With roughly 100 mixtapes to his credit since his first, "Illadelph" in 1995, DJ Drama is regarded as the leading hip-hop mixtape DJ of the past 10 years. Through his signature "Gangsta Grillz" mixtape series, the Philadelphia-born, Atlanta-based DJ has helped break the careers of such artists as T.I. and Young Jeezy, and his work with Lil Wayne on the "Dedication" mixtape series played a role in setting up Wayne to be a pop powerhouse.
In addition to continuing his work as a mixtape DJ, Drama hosts a syndicated radio show on WHTA Atlanta and "Gangsta Grillz Radio" on SiriusXM's Shade45 channel. He recently launched his own site and his third album, "Third Power," will arrive Oct. 11 on E1 Music. His previous sets, 2007's "Gangsta Grillz: The Album" and 2009's "Gangsta Grillz: The Album (Vol. 2)," were released through Grand Hustle/Atlantic. Both projects peaked at No. 26 on the Billboard 200.
In January 2007, Drama's Atlanta offices were raided by authorities. Drama and DJ Don Cannon were arrested on racketeering charges stemming from their sale of mixtapes. The two were held overnight and the charges later dismissed.
1.) After so much success, do you still feel a need to be involved with mixtapes?
When the big raid happened in '07, I felt like I had a certain obligation to the game because that situation kind of happened while I was at the forefront-the face of mixtapes. Since then I've really wanted to keep that up and still go hard on the mixtapes. I think that [mixtapes] are as alive and well as they always were, but with new technology, it's brought a whole new generation to really know and love them. I realized it when I did Chris Brown's In My Zone tape. I was getting certain feedback . . . [and] I realized [I was] introducing mixtapes to a whole new audience that didn't grow up with [DJs like] the Ron Gs and the Clues or the Green Lanterns or Kay Slays or even the Dramas. Different artists are crossing over into that world. But at this point, right now in 2011, there are very few artists that would surprise you if they were to drop a mixtape.
2.) How have mixtapes changed?
Today, a lot of the mixtapes that I drop, I don't even print up physical copies. A lot of it lives online, so that changed. But I also remember back in '07 . . . not really a lot of artists broke that year. And then Drake came with his projects, and Wiz Khalifa and so forth. As the mixtapes came back, the artists and their movements came back as well and people realized that it's important to the culture. Most of the artists these days, from Wiz, from Drake, from J. Cole, from Kendrick Lamar . . . all the people that people talk about, it's come back to that mixtape era. People [also] started to take mixtapes, after they were available for free, and package them and put them in stores and sell them. Which in a situation like me and Fabolous did, with There Is No Competition 2, that was available for months for free, and then because of the popularity, it got rereleased into stores [through Def Jam] with a couple of extra songs, videos were shot . . . people started to really treat them as albums, whereas they were used at a point to promote a [retail] album that was coming out.
3.) What are fans getting from a DJ Drama album?
Some bangers, man. A good mixture of new artists as well as artists you've become accustomed to, not far off from the quality that you expect from me.
Video: DJ Drama, "Oh My"
4.) In your position, is it any easier to gather artists for an album?
It's always a challenge because you deal with schedules, and artists that have agendas as well, but the respect level is mutual and the love is there. I wouldn't necessarily say it's easier, but I know how things work so I have a good formula for getting things done.
5.) Does technology simplify putting songs together?
To an extent, but you still have to be careful . . . you try not to do too much emailing [because of concerns over hacks and leaks].
6.) Do you see yourself ever reaching a point where you're past mixtapes -- like, bigger than them?
I don't know. I love mixtapes. And I love bringing new music to the people, so as long as the game still wants me here, I'll still be here.