Bio : Craig David
Right, let's get the head-spinning stats out of the way first. Since he first emerged at the end of 1999 with instant UK garage classic Re-Rewind, Craig David has scored 25 UK top 40 singles (16 of them top 10), nine UK top 40 albums (five of them top 10) and amassed over 5 billion (!) streams worldwide. In fact, over 1.5 billion of those came via his most recent releases, 2016's chart-topping comeback album, Following My Intuition, and 2018's career consolidating The Time Is Now. If you're more used to the old school metrics, that's 20m global sales. And speaking of global, he's played sold out tours everywhere from America to Australia, Japan to Germany. Across his twenty-plus year career, he's collaborated with the likes of Sting, Kano, Diplo and KSI, while also becoming one of the biggest DJs in Ibiza via his TS5 soundsystem. Award-wise we're talking 14 Brit Award nominations, two Grammy nominations, four MOBO awards and three Ivor Novellos honouring his songwriting. It's impressive, sure, but that's the past. It's ephemera. “I always feel like you need to be more real-time and present in the now,” David confirms.
That present involves an excellent new album, his eighth, in the shape of next year's 22. “It's 22 years since the first album, it will be 2022 when the album drops,” he explains of the title. This month sees the arrival of 22's glorious, MNEK-assisted lead single Who You Are, which cocoons a feel-good pop lyric about being present in a pristine UK garage casing courtesy of producer Digital Farm Animals. Like all Craig David classics it feels both box fresh and warmly nostalgic. “It will live in the world this song,” David says. “It feels so authentic, it has intention. Put on Who You Are to try and talk to someone that needs help.”
This idea of making music with intention is important to Craig David as he heads into his third decade as an artist. “I'm very real time now, like what am I saying with my music? I've got a platform that all of these albums have given me to say something, but what is it? Or are you just going to waste the opportunity?” Hence why the new music – which includes party-starters such as the Toddla T-produced Back 2 Basics and My Heart's Been Waiting For You, alongside old school R&B mid-pacers such as Meant To Be – comes with a sense of hope attached. “I want to raise people's vibrations. I want to give people a “musical healing” without preaching or trying to tell people what to do. The best historical example I can give is Show Me Love by Robin S. It's an anthemic, hands in the air song, everyone knows it. But the lyric is talking about not wanting any nonsense, of wanting real love. So it's got a really strong message hidden inside this dance anthem.”
This need to heal was at the forefront of his mind when he started working on the album in the summer of 2020, as the world briefly emerged from lockdown. The groundwork had already been laid in his home studio, with David setting up his gear in a way that recalled the early days, “when I was 13 or 14, just making music in my bedroom in my mum's flat in Southampton.” It wasn't just the set-up that took him back either. “It was the time I had to just create. For someone who is creative, that's the most freeing thing you can offer.” While the 20th anniversary Born To Do It tour was postponed (it will now kick off next April), David found himself not only reminiscing about those songs, but also the creative headspace he was in. “It feels like only yesterday I was writing that album,” he smiles. “Lockdown actually gave me a lot of those feelings again, where I was just able to create music and there was no 'is it going to land on radio or what playlist did it get on on Spotify or have you got the TV you need'. I felt like that kid again.” Eventually, as the world opened up, David would drive his car to the studio to work with the album's main producer Mike Brainchild (Sinead Harnett, IAMDDB). “I got into my Mini and drove down the studio and again it reminded me of being this little kid in a Peugeot 206 going down to the Ocean Village in Southampton. But that journey everyday changed the game. I was seeing life happening around me and drawing inspiration. The first thing I'd do when I got into the studio was say to Mike 'put the mic on, let's go'. I feel like I've really allowed melodies to drive this album home and not conform to anything else going on.” There were early Zoom sessions, but David's too much of a people person to stick to that. “I need to be in the room and feel the vibe,” he smiles. “I'm very much about the hugs so this whole thing really ruined that.”
An early catalyst for the album arrived in the shape of Really Love, a collaboration with producer KSI and Digital Farm Animals. “That hit right at the start of recording,” David remembers. “I was literally just starting. It's nice when you're at home and you've got your dressing gown on and you rock up in the studio and do your thing and then go back downstairs again. Really Love hit and it was like 'wow'. Up until that point, during lockdown, I'd been doing more of these one off songs every week, or doing a live performance of an older song. Then I got deep into the album.” The song's success – it peaked at number 3 in the UK last October – was a nice surprise, but David's quick to point out that sales and chart stats aren't the be all and end all for him anymore. “Compared to where it was when I started – songs had to be number 1. Now it's different – songs need to live and be in a world where they will get discovered by who needs to hear them.” He's also keen to reflect wider societal shifts in his songs too, as part of this move towards greater intention. “As a man, I feel like masculinity has changed. There's a female energy, a sensitivity that needs to be honoured now. The alpha male, very patriarchal, conquer and divide, it's nonsense. What is the new masculine energy? Be more sensitive, talk about situations in relationships that tend to be shied away from. Let's go deeper. That's the encompassing factor for me. Let's leave the popping bottles in the club to the side for a bit – I've been there and done that. Where I'm at now I need to say things that are more impactful.”
Alongside Who You Are's plea for opening up emotionally, there's the Back 2 Basics banger which was co-written with Gracey and it's suggestion of a relationship re-start (“We finished it on the Friday and on the Saturday I rinsed it from morning to night,” laughs David, “there's something about it”), while the Fill Me In-esque Teardrops (They Don't Know) is “a sensitive break-up record but there's still a bit of 'I know I should go over and give you a hug and be like let's work this out'.” Meanwhile, What More Could I Ask For, which features a typically top notch verse from Wretch 32, is a celebration of that special someone. “I appreciate every day that I'm part of your life,” David sings over a languid R&B beat. “This song feels timeless to me. I know that feels a bit premature,” he laughs, “but it feels like a song that in ten or twenty years it won't have dated. It's not hitting what's happening at the moment, it's not trying to be current. It's a feel good, smile on your face tune. If I can't put a smile on your face with this one then just lock off.”
That idea of putting a smile on people's faces is at the heart of 22, an album whose title itself reflects myriad different themes. “There's also a spiritualism in the number 22 and what it represents,” he says. “In numerology it's a very powerful number and in terms of angel numbers it's bringing balance and equilibrium to my life. We're in a world where there's a lot of me against you, and so it's bridging the gap.” The title also represents distance; it's a date stamp that marks his career longevity. So what does the album's contents say about Craig David in 2022? “At its core it's still very much everything I've honoured since I was a kid, but in some ways I'm being more playful,” he says. “Loosening up the chains of my history. My debut is probably the most clear expression of who I am because it was my first outing – it's everything you are. So on this album there's that energy mixed with the wisdom and experience I can bring to the world. I've not mastered anything yet, I'm a newcomer still.” Still very much born to do it, just older and wiser.