It’s rare to be able to quantify an album in terms of one particular emotion. Most records make some attempt at exploring varied terrain, but some are locked into a particular theme so confidently that they don’t have to. Just this year, Nick Cave did it with sorrow on Skeleton Tree, and Danny Brown did it with anxiety on Atrocity Exhibition. With Big Baby D.R.A.M., D.R.A.M. does the exact same thing, but with exuberance, and the effect it creates is spectacular.
Just on a conceptual level, “happy” music is extremely difficult to get right. It’s hard for the music not to feel like gloating (whilst boasting is a common rap trope, that’s usually supposed to imply intimidation), or to come across as overly sappy, like many love songs. D.R.A.M. manages to avoid both of these with a mixture of winking subject matter, and sheer, boundless enthusiasm. He’s one of these R&B singers who carry themselves like rappers (Anderson .Paak and Ty Dolls $ign fit into the same category), and he never sounds like he’s having anything less than a great time.
Broccoli, the album’s lead single, has been blowing up the charts recently, and it’s easy to see why. From the quirky piano lead, to Lil Yachty’s autotune drawl, every element seems like it shouldn’t fit, and yet it’s perfect. In any other song the flute hook would be deeply annoying, but it just sounds so joyous here that it fits into D.R.A.M.’s world. When he sings “ain’t no tellin what I’m finna be on”, it’s so infused with emotion and enthusiasm that it’s near-impossible not to want to sing along.
Fellow singles Cash Machine and Cute manage something similar. Cash Machine is a certified banger, with extremely creative use of a cash-sorting sample, dedicating the lyrics to burning everyone who ever doubted him during his rise – “my thoughts on you is lukewarm”. Cute is another thing entirely, a sickly sweet song about at Instagram crush, performed over a minimal, 8-bit influenced R&B beat. The chorus is literally just “I think you’re cute / oh yes I do” sung in a falsetto, but he keeps it from becoming treacly by including goofy, endearing lines like “I am a foodie” and “I choose you like a Pokémon”. Both tracks tap into a different part of what makes D.R.A.M.’s music work, but the unifying theme is his enthusiasm and dedication to his subject matter.
As for the album tracks, whilst there are definite standouts, nothing really feels misjudged or out of place. WiFi, a duet with the esteemed Erykah Badu is excellent, mixing funny, very modern lyrics – “does your boyfriend pay your bill for you / to do this Netflix and chill with me?” – with smooth, soul flavour. Change My # sees D.R.A.M. riding a gluggy, syrupy beat and singing about leaving someone who’s not good for him. Tracks like Misunderstood and Password don’t stand out quite as much, but they still fit with the tone and style of the album, and have their own hooks to find on repeat listens.
D.R.A.M. has found a very specific niche with Big Baby D.R.A.M., melding hip-hop and soul together, but differentiating himself with sheer joyousness. He’s special, and even in the crowded R&B/hip-hop sphere of 2016, he stands out. There are probably other rappers out there who would rap about having “acquired taste for salmon on a bagel”, but none of them would make it sound like some incredible moment of self-discovery the way D.R.A.M. does.