Dave East, a proud Harlem native
David Lawrence Brewster Jr., who goes by the stage name Dave East, was born in 1988 between 108th street and 1st Avenue in Harlem, the northernmost corner (Uptown) of Manhattan, New York. The area he grew up in, to be precise, has always been known as Spanish Harlem, because of the large latino community living there and the distinctive bodegas on almost every street corner. Incidentally, Dave East is of Caribbean descent: his creole mother came from Louisiana but has in fact Dominican roots, and Dave proudly wears the flag of his motherland tattooed on his neck.
Harlem was once a major center for prostitution, gambling and drug dealing. It has always remained a picturesque and vibrant neighbourhood despite the progressive gentrification it underwent in the past 20 years. However it still has to endure poverty and crime related problems in the vicinity of its sprawling housing projects. Compared to his peers, Dave East was lucky to have a very close-knit family and caring parents, who warned him to keep away from the street life and pushed him to study and cultivate his passion for basketball.
Dave East, from Kevin Durant’s team mate to being an inmate.
Dave East put his intelligence to good use by scoring high test marks in school while also proving himself to be a very talented basketball player. He was eventually selected to play in amateur league camps on a national level, where he trained with the soon to be NBA star Kevin Durant. Basketball seemed to be his chosen path to success: he was accepted by Richmond University first and subsequently by Towson University in Maryland. However, his dreams of glory in the world of basketball would come to an abrupt end. His love for street life antics and his difficulty in accepting authority caused him to clash with college staff. Eventually he dropped out of University and started trafficking small quantities of weed between New York and Baltimore. Inevitably, after a while, he was apprehended by the police and had to serve 6 months in a Maryland penitentiary.
This brief prison bid in Baltimore was a tough wake up call for Dave East, it cut short his promising basketball career and greatly upset his parents who temporarily estranged him. However, this time in jail caused Dave East to become interested in Islam, and that’s how he found the renewed spirituality and self discipline he needed to understand where he went wrong and get back on track.
Ravenswood, Queensbridge and the start of his career as a rapper.
Once he got back to New York, Dave East was momentarily homeless and had to take refuge at his cousin’s apartment in Ravenswood projects, Queensbridge. In the meantime he had fathered a daughter called Kairi, born out of a previous relationship, therefore it was time to roll up his sleeves to ensure a bright future for himself and his newborn daughter. Aside from his broken hoop dreams, Dave East had always wanted to be a rapper and follow in the footsteps of his Hip Hop idols, hood legends like Nas, Jay Z, Dipset and The Lox.
He had been a student of the culture for years and had gradually become a talented spitter, so around the year 2010 he began to record tracks in small studios around Queens. These first songs were inspired by New York “old school”. Realistic descriptions of one’s surroundings and experiences are the focal point of this rap style.
In the space of a few years he released various mixtapes among which “Change of Plans” (2010), “American Greed” (2011), “No Regrets” (2012), “Don’t Sleep” (2011), and “Gemini”(2013). He was beginning to make a name for himself on the streets of Queens and Harlem. Veterans and OG’s were starting to take notice.
Dave East, Nas’ chosen pupil.
Dave East was eventually discovered by Nas’ brother Jungle, who would scour neighbourhoods looking for raw talent to bring to the legendary Queens representative, who in the meantime had started his own independent label, Mass Appeal Records, in 2013.
Nasir Jones was transfixed by Dave East’s musical talent and lyrical ability which transported him nostalgically back to the era when New York was the Mecca of Hip Hop, and a rappers level of success was measured by their skills rather than by the number of followers on social media.
In 2014 he finally managed to break into the rap game and affirm himself as one of the most interesting new artists on the scene, therefore distancing himself from the street life. The Harlem rapper first signed a deal with Mass Appeal Records and placed himself under Nas’ protective wing, who guided and counselled him just like a big brother would do. Between the years 2014 and 2015, under the supervision of his illustrious mentor, he released the mixtapes “Black Rose” and “Hate Me Now” which contained features by many top players in the industry such as Pusha T, Jadakiss, Styles P as well as his illmatic guru.
The incredible acclaim garnered by “Hate Me Now” (2015), followed up by his next releases “Kairi Channel”(2016), “Paranoia: a true story Ep” (2017) and “Karma” (2017), made Dave East a household name not just in the big apple and earned him the respect and attention of many of his peers. He has since been considered as the rightful heir by the legends who made the sound of the 5 boroughs popular worldwide. His lyrics and technique have bought New York hip hop to the forefront again.
The Crips and his friendship with Nipsey Hussle: Dave East’s ties with the West Coast.
Despite his growing success, Dave East’s street credibility still remained solid and certified. Since he was a kid he had been a member of the Rollin 30’s Crips in Harlem. This was a real and official affiliation not just a gimmick used to show off in music videos by throwing up gang signs or rocking a blue bandana, and his friendship with many Compton OG’s is a testament to this. Dave East therefore travels often to Los Angeles to pay homage to the homies.
Being a member of the Crips does not necessarily mean you are actively part of any criminal activity, as has already been amply proved by other notorious celebrity members, like Snoop Dogg for example. On the contrary, the primary objective of any true Crip member is to favour the elevation of black ghetto communities from their condition of poverty and inherent violence.
This connection with the Compton Crips would eventually lead Dave East to meet soon to be legend Nipsey Hussle, who died prematurely in 2019. Nipsey was a member of the notorious Rolling 60’s Crips but he subsequently became an iconic figure, both in Hip Hop and as an Afroamerican business leader who championed free and independent commerce focused on distributing wealth in impoverished communities. Nipsey and Dave soon became friends and confidants.
The Harlem rapper maintained strong ties with the West Coast even after Nipsey’s death, which obviously was deeply shocking to him. He continued to pay tribute to his dead homie while building a friendship with another West Coast Crip icon, Snoop Dogg, with whom he has since often collaborated.
“Survival”, Dave East’s debut album, and the mission to leave his mark in Hip Hop history.
Thanks to the huge success of his mixtapes “Paranoia 2” (2018), “Karma 2” (2018) and “Beloved” with Styles P, as well as his cameos on popular TV shows like “Rapture” and “Wu Tang An American Saga” in which he played Method Man, Dave East continued to expand his fan base and finally signed a partnership deal with Def Jam.
Finally, in the last quarter of 2019, the time had come to release his debut album “Survival”. It was an ambitious project that set out to find a balance between the conscious lyrics of 90’s Hip Hop and contemporary soundscapes. In fact, “Survival”, contains features by many Hip Hop godfathers such as Dj Premier, Nas, Rick Ross, Nipsey and the big homie Snoop Dogg as well as some of the hottest “new acts” on the urban music scene. Despite the combination of very different influences “Survival” still sounded like a New York album and was in tune with the tradition of focusing on lyricism and realness.
Now more than ever the 5 boroughs need a leader and a strong voice. The year 2020 is proving to be one of the darkest and turbulent in the modern history of mankind due to the terrible impact of COVID-19 on inner city slums (Dave East lost his dear friend King Shooter during the pandemic) and the riots for the untimely death of George Floyd (r.i.p), who was killed in cold blood by Police officers.
In August 2020 the third chapter in the “Karma” mixtape series comes out. On this powerful record Dave East expresses the contrasting emotions that the city is experiencing with powerful lyrics. The mission that the Harlem native seems to have taken on is to pass on Hip Hop’s original message, as explained by the iconic rappers of the past, like his mentor Nas. The objective is to establish a connection between the golden era and the “trap” generation. If he pulls it off this feat will definitely go down in the history of this culture.