D.R.A.M.’s music is like a gleefully shining sun on a cloudless afternoon. Music that can be played during family picnics and teenage smoke sessions, post-graduation gatherings and boisterous house parties; anywhere fun is being had, there’s a place for D.R.A.M. The music represents the person, a man who personifies the color yellow―bright, vibrant, positive.
The rising star from Hampton, Virginia is always grinning, the kind of smile that makes you feel as if you woke up on the right side of the bed. Trap music tends to be dark, but the stories being told are rooted in bleak environments. Trappy Go Lucky—the perfect term D.R.A.M. uses to describe his uptempo, motivational, carefree and fun style—is inspired by George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic, an offspring of P-Funk with a modern rap execution.
In this era of visually-driven content, the blossoming star has released a plethora of videos that perfectly encompasses the lightheartedness of his musical offerings. The recently-released visual for “Cute” does an excellent job putting a creative spin on a rather cliché relationship trope. The Muppet version of D.R.A.M. is perfect for a silly, cartoonish love song. Just like the music, at the heart of all D.R.A.M.’s video is a sense of jubilant energy―the treatments are never deeply conceptual or overridden with flashy edits―from “Cha Cha” to “Cash Money” and “Broccoli” to “Signals” the Big Baby from Virginia keeps things simplistic and hearty.
Binge watching his videos this past week, I saw a few common denominators in his treatments, but the most obvious one is in regards to women.
Every visual has an array of women that vary in race and ethnicity. There’s no discrimination when it comes to having gorgeous white, black, Asian and Latino women in his videos, but very rarely do you see someone of a darker skin complexion. This realization only came after watching his entire videography, desperately looking for a model a few shades darker than the various lighter women who tend to stand in the forefront.
Since a house party-esque setting is a regular and recurring backdrop, there are a few darker women that can be found in the background, but they are never the focused love interest. Watching his videos with this awareness, it's like being invited to a party, enjoying yourself, but also noticing someone is missing—a very specific someone.
Colorism is and has always been a problem throughout the entertainment industry. There’s a very real discrimination against women of color who are of a darker skin complexion. The odds are already against women in the business, but the fence is much higher if you’re more Janet Hubert Whitten than Daphne Maxwell Reid. The issues with hip-hop and colorism run rather deep―from lyrics to music video casting, there’s a stigma that the redder the better. I’m a huge Lil Wayne fan, but his views on black women are absolutely disgusting. When he rapped, “Beautiful black women, I bet that bitch look better red” on “Right Above It," the feeling was like swallowing venom.
Most of the internet can recall when Kodak Black promoted his preference of yellow women, but also cited his vile contempt for darker women in the same breath. It’s deeper than just having a personal preference, cases like Wayne's and Kodak's are vehement attacks against women who aren’t of a fairer skin. Attacked in lyrics, excluded from videos, bleached on magazine covers―this has been an ongoing matter of contention and continues to happen, year after year.
D.R.A.M. isn’t the only rapper at fault. We can go down a list of artists in this modern era who are doing little to break down this long-standing issue. In D.R.A.M.’s case, though, I’ve always looked at him as a progressive artist. The headline for his interview with Noisey reads, “Meet D.R.A.M., the Virginia Artist Who Stopped Following the Rules of Rap and Had One Epic Summer”―he may have discarded the rules of rap sonically, but his videos don’t portray the same sense of rule breaking.
It’s likely that D.R.A.M. doesn’t cast the women, that he shows up and shoots with whoever the casting director has chosen for him. But the artist has input―a few years ago Kendrick changed the leading lady in the “Poetic Justice” video because he wanted a darker woman to play his love interest. 2 Chainz went into the “Feds Watching” music video with a vision of highlighting women who have darker skin―skin like his, and his mother's.
Shaka Shaw wrote an excellent article in 2014 for Ebony about hip-hop’s problematic infatuation with white women, fairer skin and Eurocentric features. Colorism and how it has infiltrated the culture is layered in various ways. Growing up, I didn’t notice how much more likely you are to see a woman who looked like Gloria Velez than Bria Myles, or how there are far more Lauren Londons than Lanisha Coles in the rap video archives. I thought beautiful women got cast, that it was simply based on looks and charm. Consider it youthful ignorance, but my eyes are no longer young and naïve. I now notice what I’m being served and who is absent.
You would think that real progress would have been made, a problem highlighted so often should be solved by now, but it hasn't. A song like “Black Is GOLD” is necessary because representation is painfully lacking. Representation is why this topic must constantly be a source of conversation. Women of all shades buy, support and contribute to hip-hop. To exclude and discriminate against such a large number of them is like spitting on a source of support that is irreplaceable. Women—all women—need to be better represented in hip-hop, but especially darker, more Afrocentric women.
This issue is far deeper than casting in a music video, but that’s one way to make strides in destroying the stigmas that water the plant that is colorism. I still enjoy D.R.A.M., I still see him as one of the most jubilant artists in rap music, but until more black women are allowed to be the life of his parties, I’ll have a hard time truly having fun.
By Yoh, aka Ebony Yoh, aka @Yoh31