VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — The spirit of Something in the Water, an inclusive and celebratory mix of music, culture and the greater Hampton Roads community, was perhaps best distilled on the festival’s free community stages this past weekend.

The stages, new for 2023, brought together dozens of local musicians and businesses and put them intimately close with the public, with artists mingling freely in the crowd.

And no one seemed to embody that essence more than Shelley Marshaun Massenburg-Smith, aka DRAM, a Hampton native who catapulted into the national spotlight in 2016 with the multi-platinum single “Broccoli,” less than a year after a life-changing endorsement from Beyoncé of his viral hit “Cha Cha.”

You can see DRAM (in the middle with the white tee and braids) hanging out in the crowd, nodding along to Florida-based artist Rob Roy.

In 2019, he performed on the main stage at the original Something in the Water, a big honor for him, but he said there was something unique and fun about the community stages this year — especially when it meant being able to hype up all of the artists from the area.

“I was at the first Something in the Water out here, but just being in the festival just on the performance side of it, I was kinda in and out, but this time I’m just walking up and down, just catching the vibe, I love it man.”

DRAM performed multiple times over the weekend. After a performance Saturday afternoon on the 24th Street stage, he went back out into the crowd and danced along to Norfolk rapper Young Crazy, an artist he’s supported for years.

Moments later, he jumped back on stage to perform with Sunny & Gabe, a funky and infectious duo from the area who met at Old Dominion University. Gabe Niles, one half of Sunny & Gabe, is DRAM’s longtime friend and producer, and the glue guy who assembled all of the artists on the community stages.

“That’s my brother, man. I’ve known Gabe for over 10 years, we’ve been working over 10 years. It wouldn’t be this way without Gabe, and the work that we put out, we created something that is a real staple to the legacy of Virginia music in general.”

These days DRAM says life is great and wants his fans to know he’s doing well, after talking in length back in 2021 about his past struggles.

He dropped a new song called “BONUS FANTASY” on Wednesday, May 3, and just recently released a deluxe version of latest album, “What Had Happened Was …, which features Snoop Dogg on “I Need a Light.”

That “of course” had to come out on 4/20, he joked.

Gabe Niles talks about what the Something in the Water community stages mean for the local music community.

He’s also working hard to promote The Bakery Boys group, which features himself and several other Virginia natives, including Ellis Quinn, Randana, Mass and BKA Trip.

They’re included on the new album and will tour together this summer.

DRAM, who now lives out of the area, says he always makes sure to return to Hampton Roads about every month or so to catch up with family and friends. One thing he always has to do when he’s home?

Get Chinese food. It’s something he says Atlanta and Los Angeles can’t match.

“It’s not like back home. I feel like the authenticity and a certain style of this area makes it better, the people that cook it, it’s different.”

He specifically shouted out Kim’s Chinese on La Salle Avenue in Hampton and Kin’s Wok in Norfolk.

“Kim’s Wok is fire … Kin’s Wok is fire too.”