Big Baby D.R.A.M., just D.R.A.M. for short, is a member of Chance The Rapper and Vic Mensa’s Save Money Militia family. His acronym/moniker stands for Does Real Ass Music, and the Virginian’s brand of every-man raps is particularly resonant because he incorporates some inventive soundscapes under any and everything that comes to mind. Any feeling, any thought, any lament, any jubilation is paired with a beat that translates effectively and engagingly. His openness and vulnerability is easily accessible in his music, but it is magnified exponentially in concert.
I’ve seen D.R.A.M. in a few different venues with varying levels of intimacy, but somehow he manages to elicit strong responses from the crowd regardless the size of said crowd, the venue, the stage, or whatever his surroundings. At Terminal 5 in New York City, he was able to puppeteer a bunch of high, fresh-out-of-high-school kids when opening for Chance The Rapper (I saw chaperones and a lot of begging for merch). T5 is not the smallest of venues, and it’s definitely not intimate, but those kids felt all of his struggles, his joy, his dance moves, his celebrations, his frustrations, his triumphs, or whatever else he communicated through his songs. Yesterday, at SXSW’s Spotify House, it was the closest I had ever been to him. The sweat from his dreads repeatedly hit me in the face, and he emitted enough energy for each individual in the small, densely packed crowd to take some and internalize it.
In many ways he’s that same kid singing in church in the “$” video. Surely the subject matter has changed, and his skill level is way beyond that, but that R&B and gospel feel to his singing are still a major component to his show. He has a preacher’s presence on stage and has a similar message, fostering a momentary community of love, turn-ups, fun, and empathy. He hops on stage and the first thing out of his mouth is, “If you love yo mama let me hear you say yeah doe!” The second is, “Spread love!” Those were recurring motifs throughout the entire set, popping up repeatedly during the very short stints of downtime. D.R.A.M. clearly gave the performance everything he had.
His simple outfit of grey workwear pants, a black Polo T-shirt, gold runners, and silk scarf were all drenched in sweat as he flailed with disregard for stage equipment and the small amount of space he had. Twice he nearly ended his own show by kicking out the cords linking his DJ’s laptop to the sound system — first by perhaps going a bit too hard jumping around on “$” and then while two-stepping flamboyantly to “Cha Cha.” He was gasping for breath so badly that he couldn’t deliver his lyrics in several spots or had to faintly throat them.
His raw, unbridled energy resolves the conflicting messages in his music and his performance. “Love yo mama” chants sandwiched “Fuck that bitch” chants when he got deep into the feels of a past relationship while singing “Caretaker” from his stellar Gahdamn! EP. He went from air-humping the mic stand to holding his hand over his heart pledging his undying love and loyalty for family. You could even feel just how much he despises Drake for stealing his sound and having “Hotline Bling” turn into whatever the hell it became. “Often imitated, never duplicated,” he said a few times. And before plunging into “Cha Cha” he refrained from launching into a tirade after he stopped the music and asked the crowd “Who’s fucking with the ‘Cha Cha’ wave?” It was probably his only exercise of restraint for the entire set.
But seeing how much Drake’s vulture tendencies affected him made me doubt whether or not he will be able to move on from that and create something just as infectious. I also had the thought that he didn’t have the right to be mad; after all, “Cha Cha” used the aesthetic of a Latin dance music genre which D.R.A.M. pays no real homage to and was probably introduced to through Mr. C The Slide Man’s “Cha Cha Slide” rather than actual Latin dance music.
As spirited as his performance was, I left with uncertainty as to where D.R.A.M. can go from here. He has the ability to translate raw emotions through music which eludes many other artists, but he doesn’t seem poised to make a leap from behind the Save Money Militia’s shadow. Anyone who sees him live will get his appeal instantly, but his music has to reach them first. The same verve that he throws into his performances is what drives his music, but he seems to throw all of his passion and emotion into his one moment of shine when he should be generating several.