Southern hip-hop and catchy, hilarious and often uplifting lyrics. It’s music D.R.A.M. plans to take to San Francisco’s 1015 Folsom nightclub Thursday, Oct. 13 (in support of headliner Destructo).
And his music really is moving, just not in the make-you-cry sort of way as much as the make-you-move-your-hips kind of way.
“Yeah, D.R.A.M. stands for Does Real Ass Music, but I wasn’t really trying to go really deep into anything” when he got the name in 2013, he says. It just stuck, like many of the nicknames with which the Virginia MC, born Shelley Massenburg-Smith, has grown up over the years. This time, however, D.R.A.M. is hoping his stage name becomes a household one.
D.R.A.M., seen here with his trademark grin and his dog, is scheduled to perform at 1015 Folsom on Thursday, Oct. 13. Photo: Faye Webster, Courtesy Photo: Faye Webster, Courtesy D.R.A.M., seen here with his trademark grin and his dog, is scheduled to perform at 1015 Folsom on Thursday, Oct. 13.
The self-proclaimed “singer-songwriter who raps” didn’t penetrate the charts until he released his 2015 Latin-flavored dance tune “Cha Cha.” The track would end up being caught in headlines with Drake, who allegedly ripped off the song’s catchy time signature for “Hotline Bling.” Drake’s track ended up being that year’s song of the summer, while D.R.A.M. almost went undetected — “but we won’t talk about that. I’m beyond that,” D.R.A.M. says, with a laugh.
A year later, it certainly seems as if he’s beyond it. “Cha Cha” eventually did launch D.R.A.M.’s career and got him noticed not only by Drake, but by Queen Bey herself.
“It was just supposed to be a party starter. Then we thought, ‘It would go dope on the Internet,’ so we dropped it; and blogs started raving about it,” he says. “When Beyoncé tweeted it, man, that s— blew my mind. S—, I’ll never forget it.”
D.R.A.M. says he was shopping with his manager when they got a notification of Beyoncé’s Instagram shout-out. “I hurried up and reposted it on Twitter before my phone died and then I stood on a bench yelling, ‘Beyoncé loves to cha cha!’ I mean, I stopped people to tell them,” he says.
“I remember I told a guy who looked like Richard Gere, ‘Beyoncé loves to cha cha,’ and he looked at me all crazy, but I didn’t care. Beyoncé loves to cha cha!”
Since then, D.R.A.M. has kept fans like Beyoncé dancing with songs like “Cash Machine” and “Cute,” emitting a fun, almost adorable sound reminiscent of Biz Markie. (“I love Biz because Biz is one of the pioneers of uplifting hip-hop,” D.R.A.M. says of the New York rapper whose 1989 song “Just A Friend” is listed among VH1’s greatest hip-hop songs of all time. “He brought sunshine to the game and made it really playful. I love that comparison.”)
But it’s his collaborations with the likes of Lil Yachty, Chance the Rapper and the Bay Area’s E-40 that have been a real fire starter for D.R.A.M.’s rising career. After he released “Broccoli” in April, E-40 called D.R.A.M. to congratulate him on his success — and remind D.R.A.M. that he had released a song by the same name in 1998. (Both songs have nothing to do with the actual vegetable; they’re both about marijuana.)
“I was like, ‘What? That’s the big homie!’ And he really is one of the most welcoming dudes. I ended up at his crib and collaborated on a couple records,” D.R.A.M. says, most specifically referring to “Slappin,” a track released earlier this year featuring fellow Vallejo rapper Nef the Pharoah. “E got me lit in the Bay Area. When I go to the West Coast, people know about me because of E-40.”
After Thursday ’s show, D.R.A.M. hopes even more people will get to know his music, which he says will continue to evolve.
“The full scope of my music is very, very broad,” he says, adding that someday he’d like to produce children’s music, like the dreamy cut “D.R.A.M. Sings Special,” on Chance the Rapper’s latest album, “Coloring Book.”
“‘Special’ came about out of my personal desire to make music that’s good for kids. … Then Chance heard the record and was so moved by it he wanted to put it on his project, and I think it turned into something beautiful,” D.R.A.M. says. “I love kids’ songs. They have some of the best melodies. Plus, I think it’s good to put material out there that children can legit use. You can make a good song without having to be provocative. There’s a time and place for that kind of music.”
D.R.A.M. quickly acknowledges that this is neither the time nor place for that in his current iteration of music, “but anything is possible.”