Last December, Atlanta mixtape king DJ Drama invited rap star Young Jeezy onto his Hot 107.9 (WHTA-FM) radio show to publicly end their beef – the one where Jeezy threatened to rough him up and accused him of getting rich off his work. After smoothing things over, Drama had another on-air surprise: Jeezy's longtime adversary Gucci Mane was on the phone.
"It's about that time, we're getting older, growing," Gucci said, calling from prison. "So, let's do it for the city."
Jeezy sounded skeptical. "What are we doing?" he asked. It would have been understandable if Jeezy didn't want to buddy up with the guy who'd killed one of his alleged associates. But before long, Jeezy agreed to make peace. "We're gonna do this for the city," he concluded.
When Drama began crafting mixtapes nearly a decade ago, he likely had no idea he'd one day have to master mediation skills. But he dutifully played the role because, he says, he believed bloodshed could have resulted otherwise. "The city's too small," he says. "No one wants to see anyone get harmed."
Sure, it was a feel-good moment for Atlanta hip-hop, but it was also fuel for DJ Drama's career. His own fortunes, after all, are intertwined with the careers of these artists. Having broken out nationally through collaborations with rappers such as Gucci, T.I. and Lil Wayne, he has watched all three of them go to jail. With his Gangsta Grillz: The Album (Vol. 3) due out later this year, Drama has every interest in keeping his name out there.
I met up with Drama at his Castleberry Hill office, the same one that was raided three years ago by a SWAT team working in conjunction with local police and the Recording Industry Association of America. The spot features a bare-bones lobby that looks to have been furnished from a garage sale, and a studio with floor-to-ceiling purple soundproofing foam. The police ripped up the foam looking for guns and drugs, he says, but didn't find any. (He ultimately reached a resolution with the RIAA, he says, that will keep him from further persecution; their deal includes his filming of a public service announcement speaking out against DJs who leak music without permission.)
In between checking his Blackberry, Drama — who is bulky and prone to boasting — tells the story of how he brought Gucci and Jeezy together for the on-air reconciliation. The first thing he had to do was repair his own frayed relationship with Jeezy. Though Drama was instrumental in launching Jeezy's career, last summer the MC accused him of making millions off their mixtapes and declining to share the good fortune. "I'll slap the shit out of Drama," Jeezy told XXL magazine in last September's issue, vowing never again to collaborate with him.
Drama brushed off the criticism and speculated Jeezy was simply angry about his recent collaboration with Gucci. (Drama insists that he doesn't make any money off of mixtapes, but rather through endorsements, radio work and as T.I.'s touring DJ, among other ventures.)
Hot 107.9 programming director "Hurricane" Dave Smith and Akon's brother Boo Thiam brokered a truce dinner between Drama and Jeezy in late '09. "We let bygones be bygones. We just went back and forth and spoke on [our] feelings," Drama says, adding, "I think me and Jeezy are very important to a lot of aspects of Atlanta hip-hop. We had to put our stubbornness aside to get to the bigger picture, this money and this music."
Thiam and Hurricane Dave also contributed behind-the-scenes in the Gucci/Jeezy thaw. Drama won't say, however, which of the rappers first agreed to come to the table, hinting that such a revelation might damage an ego.
There may have been some posturing involved, considering the pair's history. After falling out over the rights to the song they did together in 2005 ("So Icey"), Jeezy put a bounty on Gucci's diamond pendant and chain. When an alleged Jeezy associate tried to ambush him, Gucci killed the guy. Gucci pleaded self-defense and was let off the hook while Jeezy went on to become one of rap's biggest stars. But with Gucci eclipsing his popularity in recent months, could it be that Jeezy had newfound motivation to squash the beef – namely, the motivation to align himself with a rapper on the rise? Or is the reconciliation part of Gucci's attempt to maintain a high profile while serving time behind bars? The only thing more bankable in hip-hop than a longstanding feud is a well-timed peace agreement. Jay-Z proved that in 2006 when one of his acts as president of Def Jam Recordings was to sign longtime nemesis Nas to the venerable rap label.
In any case, the Gucci/Jeezy reconciliation seems to be working out well for all parties. Immediately after the call, Drama and Jeezy set to work crafting a new mixtape, Trap or Die 2, which reprises their beloved 2005 collaboration and is expected to drop soon. Drama says the work will be "monumental," and similar in style to the original. He's also interested in putting together a surefire blockbuster Gucci/Jeezy collaboration, although there aren't current plans for one. Undoubtedly, he'll keep cracking at it, as getting along with rappers – and getting rappers to get along – is something he has a vested interest in.
"I've come across a lot of niggas that, truthfully, I don't really like," Drama concludes, speaking in general about his profession. "But it's not about that, it's about the music." That and the bottom line, of course.