I had the pleasure of sitting on a call recently with Craig David prior to the release of his 7th studio album, The Time Is Now, dropping Friday, January 26th. I have to say, I got to experience his TS5 show live , which included some songs from the album, and it just made me even more excited for this album to drop. If you have been living under a rock and don’t know who Craig David is, let me catch you up to speed...
You’re dropping your 7th studio album in just two weeks, how do you think your sound has evolved from Born To Do It (August 2000), your first album, to just a little over 17 years later with The Time Is Now (January 2018)?
“It feels like it’s all brand new again and it’s all gone full circle. Born To Do It at the time was a very fresh sounding R&B record and to me, in 2018 it feels like it’s lined up so beautifully with where I am in my music. Following My Intuition (which was #1 in the UK) was my way of leaning back into R&B with some of the features, sort of like an entry point, but The Time Is Now is like a real R&B album.”
So what does ‘real’ R&B sound like in 2018? Well, according to Craig, 2018 and 2019 are going to be the year(s) of “real R&B like you remember from back in the day, like Ashanti and Biggie and Tupac” with rap and R&B intertwining.
His prediction for the future of music in the next year or two is that R&B will make a revival with sampling of a lot of familiar records from the 90s-2000s, but by using those old school tracks and sound to create “new music with a new wave (of R&B). The Time Is Now embodies the earlier sounds, but with new producers and new artists from the record, and me feeling like a 17-year-old again.”
A great thing he loves about making new music but also throwing it back to “back in the day”? The way everything comes full circle. My mom, for instance, has never heard of most artists I talk about, but when I mentioned Craig David, she excitedly pulled out Born To Do It and couldn’t believe I was going to see him live, let alone get a chance to speak to him.
So now, not only are your parents and older siblings getting that nostalgic feel from his music, but millennials and this next generation can all listen to Craig’s music and be exciting and relevant. What we get to grow up on is what our parents or older siblings grew up on, and that’s pretty exciting and not common for many artists, but Craig seamlessly pulls it off.
You’ve been in music for quite some time now, since 1999 you’ve been working and releasing tracks, covers, and albums, sampling tracks from other amazing artists like David Bowie and making and producing music. What’s your secret to staying in the industry for so long and keeping it fresh and still fulfilling for you?
“Being able to be grateful for the story that you’ve been writing.” He mentioned the importance of being grateful for every record and every person that was there all along from 1999 to 2018, but not having to keep telling that story in the present day, but rather to approach this time around “as a brand new artist, having to prove myself all over again to the 18-year-old producer in the booth with me.”
He lays down the track and freestyles and puts everything into that album, and waits to hear the feedback over the intercom, “Whoooooa Craig David you’ve still got it!” Then, and only then, he knows he’s relevant, he’s on your radar, “it’s no longer the past tense of ‘I used to listen to you with my older brother/sister’, but now we’re back and there are 2 generations “kicking it” with me. You have to stop telling the story. Nobody cares about how many records you’ve sold, nobody cares what you did back in the day. What you’re doing right now, that’s when you know.” To Craig, the key to starting up again with releasing records was to go slowly. When moving from making music in the U.K. to making music in the U.S., he has to practice patience and not just expect to jump back into it right away.
You’ve worked with many amazing artists over the years, more so recently in Following My Intuition(2016) and what has been released so far from The Time Is Now(2018), from Bastille (“I know You”- 2017) to Hardwell (“No Holding Back”- 2016) to Jay Sean to Rita Ora, who was your favorite artist you’ve ever worked with over the years?
“There’s been so many- being in the studio with Sting was pretty epic for “Rise and Fall”, but “Live in the Moment” ft. GoldLink and produced by Kaytranada, to be honest, that just hypes me! To think that someone I’ve listened to for years (GoldLink), to see him now and have the love for his record, and Kaytranada, and have the both of them on one record and (for me) to be relevant to those guys and to their fanbase and vice versa, that for me excites me. That’s like you know. That’s like having Kehlani and Khalid on there, keeping it a part of a new wave instead of some old hashed out artist.”
If you could work with any artist, living or no longer living, who would your dream collaboration be with?
Now, this is my all-time favorite question to ask an artist, because it tells a lot by who influences them, who they admire, who they look up to and respect as artists. Craig’s pick?
Well, if it were someone who had passed, it’d be none other than The King of Pop, Michael Jackson. “I grew up so heavily on his music, just to hear it in front of my face it would be like yo… this is life!”
As for a current artist, of course, Queen Bey! “To hear Beyonce flowing over a record that’s like “Say My Name” or “Bills, Bills, Bills” for me, that would be like the most amazing thing because Beyonce, on a lot of her features now, she bodies it and she is like a superstar and it’s incredible, but to hear her do that fast melody that she’s so known for from her Destiny’s Child days, I just think would be the most epic thing in 2018. People like, “yo! have you heard that Beyonce record” where the speed of it is like twister or belt out some harmonies like back in the day. That would be epic. So I would be all about that (working) with Beyonce. “
So your TS5 show started with you performing at your house in Miami that you later uploaded to Soundcloud, then grew to you steaming it to local radio stations, to now you performing live all over the world, from New York to Las Vegas to Ibiza, mashing up your old hits including “7 Days” and “Fill Me In” with new pop tracks like Jack U and Justin Bieber’s “Where Are U Now”. How did this idea come about?
“The lyrics would be perfect but they wouldn’t really sit right on the track and still be fresh, so I could mix it up over another track or take a song like “Bodak Yellow” and freestyle over that and keep it as fresh as I want it. “I can mix up everything I want and keep it as fresh as I need it to be, but also respect some of the older songs and play them just as they are so that everyone gets a bit of something.”
Did you ever imagine this show concept (TS5) would ever grow like this?
“I always hoped in my heart because I always felt like it was something more than it just being a house party and the way people were enjoying the house party- they never wanted to leave my home! They were just like why would we want to go to a club now? We ‘ve got the tunes, we’ve got the drinks, we’ve got the food, we’ve got the beautiful view from my apartment. I think the key was to see, ‘can I do this in a very hip, cool, fashionista, trendy area of london and see if I can still make something that happened that worked in Miami work there,’ without there being palm trees and the beautiful weather and the cool clubs in south beach and the fact that it did react that way and seeing it sort of build and start to get to me doing a pool party in Ibiza for 12 weeks and playing Glastonbury Pyramid stage in front of 100,000 people, it showed me that people wanted that. They kind of wanted that feeling and it didn’t matter that it was in my home and that was a really good place to build it and really hone what TS5 was and test it out in front of a crowd where people are not gonna really care if I play this or play that so when I really got comfortable, I could go ‘okay, I know what people are loving/ what they’re feeling’ and I was able to take it on the road and have it be 17 years of tunes and a house party that’s run for 4-5 years...We’ve done our homework”
Did you ever imagine yourself getting to this point where you’ve been performing and producing music for nearly 20 years and winning awards and recognition from the music community?
“Do you know what? Really, no. I was just grateful to get out there and to perform and to make music and I knew that that was my sole purpose and my gift is to write songs and to perform and I’ve seen the impact that those songs have had on people’s lives so I knew the importance of it, of going out there and just creating music and however well it did, it was sort of irrelevant. If it just touched one person, that was a good day, and if it made me feel great creating it, then I’m happy. But to see me winning another MOBO (Best R&B/Soul Act- 6th Mobo win in his career) and looking back at when the first one was 2000 or 2001 to have that and fit the 2017 MOBO right next to all of those, and to have a #1 album having worked out as well, and the 17-day arena tour and thinking you know what, this is crazy! I am so, so grateful that all I’m gonna do this time is just enjoy it and just make sure I’m just creative and just have that as being my place of gauging how things are doing because I think otherwise, you can easily get caught up in record sales and ‘how many records have you done?’ and ‘where are you going?’ ‘what’s the next thing?’ I just want to be very much in this moment.”
For Craig David, in-the-moment is the place to be! He’s touring, working on albums, releasing albums, getting to really be creative- he’s moving forward and there’s no stopping him now!
Once upon a time, though, he was just a young 16-year-old kid from Southampton with big dreams and a budding R&B career, and that’s something you can’t forget. Your roots are always a big part of you, and it all starts with some records and a dream.
What advice would you give to the Craig of 1999 or any other young musicians just starting out?
“Follow your intuition. Follow your heart. You have so many tools with social media and YouTube, there are so many ways to put music out there and ways to be seen but there are going to be obstacles that will come that you need to be ready for. You need to go out and do the live shows, and even if it’s 5 people in front of you or 10 people. if it’s a bar or an open mic session. It’s not about you performing for them and thinking ‘okay, I need to be performing in front of more people’ and ‘I want more’. It’s more about how can you hone your craft and get ready so that when the opportunity comes, you’re cool. If you’re in front of 100,000 people or if you’re in front of one person, (it’s important) that you can handle it because I think that’s where most people trip up and the opportunity comes and someone’s like ‘okay! Give me acapella, go!” and they’re like ‘uhhh my voice is a bit...I went out last night and I was drinking...uhh’ and there’s your opportunity, so now you’re going to have to wait until that opportunity comes full circle again. That’s where it’s at. Are you ready to show up when it counts? And that’s going to take some time, you’re going to have to rehearse, you’re going to have to be ready for it. It’s not just throwing up a video on YouTube and being like “I’m ready for it”. When you’re in front of a packed crowd at Coachella and the monitor doesn’t really have great sound but they’re telling you to go on stage now, can you handle it then? Because it’s all good when you’ve got the nice cameras and the nice posting, but what about when you don’t? Can you do it then?”
We’re nothing without the people that build us up, we’re nothing without those who support and care for us. We’re nothing without the people who inspire us every day. Passion and drive can get you far, but without people in your corner (who have been there all along) to share it with, you won’t go that extra mile, and Craig knows and understands that. The people we surround ourselves with shape us and make us who we are today.
Who were your biggest influences when beginning your music career?
“I can now look back and see just how much my mum and my dad sacrificed for me to be able to do what I do. I mean, I love music and I’ve always been passionate about music, but what I’ve really learned is that I’m so grateful for my parents and what they did. Going out and always having that extra little bit of money for me to buy some vinyl for my record collection or to buy my first record decks. Without those, I would never have gone into DJing. Or my mum to come and pick me up at 2:00 in the morning because I had record boxes and I wasn’t driving and she would wait up and pick me up to make sure that I got home safe. It’s things like that that really fully inspire me, because musically, there’s loads of different things, but just to see that that set me in my ways. To think, ‘you know what, if I get to a point where I can buy my mum a lovely home and look after my dad and get those things sorted, then all the rest of it is a bonus for me.’ So to be able to have done that and to see their faces, them so happy that their son has gone on and done pretty well for himself and now they’re seeing me back on TV and seeing new music, that just makes me happy.”
I was so grateful for the opportunity to speak with Craig David and to have the chance to see his show at The Bowery Ballroom in NYC, but if you can’t make it to TS5, The Time Is Now drops Friday, January 26th, don’t miss it! Stay tuned to his Twitter and Instagram, @CraigDavid, for updates on new music and to follow him on tour! You can also stream Craig’s music- new and old-school on Spotify!