When Damon Albarn introduced his new Gorillaz album on the BBC in early April, he called Humanz a "party, club record." Throughout the band's history—five records in 16 years—Gorillaz has translated Albarn's famously dour, britpop vocals into the realm of hip-hop and R&B. He's collaborated with De La Soul, Snoop Dogg, Lou Reed, and MF Doom to craft some of the most genre transcendent music of the 2000s. A party record isn't outside the realm of possibility for Gorillaz—Albarn just needed to call up the right collaborator.
That's when he put in the ask to D.R.A.M., the 28-year-old rapper and singer from Virginia who just went five times platinum with last year's party hit "Broccoli." His smiling vocal inflection is infectiously cheerful. His album cover features him hugging his dog, Idnit. He calls himself Big Baby D.R.A.M.. And backstage at Coachella, where I met him to chat, he couldn't stop smiling. Idnit was there, too, of course, who D.R.A.M. tells me was named "as in, 'Isn't it so cute?'" (He really is.)
A few hours before we met, D.R.A.M. closed out Coachella with a late night party in the desert that lasted until the early hours of Saturday. He didn't seem to be suffering from any lack of sleep, though, shaking his long dreads and excitedly talking about the show, which was "legendary," he said.
Another thing that was legendary for D.R.A.M. was the call he got from Albarn's management asking him to work on a Gorillaz song. "I'm like, Fuck yeah!" D.R.A.M. told them. It's an invite he never expected—an honor only a handful of artists can add to their credits. "I ended up flying out to London working with them for two days straight and worked on a few records," D.R.A.M. said. "This guy is the coolest. He's so fucking cool, bro. Like English cool in the back of a… cigar shop or pool lounge."
This month, Gorillaz released the D.R.A.M.-featuring "Andromeda." Among the first handful of new Gorillaz songs in six years, "Andromeda" is the most fun of the batch: a pulsing, subdued club banger with D.R.A.M. providing the pre-chorus hook and backing vocals. It's a song that is neither typical of D.R.A.M. nor Gorillaz, which highlights the unique result of Albarn's creative process.
"I just really think it was a great record and timing, especially when he broke it down the meaning of it," D.R.A.M. said. "The name is from the spot where he used to go party at back in his hometown. It's very sentimental. That's why it's so crazy, because when I was just doing what I did, the name of the song when I first got it was called 'Party Time.' That's what I was basing it off of and it kind of was that unspoken, but it worked."
D.R.A.M. told me that he also contributed vocals to "We Got the Power," the closing record of the upcoming Gorillaz album (the track listing currently only lists Jehnny Beth as a featured guest). Humanz is due out on 28 April and also includes guest appearances from Vince Staples, Grace Jones, Mavis Staples, De La Soul, Benjamin Clementine, and Anthony Hamilton.