'Ever since I was a child, I always wanted to do [music]. Whatever was required to make it happen, I was willing to do,' the rapper tells EW

By Jessica Goodman
Updated November 04, 2016 at 03:44 PM EDT
Credit: Faye Webster

Virginia rapper D.R.A.M. scored a major break when his viral trap hit “Broccoli,” a collaboration with legendary producer Rick Rubin and fellow newcomer Lil Yachty, cracked the Hot 100’s top 10 in September. But on his debut album, Big Baby D.R.A.M., out now, the 28-year-old is displaying the musical prowess he’s been cultivating since he began rhyming at 16 with his best friend.

“We’d just do young-boy rap,” says D.R.A.M., whose stage name stands for “Does Real Ass Music.” (His given name is Shelley Marshaun Massenburg-Smith.) “After we were done, we’d just ride in the car listening to it.” Not everyone was a fan: When a disapproving friend heard their profanity-laced songs, she threw their CD out the window. But that didn’t stop D.R.A.M. “Ever since I was a child, I always wanted to do [music],” he says. “Whatever was required to make it happen, I was willing to do.”

So he dropped out of Kentucky State University and moved back to his hometown of Hampton, Va., where he painted ships before putting out last year’s stellar mixtape #1EpicSummer. The collection included “Cha Cha,” a bubbly track that may or may not have inspired Drake’s similar megahit “Hotline Bling.” (Drake originally titled his song “Hotline Bling Cha Cha Remix,” and D.R.A.M. feels that Drizzy “jacked” the record.)

But D.R.A.M. leaves the drama out of his debut album, showing off his diverse influences instead. Big Baby D.R.A.M. has an R&B stunner about love in the digital age (“WiFi,” featuring Erykah Badu), a ragtimey ode to making bank (“Cash Money”), and ’70s-style funk grooves. Lyrically, D.R.A.M.’s stories are “fact,” he says. “It’s either my 100 percent actual thought or I actually did it.” Even the album art, which features D.R.A.M. hugging his 1-year-old Goldendoodle named Idnit, is true to his life: “I’m just smiling through it all.”

Why you know him:

“Broccoli,” a cheery ode to weed, earned the rapper his first top 10 hit and has already gone double platinum.

Why you will know him:

His debut LP boasts collabs with Young Thug and Erykah Badu and is poised to make him one of trap’s hottest stars.