T.I., “U Know What It Is” (Originally Published March 2007)
He rolls with the top-selling artist in the game. He has the most sought-after mixtape franchise in hip-hop. He runs rap’s no. 1 DJ crew. How can DJ Drama’s competition keep up?
Branding is the key to big business. Since Y2K, no other DJ has done a better job of searing his signature into hip-hop’s hind flanks than T.I.’s inhouse, in-concert wax spinner, the leader of DJ supercrew the Aphilliates, DJ Drama.
After fueling the rise of Southern hip-hop over the past few years with his Gangsta Grillz mixtape series (which has yielded such classic street albums as T.I.’s Down With the King, Young Jeezy’s Trap or Die and Lil Wayne’s Dedication 2), the West Philadelphia–bred, Atlanta-based 27-year-old upgraded in ’06 with a new Grand Hustle/Atlantic Records deal for his official debut, Gangsta Grillz: The Album. You’ve copped the product, now it’s time to get more familiar with the disc jock who’s made himself more relevant than most of today’s MCs. As he would advise, pay attention.
What separates you from all the other DJs that are out now?
My track record. I don’t get caught up in what I did yesterday. I could easily sit here and talk about my Down With the King CD and Trap or Die or Dedication 2 or signing the deal, but that was yesterday. I’m a student of the game, so I know how fast the game moves, which keeps me hungry and humble.
How did you wind up landing your deal through Grand Hustle?
I knew for a while that if I kept the brand of Gangsta Grillz going, I’d get a deal. I had a couple different offers, but me being [on the road] with Tip, I had already been in the system. I liked the movement, so I figured it’d be good to keep it in the family. We sat down with Kevin Liles, and I remembered the old DJ Clue situation with Roc-A-Fella. Being able to work with people in that circle that already did the DJ albums when they were successful was how I made the decision to come to Atlantic.
The Gangsta Grillz mixtape series is in such industry demand. How do you decide which artists get a tape?
The music, the movement—timing is important to me. I turn a lot of projects away, and I pick the right ones. I treat it just like the cover of XXL. You’re going to put who’s deserving on it. I never want it to become, “Gangsta Grillz? That was the shit yesterday.” So I keep it very fresh and very tight, to not be pimped by the industry. I know everybody is in their boardrooms like, “Aight, we gotta get a Gangsta Grillz tape.” But them niggas don’t really give a fuck. They just wanna roll with what’s hot.