Johnny Drama Is Changing What You Thought About the Long Island Hip-Hop Scene
One hit at a time
Chicago. New York City. Los Angeles.
Those three names are at the top of a long list of areas known for producing and nurturing rap talent — a list that in most iterations excludes Long Island, New York altogether.
While those cities are likely to remain as bastions of the hip-hop scene for the foreseeable future, there’s still room for outsiders in the game.
Enter John Sammis, aka Johnny Drama.
The 21 year-old performer is under no delusions about the amount of opportunities in Long Island, as he is part of J$tash’s Los-Angeles based Relax Rekords, and seems to see his future as being away from the Empire State. Still, he believes that people underestimate the level of musical talent and passion that exists in his area.
“As far as music goes, there’s a lot of people in Long Island, and especially my county — Suffolk County — that are pursuing music and take it very seriously,” the rapper said.
Drama is certainly one of those people, and although his SoundCloud page may indicate overnight success, he’s been making music for a very long time.
Sammis estimated that he started making music around seven or eight years ago, joking around with friends and rapping over Lil Wayne instrumentals.
Though Drama’s current sound is littered with “futuristic” beats, catchy hooks and melodic singing, he is also a product of the past, and believes he holds an edge over other rappers because of that.
“I started like seven or eight years ago, and everything was different,” Drama said. “A lot of these guys that are just kind of getting into it, like a year or two years deep, they don’t really have that lyrical bar ability, I think.”
Drama is able to showcase that technical ability in his music, including on his new project Been in the Hills, but he certainly leans more towards the singing side of hip-hop, as he believes producing catchy melodies is essential to finding commercial success.
His shift in sound away from more traditional, lyrical hip-hop occurred about three years ago, and Sammis credits this transition to a phase he spent listening to one of the most polarizing artists in the rap world.
“When I started listening to Chief Keef, a lot of people would look down on him as far as his musical ability goes,” Drama said.
Despite those sentiments, however, Drama was inspired by Keef’s twist on the typical trap sound, as he admired the Chicago rapper’s ability to fuse the typical fodder about guns and violence with melodic, “auto-tuney” hooks.
Drama has used that inspiration to catapult himself to his current status: a rapper and producer with an ever-growing profile under the tutelage of Relax Rekords’ boss J$tash.
The two were connected about two years ago after J$tash rapped over Drama’s beat in “Guerillas,” and realized the talent of the Long Island rapper.
“He contacted me via Twitter, and it kinda’ took off from there,” Drama said. “I saw it as an opportunity to work with somebody that was popular, and I think it’s done only but good for me.”
As a Relax artist, Drama has quickly made a name for himself, garnering over 800,000 listens on his songs “Way Up” and “Splashin’” respectively.
However, his most known song in reality is probably “Brackin,’” which has amassed nearly 700,000 listens on his SoundCloud page and circulated virally this year after being included in a popular vine that the likes of Wiz Khalifa reposted.
Drama enjoyed seeing his song included in such a highly viewed video, but minces no words about the big mistake that the initial spreaders of the Vine committed.
“To be honest it’s completely irrelevant to me, because that Vine doesn’t even have the song posted in any description,” Drama said. “So that’s a major inconvenience.”
As frustrated as Sammis may have been by the lack of recognition he received for “Brackin,’” he should take solace in the role it played in a legitimately viral video.
Drama hasn’t fully arrived yet, but he’s definitely onto something.
His latest mixtape Been in the Hills is a strong reminder of that, as his versatile skill set is showcased throughout. “100x”, a song where Drama sings over a bouncy, almost Travis Scott-esque beat is yet another demonstration of his ability to make hits, and it has as good a chance as any song on the project to blow up.
Sammis is undoubtedly in a good spot for a 21 year-old, as he’s settled under a label, has some genuinely popular songs on SoundCloud and boasts an engaged, steadily growing fan base.
Still, he’s already plotting his next move.
“J$tash has an affiliation with Rich the Kid, so it would be great to link up with him and make something cool,” Drama said.
The Long Island native also hopes to produce music with Metro Boomin in the near future, a goal which may be scoffed at in some corners but shows Drama’s steadfast belief and confidence in himself.
Ultimately, the hip-hop world is extremely difficult to crack, and even with his evident skills, there’s no guarantee that Drama will ever reaches the heights that he dreams of.
But he’s sure as hell got a shot.
Listen to Drama’s music here