DJ Drama’s impact on hip-hop culture is unfathomable, and the artists he has helped gain traction in the US are now some of the biggest in the world. The DJ (real name Tyree Simmons) has been a cultural tastemaker for over a decade and has broken some iconic acts.
Born in Philadelphia, Simmons began compiling his own mixtapes after purchasing several after a trip to New York. Assembling local compilations boasting tracks from the likes of Black Thought, Dice Raw, and Malik B, in 1996, he released his first official tape entitled, Illadelph. Simmons relocated to Atlanta for university, where he befriended two other Philadelphia DJs, DJ Sense and Don Cannon. The three swiftly formed a trio known as the Aphilliates.
As part of the Aphiliates, operating under the pseudonym DJ Drama, Simmons began contacting Southern artists and collectives to feature on his mixtapes and, in 1998, released Jim Crow Laws. The mixtape performed exceptionally well on the underground scene, leading Simmons to begin his iconic Gangsta Grillz mixtape series.
Located in Atlanta, the Aphiliates had a vast reaching network and influence on the mixtape circuit. Before long, DJ Drama and Don Cannon were helping legends such as T.I., Young Jeezy and Three 6 Mafia with their mixtapes. However, DJ Drama’s biggest success story is alongside Lil Wayne.
Lil Wayne released an unfathomable amount of mixtapes in the 2000s. Alongside DJ Drama, The Louisiana emcee released seven volumes of Squad Up, three volumes of Da Drought, six volumes of Dedication, and many more. With artists such as Tyga, Nicki Minaj and more featuring on some of the latter CDs, DJ Drama has broken some big artists. Furthermore, as a Philadelphia native, he helped discover and market Lil Uzi Vert.
Simmons, especially his Gangsta Grillz series, has been a staple of underground hip-hop in the South for decades and paved the way for many up-and-coming MCs. In an interview with the esteemed music publication Pitchfork for hip-hop’s 50th anniversary, Simmons spoke about his career and even named his favourite rap song of all time.
When asked what rap song he loves the most, Simmons responded, ‘Juicy’ by The Notorious B.I.G. Elaborating on why the 1994 hit is his favourite, the Philadelphia native explained, “It’s universal and universally known, word for word. It epitomizes so much of what hip-hop is about, taking from the old, with that Mtume ‘Juicy Fruit’ sample, and recreating it for a new generation. That’s what hip-hop was built upon.”
He continued, “From a DJ perspective, I love how he shouts out Ron G, Brucie B, and Kid Capri. There’s the influence of legacy in the song, with lines like, ‘Remember Rappin’ Duke? Duh-ha, duh-ha/You never thought that hip hop would take it this far.’ He wrote that line about 20 years into the history of the music. Now, we’re 50 years in and thinking about lines like that from 30 years ago. Now, you can’t believe hip-hop would take it this far.”
You can listen to ‘Juicy’ in the video below.