After several critically acclaimed mixtapes under his belt and co-signs from Nas, it feels like Harlem native David Brewster Jr, otherwise known as Dave East, has a lot to prove with his debut album Survival and his first international tour.
The rap community has placed some pretty heavy expectations on East. Alongside rappers like Westide Gunn, Conway and Joey BadAss, East is often lauded as being part of a perceived revival of lyrical East Coast rappers. Throughout his discography, he has offered gritty and personal insights into his life as a man affected by gang life, poverty, athletic aspirations and fatherhood. He’s not a rapper afraid to explore darker and more contemplative themes, while balancing that with a modern sonic aesthetic that bridges the gap between collabs with newer school artists like Tory Lanez and beats from hip hop pioneers like DJ Premier.
On Survival, while he still revisits those themes, there’s a tangible feeling that Dave East is looking at forging his own path ahead and becoming a more concrete fixture in the music scene. Survival is the turning point for David Brewster Jr; he’s already proven he can make a hit club song (Phone Jumpin’), unique narrative driven songs (Keisha) and introspective tracks (Found a Way) but this album feels like a clear statement that says that he can move past the rookie stage, all while surviving and making his mark on the culture.
Early reports pegged the sales from Survival at a miniscule 3000 copies in its first week. In actuality, Survival sold over 20,000 copies and peaked at number 11 on the Billboard charts. Not a bad breakout for a lyrical street rapper competing against commercial giants such as Post Malone and the Frozen II Soundtrack.
On the back of his album release, Dave East headlined Electric Brixton on Tuesday 3 December as part of his first UK tour. The performance felt like a breakthrough for the rapper, and in a concert without much bells or whistles, the rapper delivered a strong, forceful and engaging show. And mercifully, all without resorting to an over reliance on backing tracks.
Yes, for the most part, East raps live and is actually audible. To be blunt, many rappers aren’t trained to rap on stage. A lot of rappers are horrid live, due to a reliance on overproduction in the studio and a laziness to committing to mastering the differences between recording a track and performing live. While he doesn’t have the studied live performance polish of J.Cole or Chance the Rapper, East is a refreshingly good live performer and is tireless, barely taking any breaks between songs, shifting between acapellas and rapping songs from his new album.
East’s performance effortlessly bounced between styles, moving from bass heavy hard-hitting boastful songs like Phone Jumpin’ and KD and radio friendly smooth RnB “tracks for the ladies” (his words) like Alone. In an understated way, East is really good at commanding attention and working the crowd. He has a brilliantly subtle charisma and natural coolness that stays engaging throughout the show.
But as in his discography, where East really shines is when he allows himself to move past the bravado and get thoughtful. East asked for the stage lights to be turned blue in honour of the beloved Nipsey Hussle, during his emotionally charged tribute, The Marathon Continues. It was a touching moment that strongly resonated with the audience and underscores the global impact the late Nipsey had on hip-hop.
In fact, speaking of modern rap fans, a few years ago South London MP Chuka Umunna gave a tour to actor Will Smith, who asked to see “London’s Harlem”. Umunna promptly took Smith through a tour of Brixton. For East, who reps Harlem so hard, it’s apt that his first UK show was held in a Brixton venue — an location arguably more appreciative of his style and background. Electric Brixton attracted more of the 20s to mid-30s demographic and less of the teenage crowd drawn towards the newer emo-rap style, which based on the audience’s positive response to relatable and introspective tracks like Daddy Knows, once again dispels the myth that modern rap fans don’t want to hear lyrical rap.
And while it’s too early to tell whether East will become a more solid and relevant fixture in the hip-hop landscape in the future, his show at Electric Brixton definitely suggests that there is an appetite for more from East and that he’s tapping into something special.
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