Please Allow Dram to Reintroduce Himself -

Please Allow Dram to Reintroduce Himself

 Please Allow Dram to Reintroduce Himself

Shelley Massenburg-Smith’s memory is like a diary, in the sense that he can tie events that altered the course of his life to a specific date.

On January 6, 2020, after his team sat him down for an intervention, he decided that he was going to get sober and fight his addiction to liquor, cocaine, and Xanax. Nine days later, on January 15, 2020, he checked into rehab, where he lived in dorm-style quarters with “a bunch of middle-aged old white guys” for two weeks. On April 22, 2020, he was thumbing through Instagram stories when he saw a video of his manager Sean doing a resistance workout, running across a field dragging a sled. Inspired—and miffed that Sean hadn’t invited him—he began a fitness regimen that would result in shedding over 65 pounds.

“I was the comedian [in rehab]. I spoke my mind,” Shelley said over a Zoom call as he sat in his car outside an Atlanta studio and rolled up a blunt. “I was very vocal about, I’m not going to smoke weed during our program, but as soon as I get in the car to bounce, I’m gonna have an L already rolled up. Like I respect that part of it, but the weed is not my issue. I’m really here for the crazy amount of liquor, the crazy amounts of drugs. It just had to stop.”

Courtesy of Braylen Dion

In his early to mid-20s, Shelley lived in his hometown of Hampton, Virginia, working in shipyards and call centers to support his aspirations as a singer. His career took off in late 2014, when he released his breakout hit “Cha Cha.” From 2015 to 2017, Shelley, who until recently operated under the moniker Dram, honed a smiley, goofy persona that stood apart from the rest of R&B. In the 2015 video for “Cha Cha,” he burst into a random family’s dining room wearing a 16-bit sombrero and turned a mundane dinner into a dance party. Beyonce posted a montage of herself vibing heavily to “Cha Cha” with the caption, “This song makes me happy!” Erykah Badu, writing to Shelley on Twitter, described “Cha Cha” as “very unique and raw… that underground magic force that sparks a seed to grow a tree.”

During that era, Shelley’s signature ten-thousand-watt smile would have made you think he was an avatar of happiness, but it would have been more accurate to say that he was an avatar of childhood—of the innocence, playfulness, and capacity for pure emotions that begin to die out around the time one stops believing in Santa Claus. On the cover of his 2016 debut Big Baby D.R.A.M., he posed alongside his goldendoodle, Idnit, beaming straight at the camera and into the viewer’s soul. The childlike wonder that radiated from this photograph also characterized his singular style. Whether he was rapping conversationally or leaping a register from full Teddy Pendergrass croon to falsetto, his sweet, nasal tone buoyed the album’s central theme, the effort to divine a love connection.

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