Craig David
Craig David | Credit: Joe Maher/Getty Images for Bauer

Craig David: “I Poured My Heart Into What I Was Saying”

Craig David is music’s ultimate renaissance man. His intergenerational fanbase assures he’s simultaneously legendary and cutting-edge. Advancing British Black culture in the late ’90s, the garage don has re-emerged with the meaningful album new album, 22, which shot into the UK Top 10 in early October. But this private icon is also opening up about personal and professional tribulations, recently publishing his first memoir, What’s Your Vibe?: Tuning Into Your Best Life.

Kitted out in athleisure, David is Zooming from a home studio. He’s chuffed about 22, but reluctant to oversell himself. “I’m not gonna hype it, like go crazy like it’s Thriller,” he says. “I think it’s one of my best albums in terms of the music and the sentiment. I had time to do this. Hopefully, people feel the same.”

Craig David – ‘Fill Me In’

The Brit has already enjoyed a monumental year. He completed a UK arena tour delayed by COVID-19 before headlining the widely broadcast Platinum Party At The Palace, marking Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee, in front of Buckingham Palace – “probably the biggest show I’ve ever done,” he says.

David, who in 2021 received an MBE for services to music, invited his mum, Tina. “One of the sweet moments was when she sort of pinched me and was like, ‘Wow, look where we are,'” he says. “Literally next minute I see Prince William walking over to say ‘Hello’ and I get to introduce my mum to Prince William and then Kate joins.”

Come November, David will return to Australia with a band in tow to perform at RNB Fridays Presents: Fridayz Live.

Craig David is pop royalty. Raised on an estate in Southampton, and with his father playing bass in the reggae band Ebony Rockers, he gravitated towards music. Early, David freestyled over James Zabiela’s DJ sets. He blew up after connecting with Artful Dodger and cutting 1999’s UK garage classic ‘Re-Rewind (The Crowd Say Bo Selecta)’. The next year, David unleashed his solo debut, Born To Do It, surprising with smooth R&B jams such as ‘Fill Me In’, ‘7 Days’ and ‘Walking Away’. Impressing even American tastemakers, he featured on Guru’s Jazzmatazz, Vol 3: Streetsoul.

“I’m so proud and happy that there’s inclusion of everybody now,” David says, reflecting on how things have changed in the course of his career. “When I broke out with Born To Do It, it was quite unheard of as a Black British male – coming from Southampton, not from London. He’s got a British accent but, yeah, he’s singing these songs that could well be an American artist at the time, having this incredible adulation from American artists and around the world.”

Craig David – ‘Better Days (I Came By Train)’

After presenting an underrated Motown covers collection, Signed Sealed Delivered, in 2010, David experienced a resurgence mid-decade. He hosted glamorous house parties in a Miami penthouse, conceptualising his TS5 (Tower Suite 5) sound system, which combines DJing, freestyling and singing.

Meanwhile, David went viral with a live mash-up of ‘Fill Me In’ and Jack Ü’s ‘Where Are Ü Now’ on MistaJam’s BBC Radio 1Xtra show, and collaborated with KAYTRANADA. In 2016, TS5 took over Glastonbury. Soon after, David delivered Following My Intuition, topping the UK charts. Today he holds a TS5 residency in Ibiza.

David’s eighth album, 22, epitomises a post-pandemic pining for halcyon days – its songs are about living in the moment, community and amelioration. Freshly independent, the singer contemplated the project in lockdown as he’d “listen to music that really inspired me back in the day.”

David teamed up with producer Mike Brainchild, latterly credited on Katy B’s comeback EP Peace And Offerings, and together they accumulated “nearly 78 songs”. David aired the soulful lead single, ‘Who You Are’, with MNEK, late last year.

Craig David & MNEK – ‘Who You Are’

As with Beyoncé’s RENAISSANCE, 22 revels in clubland nostalgia – and, coincidentally, David has incorporated ‘BREAK MY SOUL’ into TS5 sets. “I feel like Beyoncé’s lived a period of life now, from Destiny’s Child to where she is, and she’s able to express that in a way that’s using her craft and her talent as an artist to talk about things that are really real; that people can relate to,” David says.

He suggests that 22‘s opener ‘Teardrops’ – “which has a little bit of the garage nostalgia feel” – is similarly relatable, with its wistfulness and prevailing wisdom, detailing “a situation of two people [who] have come to the crossroads in their relationship.” It might be a ‘Walking Away’ sequel. However, 22 is an inherently British album, down to the curation: David brings in DISCIPLES member Duvall, rising R&B vocalist Nippa, r ‘n’ drill trailblazer Isong, ex-Ruel duet partner GRACEY, and grime veteran Wretch 32.

Craig David – ‘Teardrops’

David is famous for his party anthems, but he also has ballads – ‘Once In A Lifetime’ off Born To Do It exemplary. He hopes that fans embrace 22‘s deep cuts – the lilting ‘Meant To Be’ in particular. “I love slow jams,” he says. “They just calm me down.”

David is equally attached to the acoustic ‘Maybe’. “Again, I felt like I poured my heart into what I was saying,” he says. “It was a reflective song, it was quite personal, in the sense of me looking back at where I didn’t show up and things could have been different.”

‘Maybe’ reminds him of ‘Once In A Lifetime’. “It doesn’t feel like it’s locked into a time,” he says. “You could play it anytime and it would just still say what it needs to say, you know?”

Creatives like David are routinely described as “reinventing” themselves when they’re evolving. Symbolically, he once won approval from that master of self-reinvention David Bowie to sample his “classic” ‘Let’s Dance’ for 2007’s hit ‘Hot Stuff (Let’s Dance)’, deeming the gesture as “so graceful”.

“I was in awe,” David says. “It showed me as an artist he can still be really super humble with that and be like, ‘Yeah, I can forward this to you,’ rather than ‘No, no, no, no, no – you can’t touch any of this.'”

David often thinks of Bowie. He has Mick Rock’s photography book, The Rise Of David Bowie 1972-1973, on a shelf in his corridor. “I see him as an artist that was a trendsetter,” David says. “He was changing the culture, he was speaking his truth at the same time as recording amazing music, and there was just this full immersive love and respect for him as an artist; of what he created.”

He continues, “I get that same feeling for what Prince was advocating, and what he was fighting for, too; in the same way with [what] George Michael was fighting for, too… It’s like you start to see these people left a lasting legacy.”

David is at a stage in his life where he’s compelled to think deeply about what he wants to say in his music. “I’m like, ‘Okay, we can make the music, we can do the thing, I can give you those tunes that will go off at a pool party, the classic ones that will feel like they’ll be timeless, we can give you the acoustic, whatever you need,'” he says. “But be conscious and mindful that now there’s people who are listening to this, that you can say something with these words.'”

Further Reading

Macklemore, TLC Headline RNB Fridays’ ‘Fridayz Live’ Australian Tour

Beckah Amani: “I’m Proud to Be Black and I’m Proud to Be a Black Woman”

Pei: “I Allowed Myself to Come in Fresh-Faced and Create as an Infant”

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