Can a U.K. R&B/pop sensation translate worldwide sales exceeding 3.5 million into Stateside success? That's the question facing Atlantic Records, as the label releases Craig David's "Born to Do It

Can a U.K. R&B/pop sensation translate worldwide sales exceeding 3.5 million into Stateside success? That's the question facing Atlantic Records, as the label releases Craig David's "Born to Do It" this week (July 17).

Released in the U.K. last summer on Wildstar Records, David's self-penned effort rocketed into the No. 1 slot on the charts there -- thanks to two smash hit singles, "Fill Me In" and "7 Days."

Within the past year, the 20-year-old singer/songwriter -- whose fans include musical colleagues Usher, Sisqo, and Elton John -- has also claimed three MOBO Awards (including best newcomer) and four 2001 Brit Award nominations.

"It's all been very surreal," David says. "When I do interviews, I sometimes talk in the third person, like I'm watching this other artist grow. I'm amazed, just trying to enjoy everything. But I'm aware success can be taken away just as fast. I keep that in the back of my mind."

America's primary introduction to David is the infectious, hooky commercial single "Fill Me In," which currently stands at No. 19 on both Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart and The Billboard Hot 100.

The Latin-accented second single, "7 Days," will be shipped to radio in mid-to-late September. Both tunes, as well as other notable tracks -- including the rock'n'funk "Walking Away," the easy-groovin' "Rendezvous," the club jam "Time to Party," and the sparkling "Last Night" -- engagingly combine David's vocal prowess with his R&B, rap/hip-hop, rock, and pop influences gleaned through listening to Soul II Soul, Loose Ends, Travis, Terence Trent D'Arby, Coldplay, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, and others.

"I'm influenced vocally by R&B music," says David. "As for rap and hip-hop, it comes from the U.K.'s garage scene, while my production leans into different genres. Being brought up in the U.K. and coming from a mixed-race family, it's hard to put my style into a category. It's left-field music that incorporates all my flavors."

Asked why his songs have become so popular so fast, the artist attributes it to simplicity.

"That's what people are enjoying," notes the Southampton-bred David. "Regardless of production, I write to keep a melodic flavor throughout and not jump around doing acrobatics and ad-libs. I like to keep it simple and let the melody take you. Lyrically, I write about life experiences I've been through without being too specific -- which can keep people from being able to totally relate."

David's album is produced by "Fill Me In" co-writer Mark Hill, one-half of the now defunct adventurous production duo Artful Dodger. The pair met by way of their DJ gigs at British club Juice after Hill learned about David winning a 1996 national songwriting competition with the song "I'm Ready," which was later recorded by R&B quintet Damage. David and Hill's 1999 collaboration, the Artful Dodger garage/crossover hit "Rewind," with David on vocals, is also included on "Born to Do It."

Calling the album a "very solid R&B/pop record," Trans World Entertainment's urban music buyer Jim Stella says all the pieces are in place for the album to make "a big splash in the U.S."

In addition to video airplay on MTV, VH1, and BET, major TV appearances ("Weekend Today," July 14; "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno," July 20), and live performances (L.A.'s El Rey Theater, July 19; Central Park Summerstage July 22), the David dance card includes a July 16 listening party and chat via AOL/Teenpeople.com and a September contest with publications Black Beat and Word Up! wherein contestants complete a line from a David album cut. The grand prize in the random drawing is an autographed multi-platinum plaque.

"How to break Craig in the States was definitely an issue when we began discussing this project," says James Lopez, Atlantic's senior director of urban marketing. "But he's a true artist who's a breath of fresh air for R&B/pop, which has become very producer-driven here vs. artist-driven. His different sound separates him from the pack."

David -- who chose his album title from a line in his favorite movie, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory -- admits that breaking in to the U.S. mainstream will be challenging. "Selling 4 million in the U.K. is a nice success story," he says. "But it will be harder for me as a newcomer vs. an American newcomer. I'll just let my music do the talking."

Questions? Comments? Let us know: @billboard

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