Big Baby D.R.A.M. is the heroic R&B prankster we all need right now

D.R.A.M. at Grizzly Hall. Photo by Kyser Lough for American-Statesman

D.R.A.M. at Grizzly Hall. Photo by Kyser Lough for American-Statesman

Unencumbered by any notion of what a rapper or R&B singer should be, Shelley Marshaun Massenburg-Smith, the artist better know as D.R.A.M., takes a freewheeling approach, driven by passion and sheer joy. He’s a heroic prankster who’s sweeping the country, making music fun again.

A-LIST PHOTOS: D.R.A.M. at Grizzly Hall

A sold out crowd packed into Grizzly Hall Thursday to watch him shape-shift from New Jack rap crooner to lounge singer to straight up rock god. Eyes in blunted slits, long dreds down his back and his signature broad Cheshire cat grin lighting up the stage, he kicked off with a one-two punch from the top of his excellent 2016 album “Big Baby D.R.A.M.,” smoothly segueing from the melodramatic soul hook of “Get It Myself” into the explosive glam rock of “Misunderstood.”


Backed by a 3-piece live band and a DJ, he powered through a buoyant hour-long set. He earnestly serenaded a young lady in the front row, led a sing-along of his cameo from Chance the Rapper’s “Coloring Book” (“D.R.A.M. Sings Special”) and pulled out the paper money shooter to shower the audience on “Cash Machine.”

He paused several times during the show to encourage the crowd to shout out their mamas and to chant “Spread love.” Though he was a bit hoarse, he sang his heart out. Though he doesn’t have a ’90s boy band body, he let his feet get loose on the floor.


Throughout the performance he didn’t banter much and he definitely didn’t talk politics, but he radiated love. “Just to be in front of y’all is a blessing,” he said towards the end of the set.

Even though he’s mad talented, D.R.A.M. feels like an underdog, an unlikely superhero, with an oddball musical approach that works way better than it seems like it should. The crowd, young and diverse, was fully engaged, screaming wildly throughout the night.

The 28-year-old Hampton, Virginia-based artist was gracious and warm. He seemed genuinely amazed at how big he’s suddenly become. He’d better get used to it, because he’s about to get much bigger.


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