David, Craig 1981–
Craig David 1981–
In the summer of 2000, Craig David’s debut recording, Born to Do It, made him an instant celebrity at 19 in his native Britain. The assemblage of dance-oriented R&B songs earned accolades from critics and achieved platinum several times over. The recording’s first single, “Fill Me In,” made David the youngest British male singer to have a No. 1 hit in his country. Journalists called him a talent to watch, praising David’s impressive tenor as well as his song-writing abilities. “David has a genuinely remarkable vocal style, displaying a luxurious tone and athletic flexibility of a kind rarely heard in British pop,” declared music critic Neil McCor-mick of London’s Telegraph newspaper. Not long after Born to Do It was released in the United States, the record made it into the Top 20 on the charts.
Observer journalist Akin Ojumu described David as “that rarest of things: a homegrown soul star.” The young singer is a product of Britain’s multicultural society, born to a white Jewish mother and a Grenadian carpenter in 1981. But the Davids separated not long after their son’s birth, and David was raised by his mother, a sales clerk. They lived in a relatively impoverished area of Southampton, a port city on the English Channel, where David grew up listening to the records of American stars like Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson. He had little knowledge of his father’s previous career as a reggae musician with a group called the Ebony Rockers, but when he himself showed an interest in making music, his father attempted to steer him toward classical guitar. “I loved the guitar, but I wasn’t really feeling these classical songs,” David told Entertainment Weekly writer Rob Brunner. “I wanted to sing.”
His chance came one night when he was just 14, at the West Indian social club to which his father belonged, when the DJ handed him the microphone. “I was just kind of harmonizing, singing, ad-libbing,” David recalled in the interview with Brunner. He began MC-ing, or rapping over the songs of others, with the DJ and others, and soon gained a measure of local celebrity. The extracurricular activities often kept him out quite late, but David recalled that his parents were supportive. “I chose my friends carefully, and they knew I had my head on my shoulders,” he said in the Entertainment Weekly interview. “I wasn’t gallivanting around being an idiot.” At home, his bedroom contained an array of instruments
At a Glance…
Born Craig Ashley David on May 5, 1981, in Southampton, England; son of George (a carpenter) and Tina (a sales clerk) David, Education: Attended Southampton City College.
Career: Worked as a disc jockey in Southampton, England, and host of pirate radio show, mid-1990s; signed to Wildstar Records, c. 1999; debut LP, Born to Do It, released in the United Kingdom, 2000, released in the United States, 2001.
Addresses: Record company—Atlantic Records, 9229 Sunset Blvd., 9th Floor, Los Angeles, CA 90069-2474.
and turntables, and he began writing songs on his own. Entering a contest at the age of 15, he won first prize with “I’m Ready,” a song recorded by a successful group in the United Kingdom called Damage. He also hosted his own show on a pirate, or unlicenced, radio station.
Though David worked toward an engineering degree at Southampton City College, his career plans took a new turn in 1997 when he struck up a friendship with an older musician, Mark Hill, of Artful Dodger. The band was a well-known “garage” outfit, the term used to denote a style of drum-and-bass, house-music, and R&B elements in the U.K. music scene also called two-step. David worked with Hill in the studio and appeared as a guest vocalist on an Artful Dodger track, “Re-Rewind,” in late 1999. David and Hill also had a minor hit with “What Ya Gonna Do?,” which “caused a storm on the underground scene,” David recalled in the article by Brunner. “Bristol, London, Manchester … we were just amazed. We were these guys from Southampton, and we’d made a record that was getting five-star reviews. It was crazy.” The success led David to a contract with Wildstar Records to record his own songs.
Produced by his friend Hill, David’s Born to Do It appeared in British record stores in early 2000. Its soulful R&B songs, like “Last Night” and “Follow Me,” appealed to fans, and the first single, “Fill Me In,” about a girl whose budding romance is repeatedly thwarted by her parents, reached No. 1 in April. David was amazed at its success, for he could easily recall the day when he had written it in his bedroom. “Like, in a small confined space writing a song to then be embraced by thousands of people, millions of people, it’s like I can’t believe it,” he enthused in an interview with Carol McDaid of the Observer.
The work won positive accolades from the music press. Ojumu called it “an inoffensive, sunny confection, sprinkled with Spanish guitar touches and accessible lyrics” in the Observer article, while the Telegraph’s McCormick commended its “superbly crafted songs” that proved David’s talent as “a clever lyricist with a knack for concise story-telling and an unerringly melodic sensibility.” McDaid, writing for the Observer, praised the work as possessing “something for everyone: Spanish guitar, tasteful strings, great melodies, storyboard lyrics, two-step basslines and that gorgeous, athletic voice.” David noted that his experiences as a DJ were crucial to his success as a songwriter. “It gave me a really good idea of what works and what doesn’t in terms of structure,” David told another Telegraph writer, Ben Thompson. “Even in the course of a three-and-a-half minute tune, the crowd gets tired, and you have to know how to get them going: do they want to hear the bridge again?”
Soon David was a bona-fide celebrity in the United Kingdom, selling out concert arenas and his every move chronicled in the press. In late 2000, the Observer’s Ojumu reviewed a performance in David’s hometown of Southampton, where his popularity had reached massive proportions. During the show, David sang much of Born to Do It, but also performed songs from Usher (“Nice and Slow”) R. Kelly (“Did You Ever Think”)-a choice of covers, Ojumu noted, that “hints at something more interesting in his future. The former is a showy ballad that lets his heartfelt voice soar and the latter gives the audience a rare chance to jump up and down as David raps and stomps across the stage.”
David and his debut LP earned nominations for six “Brit” awards, the United Kingdom’s equivalent to the Grammy but lost in all categories. Still, the record had attracted some notable fans, including Sir Elton John, Macy Gray, Sean “P-Diddy” Combs, and Sisqo, and went on to sell 5 million copies around the world. It was released in the United States on the Atlantic label in the summer of 2001, but David was cognizant of the fact that few male British pop acts had achieved lasting stardom in the North American market. “There are so many great artists here in the U.S.,” David told Los Angeles Times writer Steve Hochman. “It’s a different culture. I feel I have a different approach, being a DJ and rapping in my songs as well as singing.” Again, the record garnered positive critical accolades. David’s voice, noted Entertainment Weekly critic Will Hermes, “slides and skips over sparkling arrangements. Melodies get sketched out by acoustic guitar, harp, or harpsichord; bells and wind chimes up the tinkle factor. And the rhythms bump along, busy but refined, nodding to American R&B scientist Timbaland just as he nods (admittedly or not) to British DJ music.”
“David seems devoid of the egotism that so often accompanies youthful success,” observed McCormick in the Telegraph. Though his daily life and possible romantic links were avidly chronicled in the British press, he rarely gave the tabloids any salacious headlines for bad behavior. “I don’t feel like I’ve achieved anything yet,” he told McCormick. “I’ve got such a long way to go, I don’t want to get caught up in any of the rock and roll kind of lifestyle because these early stages of my career are the most important and to throw it all away by making stupid mistakes is something I’d regret for the rest of my life.”
Born to Do It, Wildstar, 2000, Atlantic, 2001.
Entertainment Weekly, May 11, 2001, p. 80; July 20, 2001, p. 64; August 3, 2001, p. 30.
Essence, June 2001, p. 64.
Los Angeles Times, February 4, 2001, p. 66.
Observer (U.K.), July 16, 2000 p. 6; November 26, 2000, p. 14.
Telegraph (U.K.), August 24, 2000; October 14, 2000; March 2,
Craig David was barely out of his teens when he leaped onto the British pop charts with his 2000 debut album Born to Do It. The young singer quickly parlayed his blues-tinged voice and mature appearance into worldwide success as the album went platinum, “proving you don’t have to be bred in the U.S.A. to make good R&B,” as Chuck Arnold noted in People magazine.
Born in Southampton, England, to racially mixed parents, David found his musical talent early in life. His father, a carpenter, also played reggae bass in a band called Ebony Rockers, a group that attained a fair amount of British success in the 1980s. The young David remained largely unaware of his father’s influence until he found albums with his father’s picture on them. The elder David “steered [his 12-year-old son] toward classical guitar,” according to an Entertainment Weekly article by Rob Brunner. “I loved the guitar,” David told Brunner, “but I wasn’t really feeling these classical songs. I wanted to sing.”
David began accompanying his father to local dance clubs, where deejays let the precocious teen take the microphone. David used these opportunities to talk to the audience and harmonize with the recordings. By age 14, David was a popular emcee in local dance clubs; his early stint in radio broadcasting ended abruptly, however, when the police raided the pirate radio station that employed him.
In 1997 the 16 year old met producer Mark Hill, who owned a Southampton studio and created dance tracks under the name Artful Dodger. “The first time I met him, his voice just stuck out a mile,” Hill told Brunner. “It was incredible—he was just a local schoolkid.” The two collaborated on a single, “What Ya Gonna Do,” which was released on vinyl, a rarity. The record was a smash on the Southampton dance scene, and its popularity spread to clubs in Bristol, Manchester, and London.
“What Ya Gonna Do” helped usher in a popular British dance-music genre known as the two-step, defined by Will Hermes in another Entertainment Weekly piece as “a fizzy hybrid of drum-and-bass beats, house-music swing, and R&B melody.” A 1999 Artful Dodger two-step number, “Re-Rewind (When the Crowd Say Bo Selecta)” reached number two on the United Kingdom charts. Lynda Cowell, writing for MOBO magazine online, noted that “Re-Rewind” “became nothing short of a national club anthem. From sweaty dancefloors to car stereos up and down the country, nowhere was safe from it infectious beats.”
At the same time David was making his name as a lyricist, having won a nationwide songwriting contest. His prize was to pen the lyrics for the B-side to a hit record from the British group Damage. He wrote “I’m Ready,” then created his first solo track, a cover of “Human,” popularized in the 1980s by Human League.
Born Craig Ashley David on May 5, 1981, in Southampton, Hamptonshire, England; son of George and Tina David.
Began performing as a deejay and emcee in Southampton, England; lyricist and performer on dance singles; collaborator with Artful Dodger on dance singles; solo artist and touring performer, 2000-; first album Born to Do It released 2001; released follow-up effort Slicker Than Your Average, featuring single “Rise and Fall” with Sting, 2002.
Awards: MasterCard Music of Black Origin (MOBO) Awards, Best R&B Act, Best U.K. Single for “Fill Me In,” Best U.K. Newcomer, 2000; Billboard Music Video Awards, Best Dance New Artist Clip, Best R&B New Artist Clip, 2001; MTV Europe Music Video Awards, Best R&B Act, Best U.K./Ireland Act, 2001.
In 2000 David’s first solo album, Born to Do It, was released in England to good reviews and quick sales. When “Fill Me In,” the album’s first single, came out, David became—at 19—the youngest British male solo artist to have a number-one song. His success earned him a place among the United Kingdom’s top soul artists, which include Sade, Soul II Soul, and Seal. The young singer’s appeal seemed to be in a class by itself, however. “A honey-voiced crooner whose sneaky melodies tap you on the shoulder rather than smack you in the face,” wrote Brunner, “David is the rare contemporary R&B singer who understands the value of subtlety.” In Hermes’s view, the singer’s “high tenor, two parts Stevie Wonder to one R. Kelly, slides and skips over sparkling arrangements, massaging the end of each line the way he might your feet after a night of dancing on stiletto heels at a debutante ball.” The performer’s good looks didn’t hurt his reputation either. Hermes described David in 2001 as “a gorgeous 20-year-old … with almond eyes, cappuccino skin, a George Michael goatee, and a homeboy-meets-hellraiser hairdo.”
On the strength of such singles as “Fill Me In,” “Walking Away,” and “7 Days,” Born to Do It sold seven million units worldwide, earning multiplatinum status in more than 20 countries. The album was nominated for a Grammy Award; in his home country, David took home three MOBO awards, though controversy followed when the young phenom was shut out of the BRIT Awards. When David failed to win any of his six nominations, including Best British Male Solo Artist and Best British Newcomer, industry politics was blamed. Several luminaries of the British music scene hurried to David’s side; Elton John, for one, called the young man England’s best vocalist. When the debut album hit America in 2001, the “7 Days” single became a hit in February of 2002.
The success of his debut did not seem to go to David’s head. “Gotta make sure the second album is okay,” he said in a People interview, “or it’ll be back to … me saying, ‘Mom, what did you think of this track?’” Slicker Than Your Average, David’s follow-up album, was released in the United Kingdom in 2001. Graham Williams, CEO of London’s Telstar Music Group, explained in a Music & Media interview that David “makes international albums and opens doors for lots of other U.K. artists.” As for the American reception of Slicker Than Your Average, Williams said: “It’s easier on the one hand because there’s interest in him, whereas the last time we had to convince everybody that he was worth being on radio and television. This time television and radio are very receptive, but he’s still got to be judged.”
Among those evaluating Slicker Than Your Average was Dotmusic online critic James Poletti, who said that this harder-edged collection doesn’t offer quite an accurate representation of the artist. “We all know too much about him to be convinced by attempts to turn on the R. Kelly metaphors and fast cars, fast women’ persona he tries on here,” wrote Poletti. “We’ve seen him at home in Southampton. With his mum.” Still, the reviewer welcomed Slicker Than Your Average as “still way more consistent than your average over-long U.S. R&B release.” Offering a similar view was a German music editor who told Music & Media reporter Amanda Melodini that these lyrics are “a bit more shallow … but you don’t need deep lyrics with a dance track.” To C. Bottomley of VH-1, the album “is the sound of an older and wiser smoothie who has learned that fame comes with a price.”
David told Bottomley how high that price could be. “With success comes a lot of jealousy,” he said. “A lot of people stab you in the back. The people who said, ‘We’re part of the crew,’ weren’t with me when I really needed them. I’m not bitter. I’m 21, I’ve traveled the whole world; I’m having a wonderful time. But these people need to understand small little things.” As for maintaining a “player” persona, David remarked that “when I talk about sex I should do it in a way that isn’t vulgar.” He quipped that his songs are reviewed by his mother: “She picks up on things like that on this album. On ‘What’s Your Flava?’ I say, ‘I want to taste ya,’ and she’s like [adopts high-pitched voice] ‘Craig, what are you trying to say here?’ I explain it’s about ice cream flavors and then she says, ‘Oh, it’s all good!’”
Born to Do It, Atlantic, 2001.
Slicker Than Your Average, Atlantic, 2002.
Entertainment Weekly, July 20, 2001; August 3, 2001; December 21, 2001.
Essence, June, 2001.
Jet, August 6, 2001.
Music & Media, November 2, 2002; November 30, 2002.
People, May 13, 2002; November 25, 2002; December 9, 2002.
“Craig David,” Dotmusic, http://www.dotmusic.com/artists/CraigDavid (January 7, 2003).
Craig David Official Website, http://www.craigdavid.co.uk (January 7, 2003).
“Craig David: The Rebirth of Slick,” VH-1, http://www.vh1.com/artists/ (January 7, 2003).
“King David,” MOBO,http://www.mobo.net/ (January 7, 2003).
“Second Cup Café: Craig David,” CBS Early Show, http://www.cbsnews.com/ (January 7, 2003).
British rhythm-and-blues (R&B) singer Craig David rocketed to success at age 19 with his very first album, Born to Do It. His unique blend of soulful lyrics, subtle melodies, and infectious beats have earned him critical admiration and popular fame, prompting Sir Elton John to proclaim him the best singer in England.
Became Teenage MC
The son of a black father and white mother, Craig Ashley David was born on May 5, 1981, and grew up in Southampton, a city southwest of London. As a young child he absorbed a wide variety of musical influences. His father, a carpenter and bass player in a reggae band, took him to rehearsals and gigs. His mother played Stevie Wonder, Terence Trend D'Arby, and the Osmonds' records. As he later commented to New York Times writer James Hunter, "I kind of caught that puppy love thing" from his mother's favorite music. Though his parents divorced when he was eight and he lived thereafter with his mother, David remained close to his father, who encouraged the boy to take guitar lessons. "I loved the guitar," David told Entertainment Weekly writer Rob Brunner, "but I wasn't really feeling these classical songs. I wanted to sing."
By age 14, David was spending a lot of time at the dances sponsored by his father's West Indian social club. One night, the DJ there let the boy try his hand as an MC. He proved quite popular, and was soon offered gigs at local clubs and parties. With his earnings—about $150 per week—he built a small studio in his bedroom. He sang on the single "Let's Kick Racism Out of Football" for the English Premier League soccer organization, and won a national song-writing contest with the tune "I'm Ready" for the boy-band Damage.
David's first big career break came in 1997, when he met producer Mark Hill, who recorded dance tracks under the name Artful Dodger. Hill invited David to collaborate on the single "What Ya Gonna Do," which they released on vinyl and which was included on the album Rewind (When the Crowd Say Bo Selecta). The song was an instant hit, helping to popularize the British dance-music genre known as the two-step. "It caused a storm on the underground scene," David said of the record in remarks quoted by Brunner. "We were just amazed. We were these guys from Southampton, and we'd made a record that was getting five-star reviews. It was crazy."
Launched Solo Career
With the huge success of two-step, David was in an ideal position to make his first solo recording. In March 2000 he released the song "Fill Me In," which went straight to the top of the U.K. pop charts. At age 19, David was the youngest British male solo artist ever to enjoy the distinction of a number-one hit song. Born to Do It, his debut album featuring the hit single, was released in 2001. Produced by Mark Hill, it sold 7 million copies and reached gold, platinum, or multi-platinum status in more than 20 countries. Entertainment Weekly writer Will Hermes described Born to Do It as a "brilliantly market-tuned fusion of R&B elegance and all ages pop sugar" that made David a "post-race, post-class poster boy for England's new melting-pot culture."
David's second album, Slicker Than Your Average, was released in 2002. It presents "a more assured, intimate sound and lyrics," noted a reviewer on the Craig David Web site. "Anyone expecting a sequel to Born to Do It is in for a surprise. Slicker is the sound of a man who has seen the world, perfected his live sound and is truly comfortable in his own skin. More accomplished and diverse than his debut, it sees Craig merge the influences he grew up on with the experiences he had absorbed." The hit single from the album, "What's Your Flava," was the basis of a music video that David based on his favorite film, Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
Solid hits in England and Europe, both albums also sold well in the United States, where David's celebrity fans include Quincy Jones, Beyonce, Missy Elliot, J-Lo, and Usher. Nevertheless, some American hip-hop fans have accused David of creating music that is too soft. But the singer told James Hunter of the New York Times that these critics are just jealous. "I always knew that my music had a lot more pop-R&B influence," he noted, "and I wasn't going to just jump on being the face of two-step garage." The singer makes no apologies for his polite, cheerful image. He does not smoke, rarely drinks, and avoids rough language and topics in his songs. As he commented in Hello! magazine, "Growing up with my mum, I think it gave me so much more respect for women in general, and to not be vulgar in the way you go about writing songs."
Remained Loyal to Home-Grown Values
Though David has won numerous awards, including Best R&B Act, Best U.K. Newcomer, and Best U.K. Single in 2000 by the MasterCard Music of Black Origin Awards in 2000, those close to him say that success has not changed the young musician. He still considers Southampton home and is proud of his roots in that city. David has participated in several charity concerts, including the Tsunami Relief Cardiff concert in 2005, in which he joined such other notable artists as Eric Clapton and the Stereophonics. The event raised more than one million pounds for those affected by the tsunami that hit south Asia in December 2004. Another honor was being invited to join the roster of performers at the Live 8 concert at Hyde Park in London on July 2, 2005. The concert, one of several staged worldwide, was organized to raise awareness of world poverty, especially in Africa.
At a Glance …
Born on May 5, 1981, in Southampton, England; son of George and Tina David. Education: Attended Southampton City College.
Career: Recording artist and touring performer, 1997-. Worked as deejay and MC in Southampton, England; lyricist and performer on dance singles.
Awards: MasterCard Music of Black Origin (MOBO) Awards, Best R&B Act, Best U.K. Single for "Fill Me In," and Best U.K. Newcomer, 2000; Billboard Music Video Awards, Best Dance New Artist Clip, Best R&B New Artist Clip, 2001; MTV Europe Music Video Awards, Best R&B Act, Best U.K./Ireland Act, 2001.
Addresses: Label—c/o Warner Music International, Ave. de Chillon 70, 1820 Montreaux, Switzerland. Web—www.craigdaviduk.com.
Not merely seeking fame, David has aspirations to achieve something deeper with his music. "I just felt that deep inside I was part of something unique and British but yet that was very exportable," he told Hunter. "Coming from a mixed-race family…I was always very open-minded about music…. I love to ask questions and find out what it is that makes things tick." David released his third album, The Story Goes, in August 2005. He described the project to interviewer Noel Davies as "another chapter in my life [that] brings me back to things how they used to be when I was starting off. There's a lot of good memories there for me." Noting that the lyrics on this new record differ from his previous work, he said that he thinks it is his best work to date. "Craig's a true gentleman," said Ron Shapiro, co-president of the singer's record label, to Hunter. "Craig's about joyousness."
Born to Do It, Atlantic, 2001.
Slicker Than Your Average, Atlantic, 2002.
The Story Goes, Warner Music International, 2005.
"What Ya Gonna Do," 1997.
"Fill Me In," 2000.
Contemporary Musicians, Vol. 42, Gale Group, 2003.
Entertainment Weekly, July 20, 2001, p. 64; August 3, 2001, p. 30.
Jet, August 6, 2001.
New York Times, January 19, 2003.
People Weekly, December 9, 2002, p. 109.
Craig David, www.craigdaviduk.com (August 30, 2005).
"Craig David," Hello!, www.hellomagazine.com (June 14, 2005).
Davies, Noel, "Q & A with Craig," Southern Daily Echo, www.thisissouthampton.co.uk (June 7, 2005).
—E. M. Shostak
Born: Craig Ashley David; Southampton, England, 5 May 1981.
Best-selling album since 1990: Born to Do It (2000)
Hit songs since 1990: "Walking Away," "7 Days," "What's Your Flava?"
Craig David, the British-born singer/songwriter, burst upon the American scene in 2001 with his eclectic mix of edgy dance beats and traditional pop song craft. He emerged in Britain as the popular face of U.K. garage, a dance music genre marked by fast-paced, fractured beats and soulful choruses. He won acclaim for his debut album, Born to Do It (2000), and became the youngest male artist to top both the singles and album charts in his native country. He continued this success in America, and in 2002 released Slicker Than Your Average, in which he ventures further from his garage roots into pop and R&B territory.
Craig David was born in Southampton, a port city in southern England, to an English mother and West Indian father. His multicultural upbringing and love of American pop and soul influenced his first forays into music as a DJ, spinning and mixing records on a local pirate radio station at age fourteen. He soon moved on to club sets, and in 1996 won a national songwriting competition for an original track titled "I'm Ready." The song was recorded by the R&B group Damage and ended up as the B-side of a successful single. "I'm Ready" brought David to the attention of Mark Hill, a member of the popular garage production team Artful Dodger.
The garage style combines quick, clipped beats with rap and R&B-style choruses. The texture of the beats is light and breezy in comparison to the hard, frenetic sound of typical club music. This tonal variation represented a new and engaging sound, and garage caught fire in the U.K. underground dance scene. Hill set David's pop and R&B songs to a garage beat, and the team produced the 1999 U.K. hit single "Rewind." The song is credited with introducing garage to the mainstream, and it set David up for a full album release.
Born to Do It was a hit in Britain upon its release in 2000. Its success was driven by a string of stirring singles, including the sexy "7 Days" and the confessional "Walking Away." Much of the sound is rooted in garage, but what shines through is David's talents as a singer and songwriter. "7 Days" benefits from the novelistic detail of a chance meeting that stretches out over a week. The confident vocals match the smooth arrangements and reveal a real personality usually absent in garage's anonymous producer-driven singles. The following year the album received its American release and garnered significant acclaim and commercial success.
In his second album, Slicker Than Your Average (2002), David articulates his love of pop and R&B with a collection of supremely catchy songs. Although some fans regretted his departure from garage, he won wider acclaim for his bold songwriting and ambitious vocals. Dance tracks like "What's Your Flava?" slink with a newfound bravado, and the ballads unfold with assured grace. "Rise & Fall," a ballad recorded with Sting, addresses the perils of fame and the pitfalls of stardom in startlingly open terms: "Now I don't even wanna please the fans, / No autographs, / No interviews, / No pictures, / And less demands."
Craig David stands in a line of pop singers who do not conform to a particular style. Like his heroes Prince and Terence Trent D'Arby, David easily jumps genres with a sound and attitude all his own.
Born to Do It (2000, Atlantic); Slicker Than Your Average (2002, Atlantic).