82youngdro.jpg“I’ve been serious all my life,” says 27-year-old Young Dro, just days before shooting the video for his hood smash “Shoulder Lean” in Atlanta. “But I find fun in my music.” Lacing his lead single with whimsical phrases like “lima bean six” and “salamander silence,” Dro has distinguished himself as an imaginative Southern rhyme sayer. But life hasn’t always come as easy to Dro as his creative wordplay.

Dro, born Djuan Hart, grew up in Atlanta’s impoverished Bankhead Courts projects, where to him hustling seemed inevitable. Sure enough, a 16-year-old Djuan succumbed to the streets and got shot in the back and stomach after a scuffle with “some old-school dude.” “I had to wear a shit bag for like a year,” recalls Dro, of his lengthy recovery. “I was traumatized from that. I couldn’t laugh. I couldn’t walk or nothing.”

Though Dro admits the experience made his behavior worse (he left school in the 11th grade, and spent his late teens and early 20s in and out of jail), hip-hop gave him hope. He’d been writing rap lyrics since the ninth grade; and eventually, with the encouragement of his boys, Dro decided to pursue a career in rap.

Beginning in 2000, Dro struggled through a series of failed record deals, including a stint on bass music icon Raheem the Dream’s Tight IV Life Records. In ’04, Dro’s career started to finally take off when he decided to team up with a neighborhood friend nicknamed Tip. “I had been trying to sign Dro since like ’97, before I was even trying to get a deal for myself,” says T.I. “Anyone with ears can hear he got talent. He knows how to express himself. And while that may sound innocent, he’s also comfortable around killers. There’s something so human yet unsettling about that.”

Signing with T.I.’s label, Grand Hustle, earlier this year, Dro has been busy readying heat-seeking fans for his summer debut, Best Thang Smokin’. Now, with a hot street record, loads of credibility and a successful label backing him, Young Dro’s in a position of power. “I worked hard,” he says. “I knew I had it in me, it just took a minute.”