D.R.A.M. is an anomaly: a rapper whose tunes could fill floors at fraternity functions as well as they could the halls of the Apollo Theater. His breakthrough single “Broccoli” rose through the Billboard ranks, even without the incremental hype of an anticipated album release. It eventually broke into the Billboard Top 10 earlier this month; it was perfect timing, given that his long-awaited debut Big Baby D.R.A.M is set to release tomorrow.
D.R.A.M.’s set was placed as the centerpiece of Votechella, a voting-drive-music-“festival” hybrid held at Lower Sproul and co-hosted by ASUC SUPERB, the Residence Hall Assembly and the ASUC Office of the External Affairs Vice President. A major bloc of the crowd — joints and broccoli florets in tow — posted up on Lower Sproul to catch the “Broccoli” rapper. His greens, it seemed, were more important than rooting the seed of democracy. But given his singular starpower, he might’ve garnered some more voter registrations for the upcoming election.
The Virginia-based rapper is relentless in his total sincerity: He’ll rap over a jaunty piano riff or a “Super Mario” theme for the sake of plugging himself into a good melody. He’ll sing the wedding standard “Special” for Chance the Rapper, on an entire interlude reserved for him on Coloring Book, no less. (He performed this crowd favorite live mid-way through his set, with all the goofy sincerity of “Wedding Singer”-era Adam Sandler.) He’ll even pull out the old Tinder dog-photo trick; just look at the cover of his upcoming album.
So when D.R.A.M. told the congregation gathered in front of him to cheer “if you love your mama,” the whole crowd cheered. And when D.R.A.M. led a crowd chant to “spread love,” they did that, too. Why wouldn’t they want to take part in a group chant removed from any irony?
On stage, D.R.A.M. channeled equal parts Fetty Wap and Frankie Valli. His grin was unfiltered sunshine beaming through the post-drizzle overcast, radiating through the expanse of the Lower Sproul grounds. He commenced with “Cash Machine,” all family-sitcom piano and crisp synths — a rag-time parallel to M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes” that set the tone for the evening.
He cracked a quick joke, calling for a round of applause for the college student cash machine: parental direct deposits. But he never wavered from the one-two punch of total love — he followed every song with the chants, the thread that unified the party-ready numbers with his expert crooning.
In that way, D.R.A.M.’s set might place him as an old-fashioned guy — a soul revivalist of sorts on the quest for love lost in the Tinder era. In his live set, “Cute” is, well, outright adorable. It might be the one single that follows radio-rap trends most closely, a burbling, 8-bit modulation of a DJ Mustard-produced track. Like a bevy of rap odes to beautiful women, he found the object of his affection on Instagram.
But he crooned with the young, enthused devotion reserved strictly for milkshake diner dates and worn-out romantic nostalgia. “I’ll take you for a bite to eat,” he sang, a pleading Casanova in search of his leading lady.
More notable was the snap-heavy ballad “Caretaker,” where his velvet-smooth tenor slashed through the crowd’s joyful noise. “This one,” he said, “is dedicated to the ex that mattered.”
But he wasn’t always doing a faithful send-up of Gaye’s and Green’s greatest hits. His last two numbers, the (potentially) Drake-pillaged “Cha Cha” and the aforementioned “Broccoli,” were met with the requisite giddiness from the crowd. D.R.A.M. was ecstatic, and rightfully so.
“This is the people’s record,” he said in celebration of D.R.A.M.’s Billboard success. “This our shit!”
And the night could have ended on that easy closer. But D.R.A.M.’s a sentimentalist: He treaded off the stage for a hot second, only to walk back on to reprise “Broccoli” a capella (“Thanks for being number one, D.R.A.M.,” he urged the crowd to cheer.)
Broccoli — in both its floret and illicit forms — was passed up onto the stage. It was the kindest, if silliest, way for the crowd to finally spread love to the rapper.