Exuding cheer and purity befitting of a sunny summer day, Virginia rapper D.R.A.M. injects some fun and levity into hip-hop with his studio debut, Big Baby D.R.A.M. The multifaceted artist born Shelley Massenburg-Smith excels with his protean ability to assume multiple sonic roles, drawing inspiration from off-key contemporaries like Danny Brown and Young Thug, cheerful spirits like Chance the Rapper and André 3000, and equally carefree predecessors like Ol' Dirty Bastard and Biz Markie. When he switches to his soulful croon, it's an inspired mix of T-Pain, Frank Ocean, and Cee Lo. Beneath his entertaining facade, D.R.A.M.'s well is brimming with talent and versatility. There's a lot going on here, but he holds it all together with his undeniable personality and positivity, which immediately grab listeners at the start on "Get It Myself." From the breezy '90s dance time machine "Outta Sight/Dark Lavender Interlude" to the Ray Charles-sampling bravado of "Cash Machine," there's a buoyant mirth to much of Big Baby D.R.A.M. On the adorable dancehall ode "Cute," he woos a date with the gem "I choose you like a Pokemon." For any of his Lil-monikered contemporaries, this line might be a tad corny, and yet it works for him. Even his big 2016 summer hit "Broccoli" -- a repetitive novelty featuring Lil Yachty -- evades one-hit-wonder status by simply riding the strength of this album as a whole. The prize for superior rap duet on the album actually goes to his collaboration with Young Thug, "Misunderstood," which is infused with powerhouse drama and production courtesy of Ricky Reed (Twenty One Pilots, Jason Derulo). When he's not riding the wave of whimsy, D.R.A.M. sets out the silk sheets and candles for a little seduction. Although he gets down and dirty on the filthy "In a Minute/In House," he balances the vulgarity with sensual freakiness. "Sweet VA Breeze" is a sweet ode where he gets high with his lady, while "100%" overcomes its crass lines to become the most romantic song John Legend never wrote. The yearning swells on the modern-love space jam "WiFi," where he trades verses with one of his idols, Erykah Badu, even introducing her by name before she elevates the track with her inimitable spirit. Big Baby D.R.A.M. is, at times, odd and imperfect, which is part of the charm. He's clearly having a great time -- the album artwork captures his spirit perfectly -- so much so that one can imagine him grinning in the studio, just as a smile forms over the listener's own face.
Big Baby D.R.A.M. Review
by Neil Z. Yeung