DJ Drama: No More Drama? Yeah Right...

posted September 05, 2007 12:00:00 AM CDT | 53 comments

Compared to his presence in the industry before last January, the prolific DJ Drama has been relatively low-key lately. Hes spent the last few years building a reputation as one of the most consistent mixtape DJs in the industry, helping new school southern superstars like Young Jeezy, Lil Wayne and T.I. build and/or further their careers by helming stellar mini-albumswith the flagship, of course, being his heralded Gangsta Grillz seriesand and flooding the streets with them during down time between their major label efforts. But at what seemed like the height of his successand during the recording process for Gangsta Grillz: The Album, his major label debut with Atlantic Recordsthe Atlanta offices of Dramas Aphiliates Music Group were raided by the FBI. AMG was charged with racketeering, and the feds confiscated some 50,000 CDs, recording equipment and even cars from the office, all caught on TV news.

Eight months later, while he isnt releasing material as often as before, Dramas still staying active. The AMG office is back up and running, he and fellow Aphilliates member DJ Don Cannon have released several mixtapes and Drama is aiming for a fall release for his LP. Whether hes talking about disagreement with Lil Wayne, the mixtape industry, or the impending 50 Cent/Kanye West battle of record sales in this exclusive interview with HipHopDX, the gruff-voiced Drama is speaking his mind: whether the feds are taking pictures or not.

HipHopDX: First off, whats been going on?
DJ Drama
: Just been working hard. Working on my normal intensity. I just got a radio show in Atlanta on WHTA, which is Radio One. We went from one day to five days a week, so its basically like I got a new gig on a radio show. So Ive been pretty busy. Of course, finishing up the album and getting ready to drop it.

HipHopDX: Whats the status on the album?
DJ Drama
: We had a couple of hold ups through the last couple months when we were dealing with clearances on the name situation. Im happy to say, a lot of the clearance problems I had with my album were taken care of, and I did get my name situation taken care of, so the album will still be coming out as Drama and Gangsta Grillz. In the meantime, around the same time that was happening, Tips album was getting ready to come, and with all due respect, the building kind of rallied around Tips album. And I pretty much did the same; he was the big moneymaker at the time, so the Atlantic building pretty much put all their chips into making sure his album was right. Im trying to come out around Thanksgiving, I think that would be a great time for me. Im working on a new single right now, about to drop that. The album is still crazy, the movement still continues. Luckily for me, I feel as though I have a good core fanbase. Im in the position of, once I get another banger to hit the streets, Im good to go; its like I never left.

HipHopDX: As far as the album, what kind of approach did you take? What all did you change and what all did you do the same?
DJ Drama
: I tried not to do too much differently, because I felt like I had a winning formula. I just used my album as a bigger canvas. With concepts with the artists, I went after artists that I really wanted to work with, and artists that I already had relationships with. Just pretty much put together songs that made sense, and something that I felt the public would love and the streets would love. The only difference is that Im playing on a bigger ball field, dealing with a record label and different people when Im normally used to making all my own decisions and going when Im ready to go. it was something new for me, and it was something challenging, but I think that with the album that I put together, I think its a very solid first release. I really feel like people are going to enjoy it.

HipHopDX: Explain what was going through your head the day the raid happened.
DJ Drama
: It was crazy; I was in shock, I was in awe. It made no sense to me at the time. Its funny that you ask me, because it seems so long ago now, but its been eight months or something like that. But it was definitely a turn of fate on that day. The next couple of months of events had followed it, but it was a shock. Ive got a strong team around me, so the day I got outI only spent 24 hours in jail, God blesswe all got together, and we were like, Its time to get to work. I went to my office, and all my shit was empty, with everything we had acquired with the success that we had. So I had two options: I could either wave the white flag, or I could get down to business. We chose to get down to business, and be right here where Im at, stronger than ever.

HipHopDX: On TV, it was really dramatic...
DJ Drama
: Oh, it was crazy. It looked like they were coming to the Carter [the drughouse in the film New Jack City]M16s drawn, covert units, they did the whole movie situation. They couldve came and just knocked on the door; I wouldve opened it up and gladly let them in. if you look at the report, one of the police officers said, Normally in these situations, we find guns and drugs, although we didnt find none here. Just from them demanding my employees, Tell me where the guns and the drugs are, they miscalculated what they were coming to.

HipHopDX: What kind of rebuilding process was it, in terms of what you lostmasters, music, etc.?
DJ Drama
: It was a huge rebuilding process. Thankfully, a lot of people came to my aid. Atlantic was like, Can you put us an album together in three weeks? I had to go in and redo a lot of songs, and do new songs, but we were able to put my album back together pretty fast. Other than that, we had to put the office and studio back together. It took some time, but Im happy to say that now, in August, were completely up and running and back to doing our Shade 45 show from the studios, and its back to business. It took some time, and people were like, Are you guys still going to be in the office, what are you going to do? After a couple months, we got everything back to normal, and youve gotta keep going, man.

HipHopDX: It seems that as soon as the arrest happened, the hip-hop community really gathered around you and supported you. Hip-hop always supports its own, but I cant really remember the last time I saw something like that other than someone getting killed.
DJ Drama
: Its always a blessing. I definitely appreciated itnot just from my peers, but also from the fans, and the streets. It just showed me that what I had accomplished was not in vain. It felt good. Mainly, I had the support of my team and the support of my family. A lot of that stuff, you cant really touch. People may say things on TV, or in interviews, and Im very thankful of it. But at the same time, when its really time to get down to business, its the people thats closest to me that push me to grind, and say, This is why youre in the position youre in; its time to go forward.

HipHopDX: The mixtape industry really changed around the time of the raid. Vendors completely stopped selling mixtapes...
DJ Drama
: That was really the day the game changed. It aint been the same since, period. Its in a sad state, really. The game is fucked up. Ive said it before, and Ill say again: who wouldve thought that 50 Cent would be coming out with a new album, and he hasnt had a tape yet? He changed the game to what it had become, and all this time, he aint put out no tape. Or how many Lil Wayne tapes are these niggas gonna make? A lot of the big dog DJs, and rightfully so, were concerned at having put out as many tapes, if any, and some up-and-comers that were definitely holding the game down. And then some avenues dried up. One of the biggest avenues, MixUnit.com, which was pretty much the New York Times newspaper of mixtapes, stopped pushing mixtapes. It really has become a drought in all forms and fashions.

Its sad, because I look at like the industrys willing to cut its nose to spite its face. In these past couple years, mixtapes have been the platform for so many artists to sell records. I have plaques in my office that I wish they wouldve focused on on the news, with the RIAA emblem and them saying, Thank you DJ Drama for helping us sell records. Its fucked up, and to be honest, I dont know if the mixtape game will ever be what it was. I said earlier, if you wouldve asked me, I wouldve said, We go through this, and we go back stronger. But the game is fucked up, man. I just seen something about Universal releasing a mixtape to the stores, a legal mixtape, and that shit looks like silly bullshit. Its like, come on, man. Thats why I put out Gangsta Grillz 16. I like the tape, and its not my greatest tape, but it was more of a statement, like, Im not going to let the streets die. I had an obligation, because that shit happened on my shoulders. So for me to run on the mixtape game, people would understand it, but for me to come back and drop a tape, niggas were like, Wow, Dram dropped a tape? Maybe theres some hope. That was my only point in doing that tape, is to give hope. Like, Cmon yall, we cant let the streets die. Ima do what I got to do, but I cant do it myself. Even that Lil Wayne tape, The Drought 3 or whateverthats a Dedication 2, you know what Im saying? It sounded like a bunch of songs, a bunch of freestyles. When we did Dedication 2, that shit was like a mini album; niggas rode to that. Thats why you have so many Wayne tapes: he has so much material out, but no real direction. And that shit was lacking altogether; not just from Lil Wayne, but from the game in general. Projects were just lacking.

HipHopDX: Speaking of Wayne, shortly after the raid, there was an interview with MTV News where he said that you and other mixtape DJs had to smarten up, play the game fair, and to look at DJ Clue and Khaled as examples. A lot of people looked at those comments as disrespectful; have you spoken to him since then?
DJ Drama: Yeah, it was fucked up. To be honest, hes never really spoken to me about that, weve spoken about some other things. Thats a tough one, in a lot of ways. Im going to say first and foremost, I respect Lil Wayne, and when it comes to that microphone and what he does in that booth, the boys a problem. Hes on top of his game, I will never take that from him. But when the raid happened, and he made those comments to MTV, it was a stab in my back. One, because, I just felt like if anything, that was a time I needed all the support that I could get. Theres no denying the impact that the mixtapes that I did had on where hes at today. Everyone knows how big Dedication and Dedication 2 are, so I was real offended by that, I didnt think it was a good move on his part. But on another note, Wayne had definitely come through for me on my album, so I cant just write a nigga off like that, Im not that type of dude. I had issues with that, as did a lot of people, because a lot of people knew the impact I had on his career, theres no denying that. Lil Wayne was definitely here before me, but niggas will tell you that they ride more to Dedication 2 than the Carters. Especially in a situation whereloyaltys a lot, man. And when Wayne had those problems with Gillie, I made a decision on my own based on the work that me and Wayne had did when the nigga was tearing his ass. And for someone to turn around when I was at my low point, and say, You need to do it right like Khaled and Clue? OK, thats whats up, dog.

HipHopDX: What has it been like for you to see him blow up the way he has?
DJ Drama
: Oh I love it. Thats the type of nigga I am; I do me. My team is my niggas, thats who I talk to day to day. At the end of the day, Im a fan of this music. So I can separate my friendships from what this music shit is. Lil Wayne is one of the hottest niggas out, and I would never take that from him. Thats what I was so excited to work with him in the first place. Hes got a banger on my album thats fucking crazy. I dont have bitter or ill feelings toward the man; hes good at what he does, the same way Im good at what I do. Im a positive person, and Im sure we can get past this, because just as the world would, Id love to see a Dedication 3.

HipHopDX: Youve had Gangsta Grillz 16, and Don Cannon had a few joints. With the raid, do you have an arrangement that allows you to put out projects, or is it just a matter of you not allowing them to stop you?
DJ Drama
: Definitely, some things have changed. I dont want to get too descriptive, but some things have changed with the creative process and with how projects were put out. I wasnt making bootlegs; my mixtapes are like albums, Im an artist. Like I said, I feed the streets. I cant call myself Mr. Thanksgiving, and turn my back on the game. I wouldnt be who I said I was if I did that.

HipHopDX: So does a single like Takin Pictures make things worse for you?
DJ Drama
: No, a single like Takin Pictures doesnt make things worse. It was kind of like a wink, really. Instead of running from the situation, I chose to embrace it. Since the raid, Ive been to two continents, about 36 states, four magazine covers. People knew me before, but now they know me even more. Its crazy how God works in mysterious ways. Ive always been a person whose cup is more half-full than half-empty. It was a bad experience, but I dont use it as something every morning to be upset about, like, Woe is me. The song Takin Pictures was a direct ode to the situation; why run from what everybody knows?

HipHopDX: Youre from Philly, but youre as much of a staple of Atlanta as anybody is. Atlantas been hot for a minute now; what do you think has kept you guys on top for so long?
DJ Drama
: I just think its just the sea of creativity and the support. Atlantas a beautiful place. From the minute I got down here, I just noticed a different type of culture. Up northand this is no disrespect from the north, cuz thats where Im from, I spent 18 years of my life therebut theres no denying. If you walk down the street in Philly, and another man walks down the street, yall arent making eye contact and speaking; that just doesnt happen. In the south, if you walk down the street and someone walks past you, you say, Dogs, whats up brotha? Thats just how it is; thats the everyday lifestyle, and that comes across in all forms of life. So when it comes to the music, in the A, theres just a lot of support. People come down here and work, and work together.

I just think its the direction of the music thats come from Atlanta in the last 10 to 12 years has just been awesome. From OutKast, to India.Arie, to T.I., to Luda. Look at what Polow is doing as a producer, look at Bryan Michael Cox, look at what Ive done in the mixtape game. Last year, I won four Justo Mixtape Awards, and I won the Best Mixtape DJ Award. Thats the first time any DJnot just from the south, but from outside of New Yorkhas won the award.

Even looking at a lot of the snap records, or the dances that have come from Atlanta. Mind you, I dont have none of that shit in my iPod. People get mad at that shit, but were you mad when Steve Martin came out? Were you mad when The Wop was out? Were you mad when the mothafuckin Peewee Herman dance was out? Thats part of hip-hop, at the end of the day! The movements that start from Bankhead, the lean wit it rock wit it, they werent worried about impressing nobody but niggas on the west side, and that shit became a worldwide phenomenon. Thats the basis on what hip-hop was built upon; right now, were just in that party era. I grew up on lyrics, I grew up on shit like Wu-Tang, Biggie and Tribe Called Quest, so thats why with my mixtapes and the direction Ive gone in, its been more focused on artists such as the T.I.s, the Jeezys, the Waynes, and the Bun Bs. Im about lyrics, Im about that direction of the music. But at the same time, you cant knock the other side of it. Atlanta, it has everything, man; it really has been like the new Mecca.

HipHopDX: How did you react did you have to Pimp Cs comments?
DJ Drama
: From what Ive known about Pimp, I dont know Pimp that well, but he definitely comes off as a very opinionated dude. I mean, I could understand a lot of the stuff he was saying. I think he was a little off when he said Atlantas not the south, but I could understand his point of view, and he was talking G shit, but he was real.

HipHopDX: Kanye or 50 on September 11?
DJ Drama
: I love it. Im putting my money on 50 with the units, but Im also putting my money on Kanye with a stellar album. Thats 50 Cent, bro. Theyre both giants, but 50s a monster. If you had to bet me whos going to sell more units, Id bet 50, but Kanyes going to come with a monster album.

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