If you’re giving credit to artists who’ve jump-started careers of rappers and kept the buzz going for megastars, DJ Drama’s name should top the list. His Gangsta Grillz brand changed how rappers are promoted. Young Jeezy, Lil Wayne and T.I. gained prominence during the early 2000s after teaming up with DJ Drama to release a mixtape.
Eventually, mixtapes became a rite of passage for any rapper or DJ looking to build a buzz, remain relevant or rejuvenate a stalled career. It’s a bold way for hip-hop artists to reclaim their art and reach fans without the help of a major label.
“There is no argument across the board [or] on any side of the industry on how important mixtapes are,” DJ Drama says. “If you look at any of the recent stars, they have released mixtapes at some point in their career. Artists are opting out of doing major label albums right now to put out mixtapes. It puts them in a good position to set up for an album and go on the road. We now have a whole generation of artists that consistently tour off mixtapes without ever releasing an album.”
After years of releasing music independently, DJ Drama decided to use a major label deal to take his brand to the next level. He released two albums on Atlantic Records, Gangsta Grillz: The Album I and II, and his third album, Third Power, on E1 Music. DJ Drama contends that there are benefits to going the traditional route and signing to a major. “I know all sides of both industries. The mixtape hustle taught me a lot and put me in the position to do a major label album. A lot of what I do is a self-contained movement, so I’m not a typical artist on a major. I’m able to maneuver in a different way,” he closes.