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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Mark Mukasa

Mark Mukasa

Mark is a South Lon­don based writer and avid fan of all things hip hop. He’s also an MMA and his­tory enthu­si­ast who tries to keep his love of animé under wraps.

About Mark Mukasa

Mark Mukasa
Mark is a South London based writer and avid fan of all things hip hop. He's also an MMA and history enthusiast who tries to keep his love of anime under wraps.