“What you niggas know about the Dirty South?” was a very important question posed on Goodie Mob’s classic debut album, Soul Food. This was back in 1995, when the South was still overshadowed by what roared from the East and what boomed from the West. When the South was just a coast on the outskirts of hip-hop, Goodie Mob gave the region a sense of identity by proclaiming the South as dirty. They were the first to knight the South as such; Cool Breeze, to be exact, was the Goodie member to coin the term. I always found that “dirty” represented the very essence of the music born from hip-hop’s country cousins―it’s in the sound, it’s in the swagger, it’s in the feeling―if it's not dirty, it's not Southern.
Each coast has championed a sound during their era of reign over the rest. New York and the East Coast gave hip-hop boom bap, L.A. and the West birthed G-Funk, and the South’s biggest, most popular contribution has been trap. Trap is the reason why producers have been at the epicenter of the South's domination in rap music for more than a decade. They've shaped, molded and reinvented the sound that causes heads to rock, feet to move and trunks to rattle. Before it was the most prominent sound in music, the powerful 808s and the filthy bass were components that built the foundation for Southern rappers to illustrate a darker, dirtier lifestyle. All the flossing and glossing couldn’t take away the fact that in the lyrics drugs were being sold, guns were being shot, and jail or death awaited anyone who couldn’t escape.
Drumma Boy, an acclaimed Memphis-born producer and one of the early pioneers of trap remembers when it was just a local sound:
It’s a blessing to see how many young guys and young cats can take my sound, or the Memphis sound, or the Trap sound and evolve it into what we have today. When Trap first came out, it was genuine to us because nobody wanted to step in those boundaries if you weren’t from the trap. Now, everybody can grasp a hold of it, and be involved in it even though they aren’t from the trap, or ever sold drugs. It was more of a culture before, it's more of a sound now. A grimey sound. We used to make it for the streets, the hood, music that was for us. And it took off into something much bigger, a trend we can say we started.
Drumma Boy may have been born and raised in Memphis and may have found his sound in Memphis, but his career as a producer didn’t truly take off until he relocated to Atlanta in 2004. Back at home, he was producing for local acts like Gangsta Boo and Tela, but changing his scenery put him in a bigger pond with even bigger fish. One of those fish was Young Jeezy, who had a major street buzz going into his debut album. Atlanta was about to have a huge trap renaissance with T.I., Gucci, and Jeezy all releasing albums that delivered three different views on a similar subject. The release of Thug Motivation 101 was the bomb that exploded Young Jeezy’s career, but it was also a major turning point for Drumma Boy. Producing the iconic anthem “Standing Ovation” was the key Drumma needed to unlock the industry's door.
I would say my first most memorable moment was probably “Standing Ovation.” To make it on Jeezy’s album, I had to redo that beat like three times to get it perfect for him. I barely made the album but that placement lead to my first Platinum plaque. The song wasn’t even a single and we still sold over 1 million copies of that one record. Before Jeezy, I had done a lot of underground shit, so to be on his album was a major placement. It was my entrance into the major label game. “This is the streets, I am the Trap,” man it was huge.
What followed the success of “Standing Ovation” is a tireless 11-year streak of radio hits, club smashes, and big bangers. Drumma was there at the beginning of careers―Waka’s “No Hands,” Plies’ “Shawty,” Rocko’s “Umma Do Me” and August Alsina’s “No Love.” He’s the man to call after establishing yourself but needing new fire to heat up the streets―Young Jeezy’s “Put On,” 2 Chainz's “Spend It,” T.I.’s “What’s Up, What’s Happenin,” Birdman’s “Money To Blow,” Gucci Mane “All My Children” and Migos’ "Look At My Dab.”
In fact, “Look At My Dab” has been largely successful despite it being more EDM-influenced. He considers the song his "biggest generational record.” He proudly told me of grandmothers, grandfathers, and grandchildren all dabbing to the song. Longevity is the goal for anyone trying to make a living in music, and Drumma is proof that it’s possible to survive in a game where originators can be replaced by cheap imitations. Longevity also means you get to witness all the changes and evolutions that unfold before your very eyes. Drumma Boy is one producer who watched rap and trap change from being raw and street, to being melodic and universal.
The music scene has changed a lot. It’s more about melodies now. Everything being made is kind of singy/melody. Years ago, people were still really rapping. I like that it’s more melody, more melodic music. Some of the biggest records to ever come out have melody in them. Some of the biggest rappers like 50 Cent, Nelly, Ja Rule, DMX, are some of the best selling rap artists and they all used melodies in their music. Doing so, they’ve outsold some of the best technically skilled rappers. I think people forget that DMX put out two Platinum albums in one year. We were doing more melodic stuff back then, but it was less people doing it. That’s the difference. Now you have Tory Lanez, Rich Homie Quan, YG, Young Greatness, Future; it’s more melodic energy in rap.
Where some might reprimand rappers for the more melodic switch, Drumma Boy sees it as a way to expand. Just like his attitude toward trap music, he isn’t stuck on where it was, but where it’s headed. When it comes to musicality and versatility, Drumma Boy isn’t trapped in the trap sound. He comes from a classically trained musician background. It’s also worth noting his father is a professional clarinetist and music professor. In 2012, Drumma wrote an article for Huffington Post about his relationship with classical music and hip-hop. You wouldn’t expect orchestra scales to be used in sessions with Waka Flocka Flame, but that knowledge has benefited him inside and outside of hip-hop. He stressed to me how important his musical background has been to his career. Understanding the fundamentals of music and music theory can make a world of difference for a producer trying to make a living in this industry.
Whatever you want to be you have to learn the fundamentals behind it. You need that skill set so you can be the best at it. You aren’t going to be the best lawyer skipping and cheating over tests, it’s the same in production. My ability to compose and arrange is now landing me opportunities with on Lee Daniels new series, 'Star,' that will be coming out on Fox; as well as 'Empire.' I’ve done the music for Dez Bryant, Beats By Dre commercials, SMS Audio headphones with Carmelo Anthony, and Shoe Carnival T.V. commercials. I wouldn’t be able to do all the scoring in film and television wouldn’t be able to do any of that if I wasn’t able to read, write, arrange and compose music.
When asked about Gucci, Drumma responds enthusiastically about his old friend and one of his favorite collaborators. He talks proudly about how happy he is that Gucci is finally able to get all the praise he deserves now that he’s out of trouble. Drumma Boy has countless songs with Gucci, entire albums worth of music, and he even appears on the new Woptober album. While Drumma has assisted in shaping Gucci’s sound, in addition to a plethora of artists in Atlanta, he isn’t a name that's given the same praise as a Zaytoven or Lex Luger. And now that Metro Boomin and London On The Track making progress as the new Atlanta hitmakers, reaching the proper height of notoriety will be even more difficult. I inquired if Drumma felt, like Gucci, that he would be getting his just due soon?
It’s all about the grind. Look at Pharrell. Pharrell didn’t get his first number one as an artist until “Happy.” He was constantly grinding and evolving. Sometime you just gotta do what you got to do until you find your niche as an artist, as a producer, as a household name. A lot of people want you to prove yourself, for me, I never signed to a label, yet up to this point, it’s been about who I know and the relationships I’ve built. The only reason why I’m on Jeezy's album, or Keyshia Cole's new album, or how I made Rick Ross' album or Birdman's album, is because I know all these guys. I can pick up the phone and call whoever. That’s the part I wouldn’t trade for the world. Going through a label I don’t have those same relationships. I could’ve been a household name, but I wouldn’t have those same relationships. Earning the relationships, learning how to do all of the work yourself just put you in a different barrier. I’m more on a Russell Simmons level, Master P level, a Puffy level, where I can make situations happen myself.
He makes an excellent point: if you can operate outside the labels, you can still infiltrate the mainstream. Relationship building is one of the major keys to success that DJ Khaled has yet to put on his Snapchat. “Brand yourself” is the advice he would pass down to producers coming up. Of course, relationships are important, being self-sufficient is important, but branding is crucial in this day and age. Drumma recently released Drumoji’s, his own custom curated pack of emojis. It takes his brand out of just music and expands it to something that people use every day. If rappers can have emojis, then why not producers? Producers can do more than make beats. The various opportunities are there for anyone daring enough to see them.
It’s been 11 years since Drumma Boy’s big break into the mainstream and he doesn’t seem to be slowing down. He’s looking for the next wave, the next sound, the next big moment that will once again change music. But when that next wave comes, bringing trap to an end, people will look back on the era and realize Drumma Boy has to be mentioned. Not just for the classics, not just for the hits, but for keeping it Southern, and keeping it dirty for all these years.
By Yoh, aka Dirty South Yoh, aka @Yoh31.