With any hit single comes the inevitable question of how to follow it up. This is the exact predicament oddball rapper/singer/dog-lover D.R.A.M. finds himself in on his debut album, “Big Baby D.R.A.M..” His double-platinum hit “Broccoli” was the indisputable song of the summer, and it shows no signs of slowing down now. The song finds D.R.A.M. and collaborator Lil Yachty at their respective bests, their exuberant warbles coupling perfectly with the sparse, two-chord piano beat. “Broccoli” is joyous and carefree and does what pop music is supposed to do: remind us that life can be fun.
If nothing else, D.R.A.M.’s music is jubilance personified. When listening to songs like “Broccoli,” or last year’s breakout hit, “Cha Cha,” one can’t help but smile. To hear such pure joy encapsulated in music is refreshing. Unfortunately, D.R.A.M., just like so many pop artists before him, was unable to effectively translate the brilliance of his biggest hits into a worthwhile full-length album. While “Big Baby D.R.A.M.” offers many promising moments, it feels, for the most part, like a half-baked collection of throwaways that were scraped together and released because his record label told him he needed to release an album. However, D.R.A.M. does have a saving grace: his infectious, happy-go-lucky personality. His charm and charisma bleed through on even the most forgettable of tracks, and ultimately salvage the album from being a total flop.
D.R.A.M. has a unique ability to create something special out of nothing. No one else could pull off a song like “Cute.” The subject matter isn’t particularly substantial, but the hook, which is simply, “I think you’re cute/I think you’re cute/Oh yes I do/I think you’re cute,” is one of D.R.A.M.’s most infectious yet. It’s one of those songs you find yourself singing along to without even realizing it. The Ray Charles-sampling “Cash Machine” and the Erykah Badu-assisted “WiFi” are high points as well. “Cash Machine” is a love song dedicated to, as you may have guessed, a cash machine. “My cash machine, my cash machine/I love it when you talk to me,” D.R.A.M. sings. It’s goofy and accessible in all the right ways. “WiFi” goes in a different direction sonically than the rest of the album. It features a smooth R&B beat that sounds straight out of 1997. D.R.A.M.’s signature sense of humor is still on display, however. He and Badu go back and forth, crooning about their cell phone reception. “Do you got Wifi? Is there a signal in your house?/While we chillin on the couch,baby/Do you got Wifi? ‘Cause I really wanna show you somethin’/But my phone is fuckin’ up,” D.R.A.M. asks in the first verse. In the next verse Badu answers, “Boy I got Wifi/And my service is nice at that/And it comes at no price at that/Let me know where your iPhone at/To log on my Wifi.” It’s an ode to the role of the internet in modern day romance, and it’s oddly compelling. These songs highlight what D.R.A.M. does best: taking casual, surface-level ideas, and turning them into songs that are captivating and improbably engaging.
While the highs are high, “Big Baby D.R.A.M.”’s occasional moments of excellence aren’t enough to carry an entire album. His playful wit can’t hold together tracks like “Password” or “Monticello,” and in the end we’re left with eight or nine songs which really have no reason to exist other than to fill out the album. Some of them show flashes of promise. The Young Thug-assisted “Misunderstood,” for example, has the potential to be a hit, but both D.R.A.M. and Young Thug deliver uncharacteristically uninspired verses and the song is ruined by a dramatic arena rock guitar riff, which feels excessive and extremely out of place.
“Big Baby D.R.A.M.” raises a question which has plagued pop stars for over half a century: what is the role of a good pop album? It’s a more difficult question than it may seem, and it’s one that very few artists over the past couple decades have been able to answer successfully. And, ultimately, I think that is because the entire concept of an album is essentially the antithesis of pop music. Pop music is all about instant gratification. It is hedonistic pleasure in it’s purest musical form, and it’s designed to be consumed in doses of three-four minutes. This is what makes translating pop music into a 50-minute album such an issue; how does an artist make music that can hold someone’s attention for such an extended period of time, when the music itself is designed for brevity? That isn’t to say that it hasn’t been done successfully — it certainly has — but D.R.A.M. seems to have gone the same route as so many pop stars before him. He made a few good songs and then settled for 35 minutes of mediocre filler. But in the end is that such a bad thing? The world needs more songs like “Broccoli,” and I’m more than willing to take a couple forgettable album tracks if it means we get a few more moments of pop bliss.