When it comes to hosting mixtapes nobody comes close to DJ Drama, the record executive and the creator of the influential Gangsta Grillz series has worked so hard in the past 22 years building a trademark that has led to the rise of hip-hop giants such that a DJ Drama mixtape became a certification in its own right benefitting from his signature ability to carefully combine tracks and prop up artists.
DJ Drama was still living in his mother’s house as a teenager when he started building a hip-hop legacy that would later define the golden era of hip-hop and influence modern-day hip-hop. With two turn tables and inspired by the sounds of famous hosts like DJ Clue blasting out of the speakers of cars, he started cementing his own movement as early as the 2000s.
He began hustling song compilations at clubs, concerts, and colleges. Soon enough, he was able to step up his game and brought in hosts like Lil Jon “Gangsta Griiii-zilllz” on Drama’s fourth installation of the Gangsta series. By the time he released the Gangsta Grillz series 6 with Killer Mike, David Banner, and Bone Crusher, word of mouth was already spreading on the street about his mixtape, and the Philadephia DJ was already up there building an actual brand for himself.
DJ Drama began the Gangsta Grillz series in 2001, a name he coined simply by playing with words. Although, one would argue that the name might have come to mind because of the way rappers represented themselves at the time; Gangsta, fearless and typical hood-looking. By 2003, the Philadephia DJ was already making a name for himself with the Gangsta Grillz series proving instrumental and attaining early successes with T.I’s Down With the King (2004) and Jeezy’s Trap or Die (2005).
When it comes to hosting his mixtapes, DJ Drama theoretically oversees the product from picking the tracks to sequencing them much like an official album’s executive producer would. Inside his Means St. Studio in Atlanta today, his wall of fame contains snapshots of artists who have passed through including a wide array of Snoop Dogg, Megan Thee Stallion, Ice Cube, Big Boi, Nipsey Hussle, 2 chains, Lil Wayne amongst others.
What DJ Drama’s Gangsta Grillz Run Looks Like in Recent Times
More than two decades later and over 150 Gangsta Grillz series, DJ Drama’s instrumental mixtape series is still influencing the modern hip-hop culture and is finally getting the recognition it deserves having won the 64th Grammy Award this year for Best Rap Album with Tyler the Creator’s 2021 album Call Me If You Get Lost and debuting as the No. 1 album in the country as at the time of its release.
Speaking on the success of the aforementioned tape, DJ Drama had said to XXL “It was kind of wild because [Don] Cannon even put it into perspective for me, just thinking about the origins of Gangsta Grillz and my modest mixtape humble beginnings,” he says of the chart-topping effort. “And you know, hustling mixtapes for five dollars a pop or just starting Gangsta Grillz and creating a name. 18 or 19 years later, for it to be part of a No. 1 album is incredible. It’s really full circle. It was a dope moment.”
This year alone, DJ Drama has been on a Gansta Grillz run, hosting mixtapes for some of the top and thriving artists. Earlier this year, he started with Dipset member Jim Jones’s Gangsta Grillz: We Set the Trends and went on to release D-Day: A Gangsta Grillz Mixtape with J. Cole and his Dreamsville members ahead of the 2022 Dreamsville festival. He also returned with NBA Young boy’s Ma’ I Got a Family on the singer’s 23rd birthday and Jeezy’s Snofall. His long-time collaborator Snoop Dogg also brought him in to host his most recent tape Gangsta Grillz: I Still Got It and announced and has been rumored to be working on a new project with Meek Mill.
The lasting resonance of DJ Drama’s Gangsta Grillz Mixtape series is proof that it’s a legacy that continues to build up the walls of hip-hop to date from one of the best to do it in the game.