Monday, October 24, 2016

D.R.A.M. - Big Baby D.R.A.M. Review

You need look no further than the cover of this album to see exactly what kind've artist D.R.A.M. is. Seen smiling alongside his Goldendoodle Indit, who premiered with him and Lil Yachty in the ridiculous 'Broccoli' music video, it's clear D.R.A.M.'s persona is irresistible. A cheesy smile, nonsensical tunes about millennial problems, and infectious hits that confuse as much as they entice, the Virginia-raised crooner has excavated a path of his own in Hip-Hop's new, welcoming age. To most, that's how he's perceived, with the likes of 'Broccoli,' 'Cha Cha,' 'Cash Machine,' and 'Signals' being his most famous, and simplest, songs. However, there's another side of D.R.A.M. that's been hinted at for quite some time, with his features on Chance The Rapper's Coloring Book and The Social Experiment's Surf, two mixtapes in which his sole appearance has been that of solemn reflection. Quiet, secluded, and contemplative, 'D.R.A.M. Sings Special' and 'Caretaker' aren't what many expect after coming off the high of 'Broccoli's' elementary piano Trap. On Big Baby D.R.A.M., his debut album, the rapper/singer strives to flaunt his wide range of talents, proving that, while capable, the allure of D.R.A.M. still rests on his hits.

Really, it seems, that's what the entire album's built upon. The four lead singles all find themselves hoarding the centerfold, as if D.R.A.M. himself knows the combo of 'Wifi,' 'Cash Machine,' 'Broccoli,' and 'Cute' are his work's bread and butter, suffice to serve as the apex of Big Baby. Having heard those four before release, some, like 'Broccoli,' as early as April, the allure they posses has waned slightly. 'Broccoli,' one of Hip-Hop's strangest smash hits in recent memory, still remains as intoxicating as ever though, avoiding the plague of obnoxiousness by being lovably annoying in the first place. 'Cash Machine' follows suit, and acts as the album's second best song besides its defining piece, using another, this time more antiquated, piano to guide D.R.A.M.'s love of wealth. The wacky music video, capturing our lead in all pink spreading colorful money around the neighborhood, only goes to heighten the single's appeal. What happens when D.R.A.M.'s visual image is gone though, resorting strictly to his musical limitations? Well, the two other singles, 'Wifi' and 'Cute,' can answer that. Despite supporting adorable ideas that withdraw from Hip-Hop's norm, the two tracks, and others here, just don't have the endearing instrumental appeal of their two pillars.

This doesn't mean the ten remaining songs bore though. D.R.A.M.'s peculiar mix of Trap and R&B can be best seen on 'In A Minute / In House,' which, if the title is any indication, is a two-part effort that pairs extroversion with introversion, as 'In A Minute' finds D.R.A.M. recklessly surfing a classic Trap beat before 'In House' pulls him back to a state of observation. Later on, 'Password' sifts through an uneasy state, with weighty flutes tip-toeing behind D.R.A.M., who's concerned over his private life being revealed through a faulty password. Finally, 'Sweet Va Breeze,' musically the biggest risk here, brings around a classic Doo-Wop feel, as some jazzy instrumentation flickers, chirps, and dances behind D.R.A.M., who showcases his best crooning performance on the entire album. These scattered highlights help to keep Big Baby interesting, as the periods in between, while never becoming irritable, don't add all that much. In fact, the worst track here might've been its most anticipated; 'Misunderstood.' With a prominent feature from Young Thug that sees him doused in autotune, the track, sporting a beat similar to Gucci Mane's 'Lemonade,' odd Pop Rock inflection with dense drums and searing guitar riffs, and D.R.A.M.'s classic Soul crooning, is a sonic mess.

As far as the content goes, D.R.A.M. doesn't hide behind Hip-Hop truisms, and for that alone I can respect Big Baby. Romantic quandaries dot the release, like 'Change My #' or '100 %,' but mixed in with those are the petty arguments, beliefs, and values that inflate, or deflate, a relationship. Of course there's talk of money, but perhaps more interesting is cases like 'Wifi' or 'Password' that catch D.R.A.M. in dilemmas that anyone over 30 would find laughable. Considering how engulfing social media has been to Hip-Hop since 2010, rappers' continued blindness to their own usage for sake of remaining hard on the outside is becoming far more evident. Even though I rarely partake in social media myself, it's refreshing to hear a rapper openly embrace the movement, and the petty squabbles that ensue. There's even the adorably cliche 'Cute,' where D.R.A.M. resorts to childlike infatuation with a girl he found on Instagram, something he'd surely be mocked for had he been around even just a decade ago. Hip-Hop's progression has fallen in line with that of societies. Artists on the precipice, like D.R.A.M., are surely to garner more attention from millennials who are looking to have fun in trying times.

Big Baby does have one lingering issue though, and that's of it's own identity. A questionable statement to make given just how marketably unique D.R.A.M. is. But while cases like 'Broccoli' or 'Cute' are unmistakably his own work, the attempt at diversification, sometimes, treads down a beaten path. As is typically the case with newcomers flashing legends on their project, 'Wifi' sounds like an Erykah Badu joint with D.R.A.M. playing lead feature. Not too offensive yet, but maybe more so is 'Cash Machine' and its clear ode to M.I.A.'s 'Paper Planes,' 'Outta Sight' borrowing a tad too much from The Internet, '100 %' diving too close to Drake, and D.R.A.M.'s subtle, but widespread affinity to Frank Ocean. It's the latter, in cases like 'Monticello Ave' or 'Dark Lavender,' where his weaknesses really expose themselves. The tone is there, but the passion, dexterity, inflection, and sheer talent is not. The quicker D.R.A.M. realizes his place in music, making goofy hits that erupt like a flash in the pan, the better off he'll be. Big Baby tries, and succeeds at times, to prove his worth, but really, all I want is more senseless fun.

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