With a few high-profile exceptions, DJs normally stay in the background, spinning the hits. If they're lucky, maybe they can shout out a few people over the microphone by night's end. But Atlanta's DJ Drama and Miami's DJ Khaled are as big as many of the artists they cue up on their radio shows, mixtapes and, now, their own LPs.
Over the next few months, both DJs-turned-artists will release albums: Drama's highly anticipated debut, Gangsta Grillz: The Album, and Khaled's sophomore set, We the Best, due June 12.
Khaled already has a leg up on Drama with his smash "We Takin' Over," with major radio play and a video in rotation. But don't sleep on Drama: As a Philly youngster, Drama was initially counted out, only to later launch the Aphilliates Music Group and take over the mixtape game.
Here, MTV News pits the two friendly rivals against each other in a tale of the tape to find out who's really taking over.
The reigning Justo's Mixtape DJ of the Year, Drama has built a huge street buzz from Philadelphia to Atlanta and all points on the Internet with his underground mixtapes, which feature everyone from Young Jeezy to Lil Wayne to T.I. Now, following his arrest by the feds for allegedly producing illegal mixtapes
(see "DJ Drama Arrested In Atlanta Mixtape Raid"), it's time for Drama to prove himself with his major-label debut.
This Palestinian-American DJ has been a staple on Miami radio and in South Beach clubs, and he has a knack for breaking future hits, including Rick Ross' massive anthem "Hustlin' " and tracks by Kanye West. Khaled has dropped a few notable mixtapes, but it was his indie debut with Koch Records — last year's Listennn: The Album — that notched him national recognition with the posse cut "Holla at Me." Now he's trying to do it again.
Drama: The Aphilliates Music Group makes like a new N.W.A on "Takin' Pictures," featuring Jeezy, Willie the Kid, Jim Jones, Rick Ross, Young Buck and T.I. along with sinister synths and a screwed chorus from Dame Grease. Jeezy clinches the mood hanging over Drama and company as he spits: "Certified plat, you think I'd rather make hits/ Between me and you, yeah, I'd rather flip bricks." Feds be damned!
Khaled: The king of the posse cut, Khaled lines up Akon, T.I., Ross, Fat Joe, Baby and Wayne for "We Takin' Over," the frenetic Danjahandz-produced banger (see "Timbaland Protege Danja Makes His Own Noise With DJ Khaled, Trey Songz"). Tip and Weezy bring their "A" games, but it's all Akon on this one: Wailing the hook, the Senegalese singer makes vowels sound elastic and stretches words out like LL Cool J's trainer.
Edge: Khaled's cut kills the club, but with all eyes on him, Drama gets the W for sticking it to the man.
Drama: T.I. and Wayne are among the usual suspects (see the guest list on the single above); the final track listing is still being sorted out.
Khaled: Cool & Dre, Trick Daddy, Trina and newcomers Flo-Rida and Brisco provide Khaled with plenty of Miami heat, along with verses from Beanie Sigel, Jadakiss, Ja Rule, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Bun B, Paul Wall, the Game, T-Pain and Juelz Santana.
Edge: Tough to call without knowing the full list, but it looks about even. Push.
Drama: There's that pending court case that has something to do with mixtapes ... And, more recently, a DJ in Chicago has threatened legal action against Drama's label, Atlantic Records, claiming he has rights to the name DJ Drama. That lawsuit has even led the label to push back the release of Drama's album yet again (see "DJ Drama May Lose His Name, But He'll Always Have Outkast").
Khaled: He has major dreams, but on an indie budget at Koch, visibility is scarce. The first single on his last album popped, but the follow-ups — "Born N Raised" and "Grammy Family" — failed to crack the charts.
Edge: Khaled's shoestring budget beats high-priced attorneys' fees any day.
Drama: His Gangsta Grillz mixtapes made him a star in his own right, but having T.I. in your corner doesn't hurt either. Tip and his manager, Jason Geter, partnered with Drama from the ground up after T.I. parted ways with Arista following his debut album. Seeing how Drama helped the Pimp Squad Click get hot in the streets, T.I. and Geter signed Drama to Grand Hustle as a tour DJ. The label, with Atlantic, will release his upcoming album as well.
Khaled: The Miami kingpin joined forces with New York don Fat Joe and became a member of Joe's Terror Squad. The mutually beneficial partnership allowed each to expand his base into the other's hometown.
Edge: With T.I.'s own blockbuster album on the way, you can bet he'll be promoting Drama, too. And discounted 16s from T.I. don't hurt.
The DJ Factor
Drama: A backpacker by trade, Drama paid his dues touring with Philly MC Bahamadia as her DJ before cutting mixtapes in Atlanta. He's no slouch behind the tables — but he's not the new Preemo either.
Khaled: He makes up what he lacks in mixmaster skills with his trademark crowd-hyping phrases and drops, whether it's "Listennn!" or his latest, "We the best!"
Edge: Push. They'd rather have labels cut them a check than cut up a record.
Drama: This one isn't totally fair given that Drama hasn't yet shot a video for his track, but imagine the possibilities: Feds? A prison break?
Khaled: OK, so maybe it isn't that hard to make a video in Miami with all the beautiful women around. But Khaled avoids the club clichés and puts together a "Hypnotized"-inspired clip featuring him and Ross pulling a Poppa-and-Puff with a high-speed car chase in reverse that should have Biggie smiling from above.
Edge: Even if Martin Scorsese directed Drama's video, it'd be hard to top Khaled's cameo-heavy clip.
Drama: Talent-heavy Atlanta is his stomping ground, he has a rising producer at his disposal in partner DJ Cannon and he has all the buzz in the world following his arrest. But Drama also has to satisfy finicky hip-hop fans who have swelling expectations for his project.
Khaled: Miami is his playground, and there's no better time for recess than the summer, which, conveniently, is when Khaled's album drops.
Edge: Khaled is getting hot right when it's getting hot outside. Expect him to provide the soundtrack for Memorial Day weekend and beyond until Drama drops.
Winner: Khaled in a split decision. But we're still checking for Drama.