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Audio Sessions: DJ Drama Talks Current Music Culture, “Falling Off,” Gangsta Grillz Mixtapes Vs Albums +More

Tyree Cinque Simmons, professionally known as DJ Drama, is an American DJ, record executive and music promoter. He is the co-founder (with Don Cannon) of Generation Now, an Atlantic Records imprint with artists including Lil Uzi Vert, Jack Harlow, and Skeme on its roster. He gained recognition as the official DJ for Atlanta rapper T.I. and as a prominent mixtape DJ with his series, Gangsta Grillz. Numerous artists have utilized the DJ Drama’s Gangsta Grillz branding in projects he’s compiled, including Lil Wayne, Fabolous, Jeezy, Gucci Mane, Snoop Dogg, YoungBoy Never Broke Again, among others.

He was a co-founder of the Atlanta-based DJ and artist collective known as the Aphilliates. Drama has released 5 studio albums, curating tracks with both “underground” and prominent artists, the latest of which being Quality Street Music 2 (2016).

DJ Drama, alongside Don Cannon and DJ Sense, officially founded the Aphilliates Music Group (AMG) in 2003. The group distributed DJ Drama’s Gangsta Grillz mixtape series, which saw early successes with T.I.’s Down With the King (2004) and Jeezy’s Trap or Die (2005). By 2005, Drama and his AMG cohorts were hosting radio shows on Atlanta’s Hot 107.9 and on Eminem’s Shade 45 channel on Sirius Satellite Radio. In late 2005, Drama produced and hosted Lil Wayne’s The Dedication mixtape, which would spawn a long series of Dedication tapes. Dedication 2, released in May 2006, appeared on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart and was labeled by The New York Times as “one of the 10 best recordings of 2006.”

AMG signed a joint venture deal with Asylum Records in September 2006. The first artist signed was American rapper Willie the Kid. In January 2007, AMG’s Atlanta studios were raided by Fulton County police officers, who seized over 80,000 mixtapes, 4 vehicles, and some recording equipment. Both DJ Drama and Don Cannon were taken into custody on RICO charges. Hard drives containing tracks from Drama’s first “official” album, Gangsta Grillz: The Album, were also seized despite the fact that the album was due to be released “above-board” by Grand Hustle Records via Atlantic Records. No further legal action was ever taken against Drama or Cannon in relation to the raid.

Despite the setback, DJ Drama’s Gangsta Grillz: The Album was released in December 2007 on the Grand Hustle label. The album’s first buzz single, “Takin’ Pictures”, was released in March 2007 and featured Jeezy, Willie the Kid, Jim Jones, Rick Ross, Young Buck and T.I. The album’s lead single—”5000 Ones” featuring Nelly, T.I., Yung Joc, Willie the Kid, Jeezy, and Twista—debuted on BET. The second single, “The Art of Storytellin’ Part 4”, was released in 2008 and featured Outkast and Marsha Ambrosius. The album peaked at number 26 on the Billboard 200.

In May 2009, DJ Drama released his second album entitled Gangsta Grillz: The Album (Vol. 2), with the singles “Day Dreaming” (featuring Akon, Snoop Dogg and T.I.) and “Ridiculous” (featuring Gucci Mane, Yo Gotti, Lonnie Mac and OJ da Juiceman). In addition to his own studio albums, DJ Drama also continued working on mixtapes, including those for Gucci Mane (Mr. Zone 6), Chris Brown (In My Zone 2), Dead Prez (Revolutionary but Gangsta Grillz), and Wyclef Jean (From the Hut, to the Projects, to the Mansion), among others. In March 2010, Drama appeared on T-Pain’s musical television special Freaknik: The Musical, in a voice role as a radio announcer named Mr. Thanksgiving.
2011–present: Third Power and Quality Street Music series, Generation Now record label.

Drama released his third album, Third Power in October 2011. It featured the single, “Oh My” (featuring Fabolous, Wiz Khalifa, and Roscoe Dash), and reached number 95 on the Billboard Hot 100. He followed that with the release of his fourth album, Quality Street Music, in late 2012. The album was preceded by the singles “We in This Bitch” and “My Moment”. The album peaked at number 15 on the Billboard 200, which is the highest a DJ Drama album has gotten on the chart to date.

In August 2013, Drama co-founded The Academy, a DJ incubator and art collective, with Don Cannon and DJ Sense. The Academy announced its first roster of 23 DJs in September of that year. In January 2014, it was announced that DJ Drama would join the A&R at Atlantic Records. Within his first year, he had signed several artists to the label, including Kap G, Spenzo, and Que. Throughout this time, he continued hosting and producing mixtapes for artists like 50 Cent (The Lost Tape), Nipsey Hussle (Crenshaw), Snoop Dogg (That’s My Work Volume 3), and Big K.R.I.T. (It’s Better This Way).

In 2015, DJ Drama and Don Cannon founded the Atlantic Records imprint, Generation Now. One of their first signees was Lil Uzi Vert, and Drama served as an executive producer on Uzi’s 2015 debut commercial mixtape, Luv Is Rage. Generation Now also signed Skeme to the label that year. In July 2016, Drama released his fifth studio album, Quality Street Music 2, with the single “Wishing” featuring Chris Brown, Skeme, and Lyquin.

Generation Now had its first number one record on the Billboard 200 with Lil Uzi Vert’s August 2017 debut studio album, Luv Is Rage 2. DJ Drama served as executive producer on the album. Other acts signed to Generation Now by Drama include Skeme, Lyquin, Jack Harlow, Lil James, and Killumantii.

In 2021, Drama narrated Tyler, the Creator’s album Call Me If You Get Lost, and was credited as a feature on the first track Sir Baudelaire. The album’s “intros” and sound was partly inspired by Drama’s “Gangsta Grillz” series, and is often credited as a nod to that “mixtape” sound.

A further instalment of the Gangsta Grillz series, D-Day: A Gangsta Grillz Mixtape, was released on March 31, 2022, in collaboration with Dreamville and J. Cole.

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