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Rapper, singer, and producer DRAM connects the dots between smooth R&B and idiosyncratic hip-hop with his vivid imagery and conversational flow. After breaking into the mainstream in with 2016's multi-platinum Top Five hit with Lil Yachty "Broccoli," his fun-loving debut album, Big Baby D.R.A.M., invited Young Thug and Erykah Badu to the party and peaked in the U.S. Top 20. DRAM's happy-go-lucky style attracted serious accolades: In 2017, he received a Grammy nomination for "Broccoli," and was nominated again for the 2018 Gorillaz collaboration "Andromeda." By the end of the decade, however, he had changed his name to Shelley FKA DRAM and brought his vintage soul influences to the forefront on 2021's Shelley. Though he returned to the DRAM moniker for 2022's reflective magnum opus What Had Happened Was …, its sound remained rooted in classic R&B -- a trend that continued on 2024's relatively lighthearted DRAM&B. Born Shelley Marshaun Massenburg-Smith in Landstuhl, West Germany to a military family, he moved to the U.S. as a baby and grew up in Hampton, Virginia. While launching his music career, DRAM (which stands for "Does. Real. Ass. Music.") worked at shipyards and call centers. In 2014, he released his debut mixtape, #1 Epic Summer. It featured the single "Cha Cha," a club-worthy cut that was a regional hit. In 2015, he broke on a national scale when Cleveland R&B radio station Z 107.9 FM began playing the cut as their "weekend warmer," a campaign that eventually reached Beyoncé, who shared a video of her own version of the track. With Queen B's co-sign, "Cha Cha" was re-released that year while #1 Epic reappeared as an EP. "Cha Cha" ultimately reached number one on Billboard's Bubbling Under Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles chart, and DRAM capitalized on its success by releasing the aptly titled Gahdamn! in October 2015. That year, he also appeared on DP's "For the Love Of" and collaborated with the Social Experiment and Donnie Trumpet. Months later, DRAM scored a hit with the Lil' Yachty-assisted "Broccoli." In the U.S., the track went multi-platinum and rose into the Top Five of the Billboard 200 by mid-2016; it was also a multi-platinum success in Canada and was certified gold in the U.K. That October, DRAM issued his debut LP, Big Baby D.R.A.M. Debuting in the Top 20, the effort included "Broccoli," as well as guest appearances by Erykah Badu ("WiFi") and Young Thug ("Misunderstood"). The album was certified gold in the U.S. and also featured the single "Cash Machine," which reached number six on the Bubbling Under Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles chart and was certified gold in the U.S.. Additionally, DRAM guested on albums ranging from Chance the Rapper's Coloring Book and Neil Young's Earth and lent his vocals to SBTRKT's "I Feel Your Pain," E-40's "Slappin," and Mod Sun's "Smokin' What I'm Smokin' On." In 2017, DRAM received a Grammy nomination for Best Rap/Sung Performance for "Broccoli" and released the single "The Uber Song." The collaborations continued with the single "Gilligan," which featured A$AP Rocky and Juicy J, and guest spots on Matoma's "Girl at Coachella" and Calvin Harris' "Cash Out." Alongside a tour with Kendrick Lamar and Travis Scott, DRAM later joined Gorillaz for a pair of tracks on their album Humanz. Utilizing his smooth sing-rapping, "Andromeda" went on to receive a Grammy nomination for Best Dance Recording in 2018. Besides releasing the EP That's a Girls Name, that year DRAM worked with GRiZ on the single "It Gets Better" and appeared on albums by Smoke DZA, Nick Grant, and Yung Gravy among others. In 2019, he performed on Injury Reserve's self-titled debut album and issued the singles "Litmas" and "The Lay Down," which featured H.E.R. and watt. The former song provided the first taste of his second album, April 2021's Shelley. Released under the name Shelley FKA DRAM, its smooth, vintage R&B stylings reflected the more serious approach to his music -- as well as his mental and physical health -- that he adopted during the COVID-19 global pandemic. He returned to the DRAM moniker for the single "WHAM," which appeared on November 2022's full-length What Had Happened Was …. A continuation of Shelley's soulful sound with deeply personal lyrics, the album was released on his own Waver Records label. Several singles, including the Will Hill collaboration "Summer Nights" and the ZYA duet "Conflicted," arrived in 2023. The following April, DRAM released his fourth album, DRAM&B, which leavened the sound of Shelley and What Had Happened Was …. with some of the playfulness of his earlier releases.
© Heather Phares & Neil Z. Yeung /TiVo


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