Craig David: ‘There were a lot of distractions in Miami’
The R&B singer has a new generation of fans with the album ‘Following my Intuition’
Craig David released his sixth album in September, 16 years after is first. Photograph: Shirlaine Forrest/Getty Images
Craig David is one of the few people in the world who actually had a good 2016. It has been 16 years since the release of his debut album Born to Do It, and he’s managed to reemerge from his frequently Instagrammed, all-white Miami penthouse, return to the UK, and find a place in the charts again – a place that can be cruel to anyone making a comeback.
“I couldn’t have written the way it has unfolded,” the 35-year-old says, amazed at the turnaround that his career has taken in the past 12 months. David and Born to Do It are a testament to the power of the pre-MP3 music industry. Although his album sales have decreased with each release, reaching the point of desperation in 2010 where he released a Motown covers album called Signed Sealed Delivered, he remains as one of the UK’s biggest selling acts – and now it seems he is back on an upward trend.
So, what took the Southampton singer and MC so long to get his career back to where it began? “I found that in Miami, there was a lot of distractions. It was like, when I’d moved there, it was about the lifestyle and the weather and I’d just bought this beautiful apartment and it was just all great.” He is so enthusiastic it makes me believe that Miami may also be a state of mind. “But the weather was a distraction because that was trying to pull you out in the daytime, so you’d want to be active and doing something during the day. And then at nighttime, you’re on South Beach.”
Will Smith’s song Miami tells you all you need to know: “Party in the city where the heat is on/All night on the beach ‘til the break of dawn/ Welcome to Miami (bienvenido a Miami).”
In the Miami years, he would host parties in his apartment TS5, which would eventually become a club night that would make its way to Glastonbury. But musically, even though he still had various record labels holding on to him, he wasn’t doing much but would find himself prematurely tweeting about new music. “I felt on my social media, especially on Twitter… hashtag 2012 new album,” he says, pretending to tweet. “Then it was hashtag 2013 new album. 2014, the same thing. 2015... People were just like ‘Why do you keep putting this hashtag up? There’s nothing coming out here.’ ”
It wasn’t until one of the juniors on his UK management team more or less told him to cop on that he started properly writing again. “Literally, he kind of called me out. He stood up in a meeting when I was talking to my main manager, and we thought ‘ooh, what has he got to say here’. And he said: ‘I really hope you don’t take this the wrong way and I might be out of step to say this, but we feel that we lost you a little bit when you were in Miami. You say that you’re in your studio but it kind of feels like you’re going into your studio and walking back out on to your terrace, enjoying the sun and driving your car, and doing whatever you’re doing, and just talking it rather than doing it.’ The ego part of me wanted to be like, NO, NO, NO. What are you talking about? I’m working, but it resonated so clearly that I was like ‘You know what? You’re right. I have and it’s nonsense.’ And from that day, literally a year and a half ago, I cancelled my ticket back to Miami and I stayed and I started writing songs and I haven’t been back to Miami this year for the last eight months.”
Making up lost time
Craig David is a fast talker, spitting out about 2.5 words a second but, in fairness, he’s got a lot of time to make up for. When his career began in 1999, going viral meant a trip to the hospital, but with a popular Instagram account where he posts photos of his toned physique along with philosophical captions, does he think that his social media presence paired up with the valuable currency of nostalgia played a role in his comeback?
“You can have all the social media locked down but if the song is not great . . . I’ve realised that, that’s one of the smoke and mirrors of Instagram. You can have millions of followers but put some product up or put something that you want to sell and 15 people come. And you’re like, that’s not quite . . . ”
Following My Intuition, his sixth studio album, was released in September and with its 1990s kickback R&B sounds, it’s brought him a dual appeal: younger generations and those who were there the first time around. Looking back at the lost Miami years and where he is now, would he do anything different?
“What more could I have asked for? I’ve sold so many records, played all these different places, travelled the world. I was just dreaming about moving to the outskirts of Southampton but then I got a place and moved to London and then moved to Miami.
“And when I look back at it,” says David, with the wisdom of a man who made his first million before he was 21, “I’ve got all the material things that I could ever have asked for, I was beyond grateful, but did it fulfil me? No. What did? When I was in the studio making tunes. When I went onstage and I performed those songs. That makes me happy. So really, it took me 16 years to find out that what I was doing at the start was actually what I wanted.”
“I’ve met Drake a few times and he’s shown love on his mixtapes from back in the day where he’d be like, ‘I’m on my Craig David shit, the Artful Dodger’. So it’s known that he was influenced by the music that I was doing but what he’s been able to do is to run off in a tangent and do his own thing… It’s hard for me to say that I am [an influence on Drake] without Drake saying ‘you know what? YES. I cosign that yes you were’. I mean, I could talk all day about what I think.”
“It sounds a bit cliche with Following My Intuition, but just intuitively through life, you know the things that you want to do. You know the things that get you excited but for some reason, you tell yourself this story that ‘No, you can’t do that. I can’t leave my job and the security that I’ve got to go and – I don’t know – go surfing in Hawaii because that’s what I really want to do’. You tell yourself this story so much that you never do it but if you’re so passionate about surfing in Hawaii . . . Because I know that when I made the choice of moving from Miami back to the UK because this is not the place for me – wow! – did things change. I can speak from experience from that.”
“I mean, at the moment you’ve got the Grammys going on and everyone is talking about ‘One Dance is 34 weeks at number one and it’s not up for a Grammy’ but... yeah. It’s 34 weeks at number one and it’s an amazing song and it’s touched so many people. So does it need this? (he shakes a 1.5 litre bottle of Evian water) to justify... Nah.”