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DJ Drama is more than a name. It’s a brand—one that music aficionados the world over have come to respect and trust. Over the course of his illustrious career, DJ Drama, born Tyree Simmons, has carved out a lane for himself as the undisputed ear of the streets. Blessed with an uncanny knack for identifying raw talent, the Atlanta-based jock has been ahead of the musical curve for more than a decade, curating classic mixtapes that have helped catapult emerging artists into the mainstream spotlight or solidified an already established MC’s place in hip-hop history.
At the core of Drama’s brand is his now legendary mixtape series Gangsta Grillz, which pairs him with one artist or group for a collection of certified street bangers. Currently more than 150 tapes deep, the franchise features a who’s who of hip-hop and R&B all-stars with standouts including T.I.’s The Leak, Young Jeezy’s Trap or Die, Chris Brown’s In My Zone and Lil Wayne’s seminal Dedication series. More than just mixtapes, each Gangsta Grillz compilation is a carefully crafted street album, orchestrated by Drama himself. Inspired by legends like S&S, Ron G and DJ Clue, Drama, who moved to Atlanta from Philly in the late ’90s, introduced an East Coast approach to Southern mixtapes. The final product held so much industry clout that it only made sense for the talented DJ, who currently works as an A&R for Atlantic Records, to do an official LP.
“With Gangsta Grillz I took a formula that I grew up with and saw was working and applied it to Southern artists and Southern music. People at the time were telling me folks in the South don’t want to hear that, but I wanted to go against the grain and it became a success,” says Drama, who worked as T.I.’s personal DJ early on in his career. “I remember putting Gangsta Grillz: The Album -- coming soon on one of my mixtapes, but that was just me dreaming big. It’s every artist’s dream, whether they’re a DJ or not, to do an album. So when the opportunity presented itself, I just went for it.”
Released in 2007 via Grand Hustle/Atlantic, Gangsta Grillz: The Album set the stage for the next phase of Drama’s ever-growing empire. Alongside fellow Philly natives turned Atlanta transplants Don Cannon and DJ Sense, Drama established The Aphilliates Music Group in 2003. The popular DJ collective was known for breaking records, but now Drama was making his own. Gangsta Grillz: The Album, Vol. 2 dropped in 2009, which was followed by Third Power (2011) and Quality Street Music (2012). Each project featured a high-caliber roster of the hottest artists and producers in the game coming together under Drama’s creative direction to deliver albums that play out like soundtracks to the streets. Drama aims to recreate that same magic with his fifth studio LP, Quality Street Music 2.
“I tried to put everything that I’d ever done into the first album because it was my first,” says Drama. “But now that I’m on album five I’m even more consistent, the body of work is more complete, and I’ve found a sound that really represents my brand. Quality Street Music signifies consistency, creativity and hip-hop in its purest form.”
Powered by the raucous lead single “Wishing,” featuring Chris Brown, Skeme and Lyquin, Quality Street Music 2 is poised to live up to its title and further bolster Drama’s brand. “For me to put together guys that I work with closely and who also signify what quality street music is was important. I’ve come up in a climate where record sales haven’t been the highest, especially for DJ albums,” Drama says. “I feel like my last body of work was a success based on when I walk down the streets and people say, ‘Yo, your album was crazy,’ or other DJs tell me the same. When the critics and the people give it a thumbs up, that’s how I’ll know I’ve delivered that quality street music.”