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Mixtape Memories with DJ Drama (Part 2)

Words by Daniel Isenberg (@StanIpcus)

Last Thursday, we gave you Part 1 of our Mixtape Memories interview with DJ Drama, which focused on his early years making mixtapes in Philly and at Clark Atlanta University, as well as the inception of his brand Gangsta Grillz, and his first artist mixtapes with T.I. and Young Jeezy. For Part 2, we pick up at the beginning of Drama’s relationship with Lil Wayne, and look back at the first two volumes of their Dedication series. Drama also walks us through his 2007 arrest on piracy charges (his office/studio was raided and 81,000 mixtapes were confiscated), and how he “took the fall for hip-hop.” Plus, he explains how the Internet changed the mixtape game, the expansion of his Gangsta Grillz brand working with artists like Pharrell and Asher Roth, and runs through his tapes with New York artists Cam’ron, Jadakiss, and 50 Cent. Plus much more.

The Dedication

DJ Drama: “I was on tour with T.I. This was probably late ‘04, probably before Trap or Die came out. T.I. was on the phone with Wayne, and I asked to speak to him real quick. He put me on the phone with Wayne, and I was like, ‘What’s up, man. Let’s do a mixtape.’ And, you know, Wayne had heard of me. He was like, ‘Cool.’ At the time, Wayne was really into mixtapes. He was doing the Squad Up [tapes]. I used to take music off Squad Up tapes and use them for Gangsta Grillz.

“So I came up with the name Dedication, said, ‘Let’s call it that.’ I remember Wayne and [his manager Cortez Bryant] came to Atlanta. We were at Patchwerk [Recording Studios], and I gave them a bunch of beats. That was the first time I met Tez, and I think Mack [Maine] was there. Wayne just goes right in [when he’s in the studio]. He sits, he smokes, then he just goes in, off the top of the head. Crazy. He would record four or five songs [in one day].

Dedication came out a month after Trap or Die. By this point, MixUnit was around, and websites were really the new base for mixtapes, where you could get tapes, and get wholesale [amounts of them too]. It became much easier to be known around the country because of the Internet, and how people were moving and getting mixtapes.

“When Dedication came out, I already had Down With The King and Trap or Die under my belt, and it was just one of those things. The cover was amazing. The tape was really big on Canal Street [in New York City]. Because he was so lyrical on it, he started to attract a lot of new fans. A lot of East Coast people started to pay attention to Wayne because of that, because they got the mixtape. He was in the mixtape world now.

“A lot of [me having Wayne talk on the tape] was I wanted people to realize the authenticity of the tapes I was doing. At that time, there were a lot of mixtapes coming out in different forms or fashions. And I wanted people to know that [on my tapes] I was right there next to the artists. So I would write up these scripts, go in with him, and get him to talk. For Wayne, I wrote up a script on my Blackberry, and sent it to him. And he would go in, and freestyle it, and I would cut it up and put it at different parts of the tape. That was me using my interview skills and asking him different questions. I asked him about the Rocafella situation, and almost signing with Jay Z. He was like, ‘I almost did, but I didn’t. So now it’s Young Money.’

“I fucked with Wayne. But I remember when he first sent me the music for Dedication. I was like, ‘Yo, this guy’s on some shit!’ He had been Lil Wayne for a long time, but it’s clear that around that Tha Carter, Dedication era that he started to transform into this microphone monster. And slowly but surely, he just became hot like cake. It just happened. And it was back to back. Think about that. Trap or Die and Dedication came out within a month of each other. That pretty much changed my life.”

“Down & Out”

“Wayne Explains His Deal”

Dedication 2

“At this point, Lil Wayne is the fucking man. Tha Carter II had come out, so he was on fire. So after that, we did Dedication 2. One of the best mixtapes ever. It’s so crazy that the tape [series] is called Dedication too, because between the first and second, [Hurricane] Katrina happened. So Dedication takes on a whole other meaning, for New Orleans, and Wayne, and so forth. A lot of that tape was dedicated to the victims. The ‘Georgia Bush’ song was on there, which gained a lot of attention in political worlds. I think that was when Wayne was at an all-time high. The production on that project, everything.

“I went to go see him at DJ Khaled’s video shoot for ‘Holla At Me Baby’ in Miami, and I gave him the Cannon record, like, ‘Yo, this is a record we put out. Tell me if you fuck with it for the tape.’ And he did the Cannon verse. And then he would ask me for beats, and I would just send them to him.

“At this time, I was working out of my crib and Cannon’s crib. I had the digital 4-track and CDJs. I was moving the tapes myself, and I had a team of people that were helping me. I put together a whole system. By this point, the demand is crazy. So people were coming to me more than I was needing to come to them. It was just moving.”

“Cannon” (AMG Remix) ft. DJ Drama, Freeway, Willie the Kid, Detroit Red & Juice

“Georgia Bush”

In My Mind: The Prequel

“Pharrell just called me and said he wanted to do a tape. And I was like, ‘Hell yeah.’ At this point, I was basically the go-to guy. If you were promoting, and getting ready to put your album out, I became part of the marketing scheme. A XXL cover, an MTV appearance, and a Gangsta Grillz [mixtape]. Cannon actually mixed the Pharrell tape. I was on the road with T.I., and we had to get it done. So Don mixed it, did the scratches, put all the drops in, and then I just came in and talked on it. The beats were a lot of shit that he really wanted to rap on.

“I remember I was catching a little flack from people who were like, ‘A Pharrell Gangsta Grillz?’ Because at that time, Gangsta Grillz had been synonymous with Atlanta trap music. And I started to step out and do Gangsta Grillz [tapes] with Pharrell and Little Brother, and really started to turn the brand into what I wanted it to be. I wanted to prove that I could make it make sense. And it got an incredible response.”

“When Skateboard Came”

“Today Was a Great Day”

2007 Arrest

“That shit was so big, because I was such a prominent figure within hip-hop, and arguably the mixtape king, and I got knocked when I was top. It sent shockwaves through the whole hip-hop community, and especially through the mixtape game. That was the day the game changed. A lot of DJs started to rethink their hustle. A lot of mixtape websites and stores disappeared. You know, here’s the biggest mixtape DJ out, and he gets locked up. Nobody’s safe.

“For me, I had my record deal. I was T.I.’s DJ. I had just shot the cover of XXL. So I’m like, ‘What the fuck? What’s going on?’ The ironic part about the situation is that it made me bigger than I ever was. I became infamous and notorious, and a symbol almost. My mixtapes were beloved by everybody, and here they were using me as an example of the mixtape game being bad. I was nervous because I didn’t want to see a culture and an art form that I had grown up loving die on my shoulders. How crazy would it be if I grew up on all these mixtape DJs, and then it’s like, ‘Mixtapes were hot until Drama got locked up. The mixtape game now is over.’

“There are various theories, and discussions about [why they chose me]. I don’t know. But it’s part of my story. Everything happens for a reason. The law that they locked me up on was called the ‘true name’ law, and they said that I didn’t have my address on the back of the CDs. So, after that, I put my address on the back of the CDs. But truth be told, everything went viral after that. So it all changed together. After the raid, the streets dried up with mixtapes, and then mixtapes began to live on the Internet. Before, sites used to charge for mixtapes. But then it just became a free download situation. Then, you were able to just put out a link, and all your fans were able to get your tape for free.

“It’s definitely safe to argue that after the raid, within the last five years, mixtapes are bigger than they ever were. And that’s because a whole new fanbase and audience were opened up to [mixtape culture]. Before that, mixtapes were like an in-crowd thing. You had to know about it to get them. But once Twitter and free downloads and all that popped up, it was accessible to anybody. And anybody’s free to put a project and get some notoriety off it if they do it the right way, and they got some hot shit.

“My relationship with the [RIAA] now is great. They send me plaques all the time. They’re sending me a gold plaque for my new record right now. They didn’t have to [apologize]. I got the cover of Billboard magazine. I sent them a thank you card. For a brief moment, [the situation with me getting arrested sucked]. Not for very long, though. It made me more famous.”

Outkast Collabo/”I Took the Fall for Hip-Hop”

“That [Outkast] record was one of the first records I did after the raid. Cannon had made that beat for me before the raid. When I sent it to Marsha [Ambrosious], I told her, ‘Look, I just got raided, they locked me up. I need to show the world that I’m not gonna stop. I’m here to stay.’ That’s the vibe I gave her with the hook. And she came with, ‘Nothing’s gonna stop us, you can’t stop us.’ It was based upon me being raided.

“I’d been trying for six or seven months to get Andre on a record, with no avail. I sent him that record, he listened to it, and said, ‘Give me a day.’ And he sent it to me the next day. Incredible. I took it to Big Boi at Stankonia after, and let him hear the record. And he was like, ‘Oh yeah, let’s get it.’

“That record was one of the biggest moments of my career. I don’t remember if [my speech on that] was calculated or not. I’m sure before I went in there, I had thought about it. But I really felt like that. I was influential in a lot of money coming into the culture, by my brand. I don’t want to take sole credit, but [I was a part of the success of] T.I., Jeezy, and Wayne, and thirty other artists, radio stations, and record labels, and albums being sold. Gangsta Grillz was prominent within the culture. So that’s how I felt. I took the fucking fall. I’m a part of all this shit, and I get locked up for this shit? I didn’t get locked up because I had some drugs, or guns. I got locked up for fucking hip-hop!”

DJ Drama ft. Outkast and Marsha Ambrosious “The Art of Storytellin’ Part 4”

The Greenhouse Effect

“I had known [Asher’s manager] Scooter [Braun] forever. We moved in the Atlanta circle together, and I always respected his hustle, and his drive. He came to me to do the drops. At that point, me and Cannon fell out, so we weren’t even really talking. I just did the drops, and Cannon put the tape together. I thought Asher was dope. And he was from PA, so that was some hometown support for him. I thought he had a lot of potential to be big.

“I try to be [selective with the projects I put the Gangsta Grillz name on]. I gamble at times, and sometimes it pays off. I give my brand to those who may not be on a [superstar] level, but I think that’s important. Part of me being here is because I’ve been a part of so many various movements within the culture.”

“Mr. Me 2”

New York Artist Mixtapes

“Cam hit me to do the tape. I came up with the Boss of All Bosses idea. He said he wanted to use the tape as a platform to introduce his new artist, Vado, who I had known for years. It was Cam, so I was like, ‘Hell yeah.’ We had been supposed to work together, and that project came out, and it took off. And by this point, I wanted to make sure that my brand, or me as a DJ, wasn’t just [Down South]. I think I said it on the second one that ‘I’m not a Down South DJ.’ My shit is worldwide. My brand crosses many borders, and what it represents.

“Jadakiss [came to me and said he wanted to do a Down South tape]. He didn’t need my help with getting the artists. But I helped him with the concept, and he just did his thing. And that was a great tape. And I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the groundwork that [50 Cent] laid in the mixtape game. We had talked about [doing a Gangsta Grillz tape together] for years, and I was just excited to be working with him. [The Lost Tape] was a dope project.”

Cam’ron ft. Vado “La Bomba”

Jadakiss ft. Fabolous and Lloyd Banks “Respect It”

50 Cent ft. Eminem “Murder One”

DJ Whoo Kid/DJ Green Lantern Props

“Whoo Kid was a couple years ahead of me. I was crazy influenced by Whoo Kid. In the early 2000s, my favorite DJs were Green Lantern and Whoo Kid. Both of them in there own way were just so fucking phenomenal. I credit a lot to them. What Whoo Kid did as a marketing genius when it comes to those mixtapes was just untouched. And Green Lantern is the God.”

Dreamchasers

“I fucked with Meek off top. Charlie Mack was my man, Meek was from Philly, and we just hit it off right away. Just off some hometown love, I was like, ‘Let’s go. Let’s get it in.’ The first Gangsta Grillz we did was Flamerz 2.5. It was actually supposed to be 2, but it leaked out. Meek got locked up, he did some time. But that was the homie. I fucked with him, so I definitely wanted to see him win, and be a part of what he had going on. Dreamchasers 3 is coming. [The song with him and Jadakiss on the ‘I Got 5 On It’ beat is] crazy. It’s not just Kiss on it, too.”

“Tony Montana (Freestyle)”

iPod King

“I think my success came from everything. My personality, the various artists I aligned myself with. Whoo Kid, with the G-Unit series, was based around G-Unit. I took that up to another level, and created a platform Gangsta Grillz, which is just as [prominent] as the artists that I’ve worked with. I think it’s fair to say, as far as mixtape collections go, I have one of the craziest catalogs known. I treated all my mixtapes like albums, and that’s what I think people like about them. I gave myself the name ‘The iPod King,’ because I have so many mixtapes in somebody’s iPod like they’re albums.

“You might always hear people say, ‘I don’t like DJs [talking] on tapes.’ But normally, if there is a ‘but,’ it’s DJ Drama. Of course, there are people who don’t give a fuck and are gonna hate me along with the rest. There are people that want ‘no DJ’ versions. But my man Officially Ice told me he got his hands on a Trap or Die with only music, without me [talking] on it. And as much as he thought he wanted that, he said, ‘It’s just not the same without you, Dram.'”

Previously: Mixtape Memories with DJ Drama (Part 1)Mixtape Memories with DJ Green Lantern (Part 1) | Mixtape Memories with DJ Green Lantern (Part 2) | Mixtape Memories with Tony Touch