Last month DJ Drama released his fifth studio album, Quality Street Music 2, once again proving his timeless relevancy in the rap game. One of the pioneers of the mixtape circuit and a pillar of Atlanta’s music scene, DJ Drama has long been an important piece of Hip-Hop culture. Although many DJs have come and gone, none truly compare to DJ Drama when resumes are lined up. Why is DJ Drama so important for Hip-Hop? Let’s discuss.
For quite some time, DJ Drama has been known as one of the pioneer mixtape DJs. Although he is widely respected as an influential figure in Hip-Hop, many people don’t know the story behind how he rose to prominence. While he is known primarily as being T.I.’s main DJ during his earlier days, DJ Drama may be most famous--or infamous, rather--for the national spectacle that was the studio raid (and his subsequent arrest) spearheaded by the RIAA. While this was a big event in itself, on a larger scale it marked a turning point that would send ripples throughout the music industry.
Having built a name for himself in the streets with the success of his Gangsta Grillz mixtape series, DJ Drama was building a name for himself as the biggest DJ in Hip-Hop. Through his platform, he transformed the mixtape from an overlooked, underappreciated form of street art into a booming industry that influenced an entire culture. Instead of waiting for albums and singles, fans of Hip-Hop were suddenly gifted with smash hits and genre-shifting sounds on a local level. DJ Drama essentially cut the major record labels out of the equation, creating a direct-to-consumer formula that hadn’t quite been seen before. Because of his monumental success, record labels were outraged by the money they were missing out on on behalf of their artist, producers and engineers. This is what ultimately led to the crackdown and seizure of over 50,000 mixtapes, but it sent an important message to the Hip-Hop community that artists didn’t need major label promotion to build a buzz nationally. Since then, nearly every major Hip-Hop artist has followed this formula and utilized mixtapes as a form of promotion.
DJ Drama has also paved the way for a number of prominent Southern artists to make a name for themselves in the music industry. As stated before, his Gangsta Grillz mixtape series had become a highly sought after marketing tool, and rappers were taking notice. DJ Drama branded mixtapes proved to be major tipping points for several major artists, including Young Jeezy, Gucci Mane, Future, Meek Mill, and most notably, Lil Wayne. By utilizing his platform, these artists were able to produce extremely intimate bodies of work that ingratiated them with the Hip-Hop fans across the nation. While these projects were listed as “mixtapes” the features, production, direction and artistry were of album quality. Nobody will ever forget the feeling they got listening to Young Jeezy’s Trap or Die mixtape for the first time, or the sense of awe they felt listening to Lil Wayne’s breakout Dedication 2. By partnering with DJ Drama and releasing these amazing bodies of work, these artists will forever be cemented in Hip-Hop history.
Today, DJ Drama remains an important player in Hip-Hop culture, even though he has slowed down significantly with his releases. Since facing his tribulations with the RIAA, he has chosen to work more closely with record labels, releasing full length studio albums and developing artists as a record executive. Perhaps finding a more stable place in the game, Drama now manages a number of burgeoning stars, including Lyquin and Lil Uzi Vert. Now, DJ Drama is more hands on than ever, serving multiple roles as an A&R, radio personality, studio executive, DJ, and artist manager. With his fingerprints on so many avenues in Hip-Hop, it’s arguable that he has a greater influence now than he ever did pushing mixtapes on the streets.
]Although DJ Drama doesn’t fit the mold of a traditional DJ by any means, his role and influence in music is undeniable. With a rap sheet of over a decade working in Hip-Hop culture, DJ Drama has seen it all and certainly done it all. While we may never see a phenomenon quite like the Gangsta Grillz series again, we can rest easy knowing that DJ Drama still has his ears to the streets, developing artists and releasing full-length albums.