Soulful dance duo DRAMA is hitting the road with JAIN for its biggest tour yet, and Billboard is excited to premiere “Ready For Love,” a song that has been a set list staple as an unreleased track, today (Oct. 11).
DRAMA’s Na’el Shehade and Via Rosa have music pumping in their veins. Rosa grew up traveling the country with her parents’ reggae band and Shehade has been DJ-ing and producing for years, working on projects like Chance The Rapper’s Acid Rap and G.O.O.D. Music’s Cruel Summer compilation. Fate had the two meet around four years ago, and the subsequent connection was stronger than either of them was expecting.
“It was really natural when I met Na’el,” Rosa tells Billboard. “I couldn’t even explain it if I wanted to, it was so natural. I didn’t expect any of this.”
In the time that’s passed, DRAMA has released two EPs and racked up impressive streaming numbers, all while Shehade and Rosa stay true to themselves as artists. They don’t care about social media followers; they self-release all their music and record in their own studio, and it’s all by choice. “I know what good music sounds like, and I don’t care if it doesn’t sound like what other people are making,” Rosa proclaims. “Standing up to that and fighting for it [is important].” Shehade adds, “We trust each other. That’s what makes it special, and that’s what it was like from the beginning.”
“Ready For Love” is the start of a new chapter for DRAMA, and one that’s special to its creators. “When I think of it, I think of a plant that’s growing,” Rosa explains. “Every 12 bars, a new instrument is added or something changes, and it’s really exciting to watch it grow from a line and a couple chords.” Rosa’s sultry, Sade-esque vocals lead the charge as Shehade carefully adds pieces to the production, creating a slow burn that climaxes with disco-inspired horns and a funky bass line that’s hard not to groove to.
Get a first listen of “Ready For Love” below, and learn more about the song after the jump.
You released your second EP, Lies After Love, earlier this year. Is “Ready For Love” the first offering from a new project?
Via Rosa: Yeah, we’re actually working on our third project right now. We’re just tying up some loose ends and finishing up some new songs that we just stumbled across and decided we want to finish them and see if we can fit them in.
Na’el Shehade: For the most part, it is a part of another body of work. That kind of song, it’s different than the first project and the second project, but it takes elements of both — live instrumentation, live bass, live horns on this one — a disco feel, dance feel. Lots of different emotions. The new project has a lot of dance elements, but it’s also musical and large. I was at UCLA last week recording strings with some of the kids there, it was pretty amazing. It’s like DRAMA on drugs.
Wiil the new project have the same sound and feel as “Ready For Love?”
Shehade: Um, kind of. Our projects are like mixtapes — all our favorite music that goes into a body of work, essentially. We like rap, we like R&B, we like classical, we like ethnic music, so it has all that blended into it.
Rosa: Some of the songs you can tell are from the same world, and then some of the songs you’re just like, “Oh, wow, this is really different than what they’ve done.” I think the project creates three or four different emotions and feelings. There’s some slow songs, some chill jams, then there’s ballads that are very musical, and dance songs, and mixtures of ballads and dance songs. It’s very experimental.
Shehade: But it’s all uplifting.
Are there any stories behind the making of “Ready For Love?”
Rosa: Yeah, actually “Ready for Love,” you could say, is the part two of “Assume the Worst” because it’s technically written about the same person. I haven’t been in a relationship in a really, really long time, and it’s mostly because — I don’t want to say I’m stubborn — but I just kind of know what kind of love I’m looking for, and in the past seven and a half years I haven’t met or seen anything that’s even close to that, and I thought that I did but it was all kind of an illusion. I ended up writing “Assume the Worst” because he just kind of left me in the dark for two weeks. Then the next time I saw him was at a party, and his friend [introduced him to me]. He was like, “Oh, nice to meet you,” and I was like, “Wait a minute, we know each other.” We were almost dating, and now you’re at this party pretending you’ve never met me before.
So then it was another one of those, “Oh, Na’el, I’m so sad,” and he was like, “Get in the booth!”
Rosa: “Assume the Worst” was about when he ghosted on me, and I thought he got hit by a car, or he got deported and moved out of the country, because why would he just not call me back? I actually learned a lot about myself from that, because they say subconsciously you’re treated how you treat other people, and I realize I tend to do that to some of the guys I start talking to. So I was like, “Damn, if I do that, that’s probably why people are doing that to me. I should probably get better at communicating and learning how to keep in contact with people, even if I can’t go visit them or kick it.”
So are you ready for love?
Rosa: YES! The joke at the concert is, “Who’s ready to fall in love tonight? Because I know I am,” as I look around the crowd. But there’s never anybody there who I’m like ooh-ahh [about]. I always say that my life is August Rush, but I’m looking for my husband.
I know doing things DIY was a conscious decision, but was it something you discussed when you began DRAMA, or did the direction just sort of begin to go that way?
Shehade: We started making music out of the love of making music, and the reason why we gravitated was because we both didn’t really give a fuck. We were like, “We’re going to make music, it’s going to be dope, we’re really excited about it.” My thing was just, I want to make music and put it out, and it just grooved. She does her job, I do my job — it’s a true collaboration.
Trust and communication is so important when you’re working with another person.
Shehade: Yeah, and what I’ve seen is — your pride, if you could put that aside, you’ll really progress in life.
Rosa: I think what makes DRAMA really cool for the both of us is we’ve put our pride and ego aside [for the most part] for the better of the group. There are things that I would never do as a solo artist that I do for the group, because I know it’s going to make it better; it’s going to be better, and I’m only going to get better through the process of trying new things.
Na’el, you come from a conservative immigrant family. How have you overcome your parents’ objections to pursuing music?
Shehade: Coming from an Arab-American family, they want you to become a doctor, a lawyer, something of that sort, but I jut didn’t stop. My mom always supported me to a degree, but my dad wasn’t really with it. But they saw me doing well and they kind of got behind me.
But my brothers are 100% my number one fans. They’re the ones who pushed me the most. They’re the reason why I ever even got into music, because they were in the scene DJ-ing and throwing parties and stuff. They encouraged me to keep going and making music.
Growing up Arab-American is very difficult, and I see that strain on other Arab-Americans as well. Art is looked down upon. The video “Hopes Up” pushes that. The girl is supposed to be a Muslim girl. She’s supposed to be me basically. She’s out dancing, she has a boyfriend, and that’s all looked down upon. I’m trying to break the barrier. I traveled to Palestine this year and last year, and I work with a refugee camp. When I’m out there, I teach them how to produce and tell them this is how they get out of this place — making great art and being the best at whatever it is they want to be. I see them dreaming.