At 6'5'' Dave East is a towering dude, height exceeded only by current expectations for where he might take New York City going forward. He’s the primary rapper on the up carrying the torch for Harlem and NYC rap going into 2016, and it would be fair to say that many of the NYC rap powers-that-be are hoping he can reignite the soggy ashes of THE scene that has grown sadly stagnant over the years. Our TheseDay’s team has a varying range of opinions on the state of NYC rap, but it can be said confidently that Dave East is repping the best side of it. He’s got the dense lyricism that we loved New York rap for, but with none of the excessive nostalgia fog that lesser rappers on the East have gotten lost in.
Growing up in Harlem hip-hop invariably became a part of his life from a young age, but it wasn’t the destination he expected for himself. Training all his life for a career in basketball, the 6’5’’ artist was coached closely by his dad who ended up guiding him towards what was a potential professional career.
When he was late in his teenage years he moved to Maryland to focus on AAU ball, where he would cross paths and cross over with NBA lord Kevin Durant. This led to scholarships and college at the University of Richmond and University of Towson, as well as coaches, arguments and growing up. Life often has other plans, and Dave East found himself in legal troubles, doing 6 months in Baltimore City jail; the ball was deflated. Unclear where to go from there, he crossed paths with an old basketball friend in New York who get him started on the music track with some recording equipment. His experiences on the court permeate to his music as well, with tracks like "Call My Coach".
Despite a rocky path to the present, if you’re talking careers the sun is rising in the East. Dave was recently signed to Nas' Mass Appeal Records imprint, which flexes a short but commanding list of artists including the late Pimp C and Run The Jewels. This gave him some immediate juice in the city and beyond. Interesting sidenote; just from hanging out around the neighborhood and trips to the Bridge, Dave East had become friends with Nas’s brother Jungle (Jabari Jones), and so his subsequent cosign of Dave East occurred organically. Little politicking, Jungle simply told him that Nas had seen East’s raps on YouTube and was struck by an energy he didn’t see from the city anymore. And now we're a few chapters in, but the book is far from finished yet.
What’s he sound like? If newer rap out of NYC has been on the summery side, Dave East is the plentiful cold, grey and desolate NYC days in its less brunch-y corners. As his recent Hate Me Now mixtape demonstrates, he's Grimey with a capital G. The name might suggest a new-school rapper, but when it comes to Dave East you should be thinking more along the lines of Kevin Gates or Freddie Gibbs. High praise, born in the rawness to his performance that will always be in demand in rap. His NY rap pedigree is based partially on aesthetic, but more importantly one of spirit. On production he's got the jazz, got the strings, but there's too much sub for boom-bap, with percussion that's too fluid. But Dave East is a natural storyteller and like the NYC greats that sprung from his neighborhood before him, he can build his world around you, words tumbling from the tops of high-rises down through the crumbling concrete with the weeds of America's largest city.