The Gangsta Grillz album is finally coming out…
You’ve been talking about it for a couple of years, but it’s finally coming on December 4.
(laughs) Some of the best things you have to wait for. As much as there were times when I wanted it to come out, I believe that everything is meant to be. I’m coming a week and half after Thanksgiving, so it’s Mr. Thanksgiving right around the holiday season.
Is that more than a coincidence that your album is coming out around Thanksgiving and your nickname is Mr. Thanksgiving?
The funny part about it is that after I got pushed back because of the legal situation because of the DJ Drama name and after T.I.P.’s album came out, I just really started promoting Thanksgiving. I had a conversation with the label and they were like, ‘Do you really want to do that?’ I was like, ‘Hell yeah!’ We’ve been working on it and I basically put it in the air and it became the date.
When you do mixtapes, a lot of times the artist has already recorded the material. What was it like building this project from the ground up?
It was really the only way I saw fit with the mixtape albums that have come from DJs before me. I didn’t just want to ask my rapper friends for songs. I wanted to really create an album that represented Gangsta Grillz and was the accumulation of the street brand that I’ve created and have a good beginning, middle and end. The ironic thing is that with the RIAA situation, it gave me a nice storyline for my album. It’s just kind of bugged out.
What was your greatest challenge putting the Gangsta Grillz album together?
To be honest, the biggest challenge was probably on the label side of things and the clearances. Seeing that I don’t rap myself, it takes a lot of voices to be a part of the album and being that we are in the business and everyone is signed to a lot of places, this was a difficult thing to deal with. I’m so used to doing mixtapes and just dropping them and putting them out. This time we had to really go through the process of getting the records in motion and take care of the business aspect. It’s like going from college ball to the pros. Regardless of how good you are in college, everybody’s good in the pros and you just have to do what you gotta do.
Did you get everything you wanted for the album?
Almost. I would say I got about 90% of what I wanted, but I don’t want to give away what I wasn’t able to get because it’s still going to be on the next album.
DJ Khaled raised the bar for singles off DJ albums with “We Takin’ Over.” How important is it to have that smash single right now?
The bar is high right now. You have to come with a banger. You have to put the song together and make a movie. I went to Jazze right after my album had got pushed back and said, “I need a banger, man. I need you.” He came to me with the concept for the song and I said, “All right, cool, let’s rock.” I had a conversation with T.I.P. about what I wanted to do and I had conversations with everybody on the song and it just came together. With my album getting pushed back and the situation that I was going through…I’m the type of person where you can never count me out. People said I lost a lot of momentum in my movement with the RIAA, but I’m not a conventional artist. As long as I keep my movement going, I don’t have to live off hype. My career is not based off me getting locked up by the RIAA. “Feds Takin’ Pictures” was a good street banger. “5000 1’s” is good for the clubs and we got the ladies involved. It’s a good one.
Did your first single “Feds Takin’ Pictures” go as far as you wanted it to?
No, not at all. I wanted to shoot a video for that song. Seeing what we were going through at the time, a visual for that would have been really big. It was like a movie. The record got a good response. “5000 1’s” is a bigger song and I believe what happens, happens for a reason. I’m not tripping.
How much of a challenge is it to get so many big name artists all on the same page on a song like “5000 1’s”?
It is a challenge, but that’s the easiest part of the process. Paperwork is the hardest part of the process. Artists know bangers when they hear them. You pretty much just have to paint a picture and you have to envision who you picture on the song. Me and Dre and Big Boi had a conversation awhile ago about the song that’s on the album and it definitely took a couple of different beats for Andre before we found one that was right. You just have to work at it. It’s not the easiest thing in the world, but artists know good music when they hear it and you just have to go for it.
If every artist charged their full price for a verse, your album budget would be ridiculous. How much of your album was done on the strength of relationships?
A lot of the music industry is built on the barter system. I show love and they show love and the respect is mutual. Everyone knows whenever they need something from me that I’m only a phone call away. I want to really say, “Thank you” to the artists that came in and supported my movement and my album when I needed them. After the RIAA situation, I had to rebuild the whole thing from scratch. If I could rap, I would be on there talking about the shit my damn-self. It really took a lot of different voices to make this album happen. It’s very humbling when people I respect and listen to come in and listen to my project. It really means something to me and it makes me appreciate coming up in the game and getting to where I am today.
More and more DJs are releasing albums today. Is that a good trend?
Yeah, it’s definitely a good thing. I think it’s great. The doors are back open. With the hype that myself and Khaled have, Felli Fel has a song that’s buzzing, Statik Selektah has an album out, Hi-Tek is coming and DJ Envy has an album out with Red Café, the doors are open. I represent DJs and I just feel like, ‘If I can do it, you can do it.’ That’s a message to the youngsters coming up who are watching what’s going on. I watched Flex and Clue put out albums and Kid Capri be all over the TV and all over the world. These are the people who inspired me to do what I do and I hope I’m in that same position now to inspire others. DJs, this is what we do. We’re making bigger songs than some artists now.
Having big names doesn’t necessarily mean a good DJ album. What exactly makes a good DJ album?
It has to be just that. It has to be an album. I really can’t wait until you hear it, B, so I can get your opinion. You can’t just expect it to be good just because you have a lot of big names and just because you are successful at other entities. You have to really make something that is an album at the end of the day. It has to be something that people will listen to and continue to listen to. That’s why I’m excited about my project. It’s not just about DJ Drama. It’s about Gangsta Grillz and it’s about how I put it together. It’s like the ‘hood version of the Now! series. You have to really treat it as such. You have to sequence it right. That’s why I didn’t just accept songs from artists. I really wanted to make it from beginning to end. I want you to really enjoy my album. I got skits on it and I got themes on it. I got something for everybody. I got ‘hood shit on there. I got some laid-back shit and some rider music. I got a banging R&B song with Lloyd, Willie and T.I. You have to complete the whole cipher.
Did the RIAA raid slow down the Gangsta Grillz brand?
Man, it helped me out! I’ve been on TV, all around the world and on HipHopGame a couple times. I’ve been on magazine covers and TV. Thumbs up, baby!
What’s the status of your case right now?
The case is still pending right now. Basically I’m hoping that it’ll come to a settlement shortly. Thankfully I didn’t go back to jail and I’m out here doing my thing. My album comes out December 4 and it’s a beautiful day.
Some artists and DJs have publicly supported you throughout this situation, but do you feel you have gotten the necessary support from artists, other DJs and record labels?
Maybe personally, but not publicly. But I’m not looking for that. I don’t need anyone to come out and save me. I appreciate all the support that I have gotten from everybody, but at the end of the day, I can speak for myself. I’ve gotten a lot of support from my peers in the industry. Shout out to Atlantic Records. They’ve really been supportive of putting my album out and most importantly, the fans have. That’s who I do this for. I’m not in this to necessarily get the kudos from the business side. I’m a DJ. I love the music. I have a passion for this. As long as I can still walk down any ‘hood and get respect, that’s the ultimate feeling for me.
A lot of online sites shut down and a lot of mixtape DJs stopped selling mixtapes, which led to almost everyone in the game offering free, downloadable mixtapes. What do you think of the free mixtape phenomenon?
I think it’s great. Mixtapes are a great marketing tool. As long as the music is getting to the people, we have to take advantage of the technology. At the end of the day, I’m still a firm believer that nothing is better than a physical product and opening the CD up and reading the booklet, even though I am the iPod King. I think that part of the game is very important. I think one of the reasons my career skyrocketed in the last couple of years was because I came up in a time where the internet was so prevalent with mixtapes and my tapes were being heard all over the world and people knew about Gangsta Grillz. In the Clue and Slay era, they had to put a lot of legwork in and I commend them because there wasn’t a MixUnit or a website to go to to look at the fresh tapes that came out. In the era that I came up in, you had to go outside to find out who was dropping and the East Coast was pretty much the cusp of what was hot. Coming from Atlanta, I was able to compete with the big boys because it wasn’t about a region. It was more of an even playing field.
What’s your favorite Gangsta Grillz mixtape today?
I can’t say. They all represent so many different things to me. They’re all from different stages of my career and they’re all so important. I couldn’t even name one.
What’s the next move for the Apphiliates?
We have our label deal with Asylum. Willie the Kid is coming out in ’08. He’s the first artist off our label. He’s all over my album.
How’s his project coming?
It’s crazy, man. I’m excited because it’s refreshing to hear an artist like him. He reminds me of artists that I came up with in the mid-‘90s. They were like superheroes to me. His album is very banging. It’s one of those albums that song-wise and production-wise, it’s a very exciting project.
If T.I. were to get convicted on his recent charges, how would that affect Grand Hustle?
It would be a blow if it were to happen, but my mind is so not there. I’m so, so, so away from that right now. Of course he’s innocent until proven guilty. Everything is going to be good. I’m doing my thing in the fourth quarter. I talked to T.I.P. and he said, “Dram, your album is coming out December 4. You have to be ready. You have to earn.” I said, “Come on, this is what I do!” I’m working on my project and he’s working on his new project and we have to let the judicial system work it out. That’s my homie and he’ll be home soon.
Big Kuntry is the next artist getting pushed by Grand Hustle. What kind of potential do you think he has?
Kuntry’s a hustler, man. Kuntry’s a grinder. He’s been putting a lot of work in for a long time. Once the people start paying attention, it’s on and popping.
What new artists do you think are next from the South?
I don’t really know, man. I’m pretty much watching everybody. Everybody does their thing. You know I represent the South. I represent the A and even more, I want to see the people get the good music. Somebody’s there and somebody’s coming.
What’s the next move for DJ Drama?
Man, December 4 is when my album comes out. Willie the Kid is coming. The radio thing is heavy for us right now. I’m on the promo tour, in a new city every day. It’s about touching the people and getting out in the streets. There’s a formula and once you get it right, you have to rock with it. The Apphiliates movement is out there heavy.
What do you want to say to everybody?
December 4, the Gangsta Grillz: Album, the best mixtape album ever. I pledge allegiance to feed the streets for life. Shout out to HipHopGame for the continued support.