DRAM - What Had Happened Was… Music Album Reviews

DRAM - What Had Happened Was… Music Album Reviews
The Virginia crooner and sometime rapper is back with his old name and his new sensibilities—a re-re-introduction that solidifies his love for all things smooth and sappy.

DRAM has never been afraid to be silly. Whether he’s belting about getting money, finding love, or smoking debilitating amounts of weed, he’s always performing for the cheap seats, his powerful vocal range lampshaded with a goofy exuberance. His guilelessness has mutated slightly across his first two albums. His debut full-length, 2016’s Big Baby D.R.A.M., had more than its fair share of crowd-pleasers, but smoky, intimate outliers like “WiFi” and “Monticello Ave” proved he didn’t always feel the need to swing for crossover hits. By 2021’s Shelley FKA DRAM, the Virginia crooner and sometime rapper had gone through a name change and fully committed himself to adult contemporary R&B and soul. It was the most mature he’d ever sounded on record, but not mature enough to forgo a light dusting of shenanigans, whether cheeky interludes or the occasional groaner (“Let me touch your soul before I touch your skin”). On What Had Happened Was…, DRAM is back with his old name and his new sensibilities, a re-re-introduction that solidifies his love for all things smooth and sappy.

As a singer, DRAM flows between a velvety tenor and a piercing falsetto that recalls Ronald Isley if he mainlined nothing but trap-soul playlists. His vocals simmer and rise on the hooks for “Ride or Die” and “Let Me See Your Phone,” the warble of his upper register selling reassuring coos to one lover and threats of invading another’s privacy with equal charisma. Vibrato has always been a secret weapon in the best DRAM songs, but his application is more nuanced now, letting it seep into the cracks of the music instead of drilling it through the foundation—the purring throughout tracks like “Best That I Got” and “Reflections” is smooth and inviting. He’s a more seasoned vocalist than before who’s eager to flesh out core elements of his technique. The stacked vocal harmonies on “3’s Company” and “Can’t Hold You Down” have the texture of Voodoo-era D’Angelo, and his voice generally has a richer, more confident tone.

What Had Happened Was… aims to refine the formula DRAM first established on Shelley FKA DRAM. Each song is a loose narrative about different stages and forms of love: one-night stands and brushes with the One; break-ups and makeups; affairs behind closed doors and JumboTron-worthy proclamations. He’s been through it all, and he approaches each scenario with playboy confidence and loverboy earnestness. “3’s Company” is a funk ballad in whic DRAM succumbs to his partner’s request for a threesome; it plays out with just enough melodrama to not read like a soap opera (“Even though I’d rather it be you and me/But I don’t really mind because it’s not new to me/It’s just that it reminds me who I used to be”). The laidback silly charm manifests in interludes dotted with Super Saiyan sound effects and Spongebob jokes, and brief lapses into rapping (“Soul to Take,” “Big Baby DRAM”). For all his growth, DRAM is still a kid at heart.

Occasionally, he leans a little too hard into goofball territory (“Wham you out your jammies, wham you out your panties/That’s a double whammy”; “Your baby mama says I taste scrumdiddlyumptious”), but the emotional balance between songs is getting stronger. The fading romance of “Let Me See Your Phone” lands with the same verve as the lothario tales on Big Baby D.R.A.M. The album’s emotional centerpiece is a three-song stretch dedicated to his mother, who passed away in November 2020. “Angry” deals with the immediate harshness of her passing (“What do you mean I can’t see you?”) while “A Mother’s Love” unpacks as many of his feelings as possible before he breaks down into tears on the song’s bridge. The moment is personal and gutting without becoming dour or depressing, more kindling for the fires of DRAM’s performance.

It also helps that the music is as fluid as DRAM’s vocals. A gang of producers, from New Orleans multi-instrumentalist Spiff Sinatra to bassist extraordinaire Alissia Benveniste, work together to match DRAM’s syrupy voice with hefty slices of funk and soul and a little trap&B thrown in for good measure. Benveniste wraps distorted bass and light synths around “3’s Company” to provide the steamy ambience it requires and gives “PPL” a warmly elegant shuffle that plays against the “hurt people hurt people” narrative at its center. On “WHAM,” Sinatra and producer HERO blend 808s kicks and hi-hats with digitized vocals that complement DRAM’s horny-in-the-backseat come-ons. It’s one of several moments where the modern but vintage feel of the music syncs with the mushy but still attractive aspects of DRAM’s songwriting.

Back-half highlight “Reflections” is one of the album’s few instances of self-love. Here, the rigors of fame catch up to DRAM as he fights depression and fatigue (“laying in bed ain’t gon’ pay my rent”) while lamenting the old him, a man not above locking his girlfriend out for questioning whether or not he cheated on her. “Reflections” is emblematic of a struggle between the old DRAM and the new one that takes place across What Had Happened Was…: the happy-go-lucky womanizing rap-singer that Drake bit off in 2016 (and randomly dissed earlier this year) and the modern mellow crooner, unlucky in love but always trying. He’s lived many lives, but the DRAM who emerges from the rubble is the most well-rounded of the bunch, blending love, lust, and wide-eyed charm into a funky cocktail all his own. 

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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
DRAM - What Had Happened Was… Music Album Reviews DRAM - What Had Happened Was… Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on November 23, 2022 Rating: 5


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