Like most musicians, UK native Craig David enjoys bomb a** music. While discussing his appreciation for artists of his hometown’s glowing grime scene, Craig reminds me of how a Stormzy track and trap jams share a similar BPM, leading everyone to the dance floor. “I keep my eye on people, I always like to see who’s coming through because those guys become the next wave,” he says. It makes sense given the creation of TS5, a pre-game curated playlist that started out in his penthouse in Miami which now leads sold out shows across the pond, as well as appearances for this summer’s hottest festivals like Tomorrowland.
What makes up TS5 is solely Craig David. By honing in on his early talents as a DJ, the singer-songwriter performs his early 2000s classics like “Fill Me In” and “Walking Away” to instrumentals by Diplo’s creative project with Skrillex (“Where Are You Now”) and Dr. Dre (“Still D.R.E”). Seeing this unfold this week at his sold-out show in Webster Hall was not only impressive, but a work of art itself. Performing is one thing but to freestyle, ad-lib and mix records in between while keeping the crowd on a musical high is another.
“I’m seeing 14, 15 year-olds saying, ‘Have you heard of this guy named Craig David? He’s got this new tune,’ and then you got the parents or older siblings who are like, ‘What? Let me school you with “Seven Days,’” he says about his newfound fan base. He’s gained attention after finding fans in Drake and Justin Bieber, with the latter sampling “Fill Me In” for his 2013 track, “Recovery.” “It’s the most exciting thing because it gives me that leverage of being very brand new to two generations,” he said.
Instead of riding the wave of today’s mixy sounds in R&B and hip-hop, the singer-songwriter has stayed loyal to his blend of UK garage by working with acts like Kaytranada for his recent album, Following My Intuition. Met with critical acclaim (and a gold plaque in the UK), the singer is hoping to bring his unique groove back to America on his terms.
Sit back, relax and take some tips on how work the party and a comeback from a pro.
VIBE: Wednesday’s show was pretty phenomenal. It had a perfect blend of DJing and a live set we’ve haven’t really seen anything from an artist of your caliber. Where did that idea come from?
Craig David: Before my first album Born To Do It, I used to DJ. So I was using vinyls, twelve tens and making CDs to put money in my pocket. But after releasing the album, I started performing with a live band so it was one of those elements that I didn’t get carry with me. But six years ago, I got a place in Miami and started to throw house parties in my apartment called TS5.
It slowly crept back in organically from friends who were playing with my iTunes where one minute it would be a cool throwback Biggie tune and the next thing it would go to “Macarena“ or some kind of dance song. So I decided to reign it in and got myself a Pioneer controller and started steering the music. Over a period of time, I thought I could add my tunes to the mix like putting “Walking Away” over “Still D.R.E.” It just felt like cooler way to it. I put the mixes on Soundcloud and the next thing I know, it was given to the radio stations and bam, fast forward we started doing shows in London with 250 capacity and by the end of the year, we got to 5,000 then we entered into a 17-date arena tour with 15,000 attendees. It’s been a long journey but an incredible one.
Since you have those roots in DJing, how do you view the art in 2017?
For me, I have the highest amount of respect for DJs. There’s a real skill set and ability to hold a crowd’s attention for four to five hours, especially with an R&B/hip-hop and open format music. With EDM, you want to keep that intensity since it builds and drops, but with R&B, you want to bring people down then you give them a huge record throughout to the night so you’re on the nice wave. I think the big difference is that from back in the day we used Technics twelve tens and I got to shape my skills by being in the club. [I remember the moments] where the next thing you know, the record is skipping and the needle is going crazy and the crowd is looking at you. You think, ‘Okay fight or flight.’ What do you do now? So I’d grab the mic and freestyle, ad libbing and singing while my other hand is trying find another record to put on the deck.
People are coming up to me after like, ‘Oh man, we love what you did with the singing and ad libbing thing and I’m like, ‘Bruh, if you only knew what was going on, it was all crashing.’ The technology you have in 2017 with Serato and the syncing of tracks is so simple. Before, it was about feeling the music. I actually had to touch the record, but now when I do my set, I utilize the technology. It’s worked in my favor, but if it all went down, and the music stops for me, I would just grab the mic and do a 45 mins a capella set and I’d be cool with it. People would think it was just part of the set.
Moments like that really push your creative senses. The performance felt like a house party, especially with the addition of the Following My Intuition tracks. What was the process behind that album?
It’s an album where I wanted to throw myself in the place of the unknown. I worked with a lot of young and upcoming producers and songwriters. I really put myself out of my comfort zone since that’s where all the magic happens. [I remember] when I went in with a young 18-year-old producer, it was like, ‘Oh man, Craig I love you back in the day, with “Fill Me In” and “Seven Days.’” It’s flattering to hear, but at the same time, he’s talking in the past tense. I was thinking, ‘Okay, put me in the vocal booth,’ and I’ll give everything, freestyling, ad libbing, singing and just giving everything in that two or three minutes.
It’s crazy cause I heard every single time through the call button in the studio, “Ooo Craig, you still got it.” That for me that’s what reignited the flame. I was working with so many different people and by the time some of the songs were released like “Nothing Like This” with Blonde and “Ain’t Giving Up” with Sigala they were on the come up with Number 1 hits of their own. But it was very natural to work with them since it served as a transition for me.
What was it like working with Kaytranada on “Got It Good”?
What a guy. I was listening to his stuff for a long period of time. We have two tracks together; “Got It Good” and “Sink or Swim” on my album and his album, 99.9 %. He’s just wicked. I got the feeling from him that he’s on the cusp of producers along with Nav where you’re talking Dr. Dre levels, you’re talking the whole Neptunes era where it only takes one song to cross over. I saw it early on and that’s why I was so excited to work with him. He’s sick.
Like minded people will always blend. Where would you like to take TS5 from here?
Not trying to gas the situation, but looking at where TS5 was from 10 people in my home as a pre gamer, to being in arenas with 17,000 people, or Glastonbury, where I was on the smaller stage with 1,000 people and ended up on the larger stage with 20,000, it shows me I can get it right back in arenas in the US. It blew my mind of where this went within a year.
I can see the Miami Airlines Arena from my apartment and I’m thinking, ‘I’m getting in there. I’m going to make this happen. I’m on a mission and when I get on a mission, it tends to pull itself together.
That’s great ambition. A lot of people in America are gravitating towards the UK grime scene. Are there any acts in and out of that world that interest you?
100 percent. People like Stormzy and Skepta have the UK making waves in the grime scene and a lot of it has to do with the tempo of grime, which is like a 140 BPM and the tempo of trap/rap music is pretty much every club right now is around 70 BPM so they both collide really well. I think that those guys are killing it, J Huff is doing great stuff and there’s a rapper I’m working with named AJ Tracy who’s making waves. In the states, there’s Kendrick Lamar, Chance the Rapper and I got a lot of love for Drake, I think he’s fantastic. Even when you see the the people on the come up like Goldlink, I keep my eye on people, but I always like to see who’s coming through because those guys end up owning the wave.
There’s the sound that you, Andre 3000’s solo work and many others that really gave shape to the sounds of 2000s R&B/hip-hop you hear in acts from today. There’s this guy named Smino who does that good blend of R&B/hip hop in his music.
That’s the beauty with music in the digital age. You’re always one follow away from experiencing something new. It’s priceless and it comes through a good source. It’s no coincidence that it happens.
The new album I’m recording now bends to that. I have my team and I’m around people that I know I work really well with so I want the R&B to flow. I’m very aware of what’s happening in the streets so I don’t need to listen to radio to know what’s going on since I’m out there playing. I can test records on people like when I did Born To Do It, so it’s amazing for me. What I’ve learned is that if you stay focused and believe and actually walk the walk, anything is possible.
Check out tour dates for Craig David and his TS5 movement here.
Photos by Dirty Souf Yankee