Rap Coalition

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

DJ Drama

Reprinted, respectfully, from ThaFormula.com:

This interview was conducted a few days before Drama's incident with the RIAA. It's very unfortunate as Drama was in such high spirits during our interview. Much Respect to Drama and the Aphilliates and a big fuck you to the RIAA for messin' with this man's hustle and hard work. We will keep you posted on the situation and for those that don't know, click here for info on the bullshit that went down and peep the racist lingo by the media and the police...
thaFormula.com - You know a lot of people talk about how much the MC skill level has fallen off over time, but nobody really talks about how much the DJ skill level has also fallen…

DJ Drama - I agree with you and I think that's very important. You've got to study your craft and know your history, but the weak shall perish and the strong will survive at the end of the day. On the same token, you have to give credit to someone like Whoo-Kid who will admit that he's not a real DJ, but the marketing and the promotions he brought to the mixtape game is undeniable. What he lacked as far as being a real DJ, he made up in marketing and making the mixtapes bigger than life. So you have to credit people like that, who make the game bigger then it is. It's like a MC. The most super lyrical MC can be the most craziest dude, but they not might always be the biggest artists and sometimes its the artists with the swagger that be saying a little less, but its the whole package that matters. Common and Jay-Z, when they first started used to rap crazy fast, but they really got popular when they kind of slowed down. So just 'cause you can scratch fast or blend a million fucking records doesn't mean that you know how to make a great mixtape. It means that you can be an awesome DJ or turntablist, but the mixtape game is a little different. So I think its important to incorporate everything from your skill to your marketing, etc. Like when I first started doing mixtapes, I didn't really say a lot on my mixtapes and then I kind of learned as I went along how to incorporate the mic into my mixtapes. Then I realized people don't wanna hear people shout-out all the time 'cause people have done that. So let me do something different like let me talk some shit or say something creative to make people remember what I was talking about on the tape.

thaFormula.com - As far as opportunities, what did you see in Atlanta that you didn't see in Philly? 'Cause I know you left Philly to go to college in Atlanta…

DJ Drama - Just that. Opportunity and a lot of love. Philly is a cold city. I love my city, but its the grind. Philly is a up North type big city where its a struggle. I come from a generation where we used to be on a corner in a cipher rappin' all the time. But as far as the outlets, they were far and few. A lot of people had to basically go to New York to get on. So I just noticed early on in Atlanta that there was a lot of love and support. I don't discredit Philly artistically, but Atlanta just had a lot of outlets. It had a lot of young affluent people who were in a position to provide for other people. Like when I was on a mid-level and not really making a lot of money, I was still able to provide for myself and I wasn't even at the top of the food chain. Now I'm at the top of the food chain, but back then I was just coming up. But in Philly you wouldn't have been able to do that. Your either on or your trying to get on. There is very limited middle-grounds. As far as talent Philly has the shit though.

thaFormula.com - Over the time that Atlanta has blown up, have things changed a lot or is the love still the same in Atlanta?

DJ Drama - Its still the same type love. Things have changed some though. The club scene isn't what it used to be in the 'A." It's not as poppin' as it used to be, but overall its been nothing but good for me. It's just grown man. There is just so much more going on in Atlanta. In my eyes it's become like the new Mecca of Hip-Hop.

thaFormula.com - You know a lot of people complain about how the South has ruined to Hip-Hop and stuff like that, but one thing I will say is that the Southern artists are some real cool ass, humble dudes man compared to a lot of artists from other coasts. Why is that?

DJ Drama - Its warm here. It's warm all year around. Southern hospitality man. I think that saying goes a long way. Where I come from, you walk down the street you don't talk to 'brothas. You lock your door and you put the club on the car. In Atlanta when you walk down the street, cross paths with somebody and you look them in the eye they are gonna speak to you. That shit fucked me up when I first got here. Like people speak to each other? It really is Southern hospitality. The weather is warm. You know its cold up top man. That affects your mood. It's hard for me to put everybody in a box 'cause you know in a lot of ways too Atlanta is like the Black Hollywood. You come down here and everybody has a nice car and you feel like "damn I got to get a nice car." With me this is something I always wanted to do and I don't take it for granted, nor do I feel like I made it 'cause there is always more things to aspire to.

thaFormula.com - Going through the whole southern hospitality thing, did it make you look at things a little differently looking back now?

DJ Drama - Nah, because I learned my hustle from coming from where I came from. Even with the changes we made to the mixtape game, I have to owe that to coming from up North 'cause that's where I learned to hustle. The way I am as a person came from me growing up in the North, so I don't take nothing away from that. There is still no denying that there is nothing like a New York minute, or there is no city like New York City. It is one of the greatest places in the world for what it offers so I don't take nothing away from that. I like the East Coast, I love up North too. I love livin' in the "A" but I'm also very proud of where I'm from coming from Philly. I don't fault nobody for their attitudes.

thaFormula.com - I'm curious about the "Hip-Hop is Dead" thing man when it comes to you, because you grew up in Philly but stay in the South. Do you feel caught in the middle of all that seeing that you are from both coasts basically?

DJ Drama - I got two feelings about that. One, I don't feel Hip-Hop is dead. If anything, I'm here. All I know is Hip-Hop since I was young. I think people look at groups like D4L and Franchise Boyz and I don't fault them for what they brought to the table, them niggaz never knew they was gonna even be that big. Them niggaz was making music in they hood for the club around the corner called the "Pool Palace." Did they know that Cali niggaz and New Your niggaz and Japan people were gonna start leaning and snappin'? No. They didn't even care, they just wanted to be hot at the "Pool Palace" on the west side. Like for real, that's the foundation of Hip-Hop, some shit that comes from the streets and goes International. There has always been party music so that argument to me is false. If you look at artists like T.I., and Lil' Wayne who is keeping the artistry alive, those are two of the biggest artists of the year and they both came from the South. But on the other end, I think that Nas bringing up "Hip-Hop is Dead" and also bringing up that dialogue, I can't knock it, it was genius. It got everybody talking and whatever people wanna say about the South, I hold the South strong on my back and on my shoulders but at the same time, l love the fact that it created dialogue within the Hip-Hop community. Because during times like this, we always rise out of this. I'm a student of the game man and I love this shit. This is all I do. I see all sides of it. I stand with the South strong, I'm proud of what we have accomplished and where we are at and the South has proven itself time and time again for the last 10 years.

thaFormula.com - Were you surprised that so man people took offense to what Nas said and why do you think the South really took offense to it?

DJ Drama - I think it was because it wasn't just how Nas was saying it, but it was also the "Hip-Hop is Dead" and its been the whole "bring New York back," and you know the "savior of Hip-Hop" and all those type comments, and its just like at a time when the South is just so prevalent and really so much music is coming out the South. So niggaz is feeling like "how can you say 'Hip-Hop is Dead' when we doing this and doing that?" Granted, record sales are down but niggaz be throwing darts, like a lot of darts are thrown. So I just think people took a little offense to it. I'm not even gonna front, when people come to me and say "your the number one DJ in the South," I'm like "nah niggaz, listen to 'Gangsta Grillz' everywhere, don't put me on the South box." It's like Black actors, you don't wanna be the number one black actor, you wanna be the number one actor. If that's your craft, that's your craft. Denzel is not the number one Black actor, he's the number one actor. He's up there with Robert Deniro and all that. So for me I don't want to be the hottest nigga in the South, I wanna be the hottest nigga out here, fuck where I live or where I'm from. I'll rock with any mixtape DJ if you wanna go tape for tape. So that's how niggaz in the South feel.

thaFormula.com - Now you started the Aphilliates in 2003. What was your goal when you started?

DJ Drama - I don't even think we had a goal. We just was trying to do our own thing. We had all come from other situations being under other peoples wings and stuff like that and we realized we could do our own shit. So I just think we was just trying to make our own. We knew we was killin' the streets and knew we had something good so we were just trying to make a couple of dollars and be able to live off of what we love to do. I just remember during those times, me working on the mixtapes and the drops and how important it was for us to brand ourselves and let it be known about the Aphilliates. But I knew we was onto something good.

thaFormula.com - It took you 3 years to get to where you're at as far as from when you started the Aphilliates, how much work did it really take to get to such a high level so quickly?

DJ Drama - It took a lot of work man. Before those 3 years, we had been putting in a lot of leg work and you know I've been doing my thing since High School so it's a long road. This shit ain't easy. It's a lot of dedication, a lot of consistency and staying on top of it. That's all we did. We had a lot of uphill battles to fight. It's like being in a league. You know it's a 82 game season. We was rookies, we had our team you know. You win some, you lose some and you just try to make it to the playoffs. For real, every year is like a new season. You can't take it for granted. I could be on top right now, I done made it to the playoffs and got to the championships, but next year is a whole new season. It's other niggaz in the game coming for the chip. So you just gotta play every day like you got to ball.

thaFormula.com - When did you know that you had something special in your "Gangsta Grillz" mixtape series man?

DJ Drama - I came up with "Gangsta Grillz" kind of just fucking around. I never really planned it to be what it was. I'm very strong on branding. You know how important that is and everything. I used to just hustle my tapes myself and I remember early on when hosting was becoming really popular on mixtapes and I noticed that the South wasn't really having nothing like that going at the time. So I noticed that void and took a formula that I seen niggaz was running with up top and I utilized it with the South. I got Lil' Jon to come host and I just started to get a little buzz about the tapes when I was in the streets and people were telling me that I was on to something. I remember when I did "Gangsta Grillz 6" and I went to the bootleggers spot. The Africans, they used to have these big warehouses where they would bootleg all these CD's and it was right about the time 50 Cent dropped "Get Rich or Die Trying." Anyway I went to the bootleggers and saw just as many "Gangsta Grills 6" bootlegs as I did 50 Cent's "Get Rich" album. The bootleggers told me that they was movin' thousands. They was probably getting more money off that shit then I was. I didn't even realize how big the shit was at the time. There was a point and time when "Gangsta Grillz" was so much larger then DJ Drama. Niggaz knew "Gangsta Grillz" but they didn't know who I was. That was big to me because I had created a brand. I knew a long time ago right when we first started the Aphilliates that the opportunity to do an album was gonna come about if I stayed on the same path.

thaFormula.com - How much does growing up in Philly have to do with your style of mixtapes, having a east coast/southern feel to them?

DJ Drama - It has everything to do with it. I grew up on East Coast mixtapes. I didn't know who DJ Screw was or DJ Jelly was until I got to the "A." Them niggaz ran the South, but I grew up on Ron G, Doo Wop, Clue, and S&S. That's who I used to listen to, so it's definitely a reason why my mixtapes sound the way they sound.

thaFormula.com - How does it feel to be considered one of the top DJ's in the industry along with Lantern, Flex, Slay, Whoo Kid and stuff like that?

DJ Drama - It's an honor. Everyone you named is someone that I have been a fan of their career. I looked at them when I was on the rise. It keeps me hungry though as I don't get comfortable. It's a lot still left to do. It feels like though, I worked a lot to get where I'm at so it feels good to be recognized by the streets, my peers and the industry.

thaFormula.com - Have you ever faced any problems with the similarities with your name and Kay Slay being known as the "Drama King?"

DJ Drama - It's funny you asked that. I have had the name Drama since I was like 16 and since I got it I always felt like I was at a handicap because my name was such a common word that I thought it was gonna be real hard for me to get on and I even tried to change it a lot of times because I was like "its gonna be too hard to have the name DJ Drama." I remember there was a rapper in Atlanta named Drama, there was a DJ in Atlanta named Drama, then Kay Slays name was the "Drama King," so I was like "how am I gonna make anybody think of me with me going by that name." I remember there was another DJ who was my man and I told him that I was thinking of changing my name. He was like, "don't change your name for nobody, don't change your name for nobody, make them change their name." And that shit always stuck with me. So I never really changed it and look at me know. I tell people that all the time. A name is really all what you make it. Its funny looking back at it 'cause I damn sure thought it was gonna be hard. For the record, I know K-Slay has made some comments on me in the media, but I been DJ Drama since '94, since I was in High School so I done had that name for easy 10 or 11 years. I have no problems with Slay. Slay has showed me love. I been to his radio show and he showed me respect on it and everything. I kind of assumed that there would come a point and time when he may have some comments on my name, but I ain't trippin' on that, that's what Slay does. He's the "Drama King."

thaFormula.com - Now are you bringing the "Gangsta Grillz" album to Atlantic as a series?

DJ Drama - I got a 4 or 5 album deal so it's not just gonna be one album, its gonna be more then that. So I brought it to the table as a series. Right now it's gonna be just like my mixtapes. I'm not gonna switch my formula up. It's working so why change it. Its gonna be all fresh material and brand new, but it's gonna be what people have grown to love out of "Gangsta Grillz."

thaFormula.com - Is production something you are gonna get into?

DJ Drama - On this album, the beats aren't something that I have actually produced all the way, but I could say that I kind of co produced the whole album because nothing is just a song that somebody gave me. The whole album is my canvas. I pick my beats, I figure out who goes where, we put them here, we add this we add that. In a sense I consider myself a producer even tough I may not have been the one pushing the drum pads at the moment. I plan to get back to that though. But you know, we got a production staff so its been good. I've been getting great production from other producers. Whoever has the right sound, whoever fits what we need on this album is where I'm going at.

thaFormula.com - Is it gonna be mainly Atlantic artists on the album?

DJ Drama - Nah, it's everybody. Quality street music. I'm almost done with it man. I've got to turn my shit in in January so were looking at a April release date. I just got a couple more joints to bang out and I'm ready to go. Everybody is on the album. T.I., Young Jeezy, Lil' Wayne, Just Blaze, Juvenile, Souljah Slim (RIP), B.G., Beanie Siegel, Cassidy, Pharell, the Clipse, Young Joc, Jadakiss, Styles P, Bun B, and that's not even everybody.

thaFormula.com - Do you plan on putting any underground artists on there like Saigon, Little Brother, Papoose, etc.?

DJ Drama - I thought about it. I wanna put as many niggaz on my album as I can.

thaFormula.com - Other then that what's the ultimate goal for you?

DJ Drama - To leave a legacy and create a dynasty. Just be able to move the culture forward. At some point be able to build a DJ Drama/Aphilliates foundation where we can send kids to college. My idols are the same idols that everybody else's are. Jay-Z, Puff, Russell Simmons. Those are our heroes in the rap game 'cause those are hustlers that took their brand and business to the next level. That's why I stay hungry and humble because I ain't really done nothing yet for what I love in rap music. There is so much more to do. It's so crazy that DJ'ing or mixtapes were such a door opener for me. We got a label deal and album deal, radio shows and all these opportunities off of what I love to do. So I'm trying to move the culture forward, put out quality and make a lot of money.

thaFormula.com - How much of this business is who you know and how much is based on talent?

DJ Drama - I think it's both. I think the more you have of both the farther you're gonna get. If you have good talent but not good business you'll make it, but you won't last long. If you have good business but no talent you will make it but you won't last long. If you have good business and great talent, your gonna go far.

thaFormula.com - Is grinding 24/7 the only way in this business and is it something you learned from seeing the most successful people in this industry at work?

DJ Drama - I think it's important to grind 24/7 but it's also important to sleep. I don't believe that. You got to have sleep because you have to get readjusted, you got to stay healthy. Stability is important. The majority of the grown men in the business all have families. You have to grow up at some point. You can't believe the hype thinking you got to be out in the club or be out all times of the hour. It can be done but at some point that's not what its all about. I spend most of my time in the studio working, but if I'm not, I wanna get some fucking rest so my next day can be just as productive.

thaFormula.com - What are some of the sacrifices that you have made in your life in order to get where you are at now?

DJ Drama - I have made a lot of sacrifices. I got a daughter that I don't see as much as I would like to because I'm working a lot. But in the long run, it enables me to send her to private school or have a college fund set up for her so you make sacrifices. You have to know when to be selfish. It's tough in the music industry or in the Hip-Hop business because there is always something to do but you can't let the game get the best of you.

thaFormula.com - What do you think is the number one thing a person should know when getting into this industry man?

DJ Drama - If you don't love it, get out because the shit is not a fucking game. If you wouldn't do it for free, then you might not need to be here.

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