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Mace & Crown | August 24, 2017

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Hampton Roads Welcomes Home Big Baby D.R.A.M.

Kelsey Walker
Arts & Entertainment Editor

My first Instagram DM was from D.R.A.M.

“Hey there lil lady, lemme play a tune for ya,” it read, accompanied by an image of the Jim Hensen muppet, Dr. Teeth.

I wasn’t sure how to respond, so I never did.

I had met Shelley Massenburg-Smith, a.k.a. D.R.A.M., during a magazine interview for another artist in 2014. Sitting off to the side of the interview was an enigmatic figure. He grinned from ear to ear, so much so that his eyes barely appeared open. His dreads hung down around his face as he rolled a blunt, slowly and skillfully.

His name was D.R.A.M., and though he didn’t say much of anything, that smile never faded.

A few weeks later at the magazine’s launch party, D.R.A.M. was handed the mic. He burst into “CHA CHA” and the packed-out venue went crazy. The crowd danced and bounced along with the singer as he jumped around on and off stage, crooning to the funky beat from “1 Epic Summer.” It was this very song that Beyoncé danced to in an Instagram video in 2015 that projected D.R.A.M. into the spotlight on rap websites and blogs all over the world.

D.R.A.M. on stage at The NorVa. Photo by Kam Nedd.

D.R.A.M. on stage at The NorVa. Photo by Kam Nedd.

Back on Jan. 15, D.R.A.M. made his way back home to the Hampton Roads area to perform at The NorVa on his Big Baby D.R.A.M. tour. The crowd was just as ready to party with the Hampton-native as they were in 2014.

River Tiber started off the night, setting the vibe early. The band grooved to layered vocals, systematic beats and synth instrumentals. “Gravity,” plummeted the audience into a love song as Tiber softly sang, “Been floating so high / The air’s getting thin / The moon on the tide / That’s how you pull me in.”

Their sound was reminiscent of bands that make music with keyboards in their basements, except far more refined and mature. Along with an intense guitar solo, “No Talk” was a peak highlight of their moody set list.

Wasting no time, Ari Lennox took the stage shortly after. Lennox slinked from left to right, bouncing around and grinding solo. Her vocals proved her to be a powerhouse. Sensual lyrics and instrumentals guided the set, and she wasn’t afraid to get personal with the crowd.

Ari Lennox smiles to the crowd at The NorVa. Photo by Kam Nedd.

Ari Lennox smiles to the crowd at The NorVa. Photo by Kam Nedd.

“Let me ask you a question,” Lennox said as the music to “Backseat” started. “Have you ever had sex in the backseat of a car?”

Both Tiber and Lennox played short but incredibly sweet sets.

Finally, the audience was ready for D.R.A.M.’s long-awaited homecoming. The crowd cheered as he made his way on stage, his signature grin gleaming under the bright lights of The NorVa.

“I had to tell myself to go and get it myself,” he sang, “’Cause I got tired of waiting on everyone else.”

The opening track on “Big Baby D.R.A.M.,” “Get It Myself,” speaks to an individual’s motivation to grind until you make it. The words were humbling coming from the Grammy-nominated Hampton native.

After the song ended he shouted out to his family within the audience, including his mother.

“If you love your mama like I love my mama, say yeah!”

Moving on to the modern romance love song, “Cute,” the audience sang along.

The lyrics, “Even though it’s cliché / I saw you on your Instagram / And I think you’re cute,” speak to the world of Instagram DM’s that our generation and D.R.A.M. are all too familiar with. His homage to modern relationships continued with “WiFi,” a track that featured Erykah Badu on the album.

 

D.R.A.M.

D.R.A.M. Photo by Kam Nedd.

 

“Is there signal in your house / While we chillin’ on the couch, baby / Do you got Wi-Fi?” The track captures the “Netflix and chill” state of mind perfectly as D.R.A.M. sing-talked to an unknown lover over groovy beats and breezy chimes. Midway through the song he jumped down from the stage, hovering over the railing to get closer to the audience as they reached for him.

He paused between songs to say, “When I say ‘spread love,’ you say ‘spread love.’” The phrase was a gentle reminder as we move into a divided time for our country.

One of the more beautiful moments of the night was when D.R.A.M.’s mother was brought on stage. He sang “Special” to her, an interlude featured on Chance The Rapper’s “Coloring Book.” She was handed a mic as they sang to each other. It was an honest moment between a mother and son, and the audience looked on with tearful eyes.

Paying tribute to his home state, “Sweet Va Breeze” brought on a nostalgic feel with his soft vocals and the church-like keyboard notes. The audience chilled out and swayed from side to side.

“That happened to be my favorite song ever recorded,” D.R.A.M. told the crowd as they burst into applause, further solidifying his love for Virginia.

After a mostly low-key set D.R.A.M. was ready to let loose, and so was the audience. He burst into “Cash Machine,” the anthem that anyone who’s made it can relate to and those who haven’t yet can aspire to.

D.R.A.M. played a sold-out show at The NorVa on Jan. 11. Photo by Kam Nedd.

D.R.A.M. at The NorVa on Jan. 11. Photo by Kam Nedd.

“I ain’t talking to you broke b****es / I got money now,” D.R.A.M. sang over a Charlie Brown-like tune that quickly picked up into a heavy beat. Similar to the music video for “Cash Machine,” he grabbed a plastic gun and shot out fake cash to the excited crowd.

Keeping the momentum up, D.R.A.M. jumped into the Grammy-nominated anthem of summer 2016, “Broccoli.” He ran backstage only to come back with Idnit, his beloved dog featured on the cover of “Big Baby D.R.A.M.”

“Broccoli” captured both the world and The NorVa’s audience on Jan. 15 with its catchy, upbeat tune. The artist’s self-described “trappy-go-lucky” vibe is a welcome addition among hip-hop fans who’ve grown somewhat tired of “sad” rappers. The track talks about being treated differently after making it big, from girls following him at parties to an “acquired taste for salmon on a bagel.”

D.R.A.M. left the stage after “Broccoli” only to come back out to sing it again, this time jumping into the crowd to make his way to the merch table with his bodyguard following close behind.

“Broccoli,” which features Lil Yachty, is up for a Grammy for Best Rap/Sung Performance. A standout feature in the mix of the laid back, funky vibe “Big Baby D.R.A.M.” brings, the track hit double platinum in September 2016.

“To be honest, I thought I was going to be well received but strictly on the SoundCloud platform,” D.R.A.M. told Billboard last August.

When asked to describe his sound and style, he explained, “it’s like a Mewtwo, if you’re talking Pokemon. Just rare.”

“Big Baby D.R.A.M. is home” was the theme for the night, and the audience didn’t forget it for a second. The entire show felt like a long love letter to Hampton Roads, and his gracious smile and encouragement to spread love was exactly what we all needed.

Tune into CBS on Feb. 12 at 8 p.m. to catch the 59th Annual Grammy Awards.

Check out our Spotify playlist to listen to tracks from the show and more: