How Tyler, the Creator and DJ Drama Made a 'Gangsta Grillz' Album
DJ Drama sits for an interview to explain how he helped give Tyler, the Creator's 'Call Me If You Get Lost' some classic 'Gangsta Grillz' energy.
Image via Tyler, the Creator & DJ Drama
When we heard DJ Drama’s voice on Tyler, the Creator’s “Lumberjack,” many of us thought it was a dope, nostalgic move for a lead single. But when we heard Drama again on Call Me If You Get Lost’s second single “Wusyaname,” it became clear Tyler was about to take us back to 2007, when Gangsta Grillz was the preeminent mixtape series in the game.
DJ Drama has collaborated with stars like Lil Wayne, Gucci Mane, and Jeezy on some of the most beloved mixtapes in rap history. His gruff, booming shit talk was a staple of mid-2000s rap, setting the tone by urging listeners to “pay attention!” and closing classic tapes with shoutouts and boasts like, “I don’t wanna be the mixtape king no more. More like the mixtape president! Barack O’Drama,” on “My Weezy” from Wayne’s Dedication 3.
Those who grew up after the mixtape heyday might not realize just how much his presence bolstered a listening experience. But Tyler sought to remind everyone of that on Call Me If You Get Lost, which is hosted by Drama. Drama says Tyler came to him “last summer” about hosting the album, and he traveled to LA for “four or five” sessions where they put it all together over a loose time frame of “August, September” 2020 to “a couple months” ago.
It was a collaborative process, with Tyler offering ideas but also relying on the mixtape legend to do what he does best and narrate in true Dramatic fashion. Tyler, ever a student of music history, tweeted in 2010 that he wanted his own Gangsta Grillz project. And like so many of his speak-it-into-existence tweets, he finally got it, excitedly clarifying that he now has his own Gangsta Grillz “ALBUM.”
We spoke with Drama about how the album came together, what Tyler is like in the studio, and how Pharrell’s In My Mind: The Prequel tape was an inspiration for the album.
When I reached out on Thursday about this interview, you said you hadn’t heard the final version of the album yet. Now that you’ve listened, what do you think of it?
It was incredible. I had heard the music. I just hadn’t heard it, like, in sequence. I think it’s definitely going to be a contender for album of the year, for sure.
How do you feel about the reception to the project? A lot of people are loving the Gangsta Grillz nostalgia.
I love it. I’m somebody that has thick skin, so I love all the compliments and I laugh at all the—what should I call it—the hatred, I guess. I went on Twitter this morning and just read through it. It’s crazy to me. But overall, the people that are excited or feel like it’s nostalgic for them or just it brings that energy, that’s [who] we did it for. And I’m sure that’s what Tyler had in mind when he brought me aboard.
How did your presence on the album come about?
As you can see from Tyler’s tweet, he said 10 or 11 years ago that he wanted a fuckin’ Gangsta Grillz. So we’ve worked together in the past, and been cool and cordial through the years. Last summer, he reached out to me. He was like, “Yo, I got something. I got this idea.” And we talked it over. Initially he was going to send me the music, but we all decided that it’d be best if I just come out to LA and work on it directly.
So I came out sometime last year. We just started the process of working on it and going over it and everything. It was a great experience. Working with Tyler, just really diving into his world and his brain on how he cut the music, is super dope.
And I think something that has to be discussed, [is that] there’s a generation of people that love the Gangsta Grillz series for what it was. And then there’s also another generation that pays a lot of homage to Pharrell’s In My Mind: The Prequel. And Tyler is one of those [people]. Me and him discussed it [and] I see people discussing it. I think this is Tyler’s ode to that project, Pharrell’s In My Mind: The Prequel.
Had he ever previously broached the idea of doing a Gangsta Grillz? Or was last summer the first time he formally asked you?
I honestly can’t remember. I mean, he may have asked, but last summer was really when it came to fruition.
“I was screaming all types of flash all over the place.”
What exact contributions did you have on the project?
I was just talking that talk. I mean, what you hear is what you get, honestly, from me.
What was the workflow like in the studio?
Great energy. We pretty much clowned and laughed and joked the whole time. We had about four or five sessions over the past year. And for every one of them, the vibe was fun. Tyler’s very low maintenance. He’ll be in there, just him and his engineer working. He has very fresh ideas. He has his own vision. Obviously, when you listen to the music or if you know Tyler, you know that he’s a one man band. From production, to all aspects of it. He had visions. He had ideas for me, things to scream and yell, and I would come with mine. I would be in a booth. I would just see him out there, super excited. And then we would bounce ideas off of each other.
What’s it like collaborating with Tyler compared to other Gangsta Grillz projects?
Normally in these types of situations, if I do a Gangsta Grillz with somebody, they compile their music together and hand it over to me, and then I’ll go in on my own without them and do my thing and return the finished product. With Tyler, it was a little different: I came in, gave him an abundance of things—even more than what I had originally placed—and just gave him enough material to choose from and layer it out.
I think this being his dream in a lot of ways, I wanted to give him the components to make his masterpiece. It has that Gangsta Grillz feel, but this is Tyler’s album. I wanted to relinquish some of the control and let him do what he always dreamed about.
I was screaming all types of flash all over the place. I may have done three or four takes on some songs. On some songs, you hear the second take. On some songs you hear the first take. On some you might hear the fourth.
A lot of the stuff you were saying fit the theme and the title of the songs. What was the recording process like? Did you just listen to [the songs] a couple of times and then just get in the booth?
Yeah. I try to attack it like a rapper would. My shit don’t rhyme, but I listen to the music and I try to complement it. That’s why it’s so funny to me when I see or hear people talk about me screaming, or “just shut the fuck up” and I’m so “annoying” and all that. I get that. It’s an acquired taste. It’s not the first time somebody told me I’m annoying and to shut the fuck up. But I do feel like I’m the dressing. I’m the sauce on top of the chicken. So I try to come in and find pockets where I’m not overbearing on Tyler, or come in between spaces where it just complements the record.
“I think this is Tyler’s ode to that project, Pharrell’s In My Mind: The Prequel.”
Are there any songs that didn’t make the final cut that you recorded over?
I can’t speak on that. I’ll let Tyler answer that one.
What are some of your favorite memories from the sessions?
One of my favorite memories is from one of our first sessions. Jack Harlow called me and they stopped me and I put him on the phone with Tyler and Tyler said some outlandish shit to him. I just remember Jack’s face and then being stuck. He’s spoken about being a fan of Tyler and really growing up and looking up to him. So that was the first time ever talking to him or meeting him. That was a classic moment. Just that initial interaction and thinking back on that.
What kind of stuff was he telling him?
Oh man, have you seen the video that I posted? The conversation that me and him have in those 45 seconds...I’ll leave it to your wildest imagination of the type of things that may have come out of that man’s mouth.
As you referenced earlier, you imbued the project with your presence and the Gangsta Grillz feel, but it’s Tyler’s album. Do you consider this album a part of the Gangsta Grillz catalog?
Absolutely. I mean, why wouldn’t I? How could I not? It’s fascinating to me just to think about. It’s like a full circle. I mean, obviously Gangsta Grillz[had] an impactful and amazing run in the mid 2000s. But just to think that in 2021, an artist like Tyler understands. In a way, it’s giving me my flowers, and I appreciate that. I love that as well, even with him just trying to get that feel. People talk to me about that a lot, like that feeling’s missing. So yeah, we would be insane not to feel like Call Me If You Get Lost is part of the Gangsta Grillz family.
In the video you referenced, Tyler was really reverent about you and your impact on the game. Beyond that clip, did he share that similar sentiment to you in private?
Yeah, we’ve definitely talked about that. We talked about that even before the sessions. Tyler’s always shown me love when it comes to my contributions to the culture. His brain is amazing. He’s like Rain Man when it comes to not only just hip-hop, [but] music in general. I mean, Tyler can literally tell you the date that an album came out in the last 30-plus years. So I mean, he knows my shit like anything else. It’s a fun conversation to have with somebody who really knows that much about the culture and the music. And I’m very similar. Me and him, my friends, we sat around even when we weren’t working and just talked about rap and hip-hop and various generations and cultures.
“We pretty much clowned and laughed and joked the whole time. We had about four or five sessions over the past year. And for every one of them, the vibe was fun.”
What was your favorite song to work on?
I can’t pick one. I’m still digesting, so it’s going to be hard. I got to go through it. That’s like asking me my favorite Gangsta Grillz. I can’t. I can’t do that.
I feel that. Are you down to explore this format again with other artists, where you host the album but it’s not necessarily titled a Gangsta Grillz project?
Let the games begin. I’m all for it. Kudos to Tyler for being so innovative, but I’m always down. Respectfully, I’ve done projects [like that] through the years. I think this one obviously has had the most spotlight on it, and rightfully so. But yeah, I’m always down. We try to restore that feel. And if not, I love that it happened. I’m blessed and I’m thankful that I have an abundance of other amazing things going on in my career and my life within the culture. My label keeps me occupied. It keeps me busy. So if people never want to hear me scream again, they won’t have to.
Beyond just this project, how long did it take you to find a groove and find your voice when it comes to talking shit on tracks?
It took me a little bit of time. I mean, I had been doing mixtapes for damn near a decade before I rose to prominence. I think around the Trap or Die years and Dedication 2 is really where I feel like my formula was 100 percent. It took me some time to find my voice and to stand out from the pack.
Over the years, I think I got better and better. I was able to even get creative with my cadences and my tones. I would vary on projects, whether it was a Curren$y tape or a Gucci tape. I went and attacked it the same way. I would scream or talk or whatever have you. Less is more. And sometimes things go over people’s heads. There’s also been times when people have done the best DJ Drama rants on mixtapes. So again, looking X amount of years later, it took me some time. But it was just about building on what others had done and getting creative.
What are your next plans?
I’m just focused a lot on my label, Generation Now. We have new music from Jack dropping. We have new music from Seddy [Hendrinx] dropping. We got some music from Uzi dropping. We just signed some new artists as well. And yeah, I’ve been working on some other music as well. Just getting back outside, getting back in the streets, man. And I say that to say back outside, back in the streets, not after Tyler’s album, I say that after COVID.
Is there anything else that you wanted to say about the album?
I just hope they enjoy it. For those who hate me, I’m sorry, Call Me If You Get Lost. But everybody else, you got to thank Tyler, as do I. He’s a genius.