Ever since David Brewster first clutched a microphone, the daunting thought of failure has always been impenetrable. The mere thought of hanging out by the nearest bodega and flinging endless quips until the wee hours of the morning in Harlem no longer excites him. For the MC who goes by Dave East, he’s far removed from those days when he used to stare through his project windows for a glimmer of hope.
After inking a deal with Def Jam in 2016, East neatly crafted his Kairi Chanel mixtape as if it was his debut album. With a robust line-up consisting of Fabolous, 2 Chainz and The Game, the “KD” artist injected hope into his forlorn hometown of NYC where the population of high-octane lyricists has steadily diminished. Hungry to etch his name alongside his idol Nas — who signed him to his label Mass Appeal in 2014 — East has whipped up a new batch of records for his day-one listeners.
Titled Paranoia, East delves deep into the pits of his newfound fame and unearths every crevice of fear that often once wore him down. Instead of being entangled by his demons, he’s embracing his paranoia head-on and is rattling off fiery bars in the process.
Billboard sat down with East to talk about his new EP, his growth as an MC, some of his biggest fears, collaborating with Drake and more in this extensive interview.
Talk about your growth as an MC from last year’s project Kairi Chanel to present-day with Paranoia?
Dave East: I feel like I’ve been really just exploring me and different sounds. I’ve worked with different producers that I hadn’t worked with before. So it was really just me like just growing in life and you know, my music is gon’ grow with me. I feel like with a lot of my projects, I kind of made self-explanatory like Kairi Chanel, which was named after my daughter. I was going through that at that time and she was just being born. So now she’s been here like a year. My name, my brand and what I’ve been working on all this time has definitely went up tremendously in the last year. So it’s just my growth and what’s going on now with me.
How has it been being attached to a major label in contrast to when you were an independent artist?
It’s been dope. The difference is I feel like [being attached] creates a certain persona around my name that just goes with the history of Def Jam. They have won for so many years. So for me to be a part of that, that legacy is dope. It just made me feel that I’m wearing it on my back. Like with every move that I’m making and doing, I’m waving that flag for Def Jam. It’s dope.
On the opening lines for “It Was Written,” you rapped: “Everybody keep telling me make a club record/ You ain’t trappin’ no more, stop doing drug records.” Have you found yourself at that crossroad where you’re sacrificing your old sound to appeal to more of a mainstream crowd?
Nah. I’ll never give up my style. I ain’t ever gonna give that up. I just feel like I found that balance where it’s a mix of me and the s–t that I like to do and what’s appealing to the masses right now. Like on Paranoia, I got the intro and 808 Mafia did it. Nobody ever heard me rap on that type of beat, as far as my projects go. I’ll do East-mixes and little freestyles to whoever, but as far as my own projects, you usually get a total New York City feel from it.
With this one, I kind of tried to venture off a little more, as far as the production. Now me and my stories are always gonna be New York, but as far as the actual sound, I’m in a younger game. I did the [XXL Freshman] cover with Uzi, 21 Savage, Yachty and all of these dudes that really got the youngins in a headlock right now. So you gotta kind of balance out with what they’re doing.
How did the “Perfect” collaboration with Chris Brown come about?
The “Perfect” collaboration was just overdue. Me and him had been kind of talking and we have a mutual friend that we’re both super close with. I had my own session in the city. I was leaving out of my session at maybe 6 in the morning and my boy called me like, ‘Yo. We’re in the studio now. Pull up. Chris got some records for you. He wants you to hear some records.’
He played me his whole album and he was working on that joint when I walked in. When I walked in the studio, he was working on “Perfect.” So I heard it and was like, ‘Yo. This is perfect.’ It was the perfect record for me as far as what he’s talking about, because I just dealt with a lot of women, I’m dealing with different women now, so I needed that record for the girls.
I feel like a lot of my music is street-based and street-oriented and I ain’t really have that record for the females. So I feel like it made sense on this one.
Do you feel that at one point you’ll have to cater more to the women and try to give them those kind of records, while also trying to feed your core base who love your raps?
I feel like it’s a mix with me. I’m never really trying to focus on one aim. Like it’s gonna be me. So even with with the “Perfect” record, I’m still spitting. It’s a little watered-down from what you’re used to as far as me rapping, but it’s points in there where I’m still rapping. Honestly, I want to make more music for the women.
I rather have a show full of girls, but I still gotta talk about what I be personally going through, what I’ve gone through, and what the homies go through. Now I’m really in situations where I’m dealing with different types of women from all walks of life. From the hood [girls] to actresses, I’m seeing the difference as far as me being who I am now and how it comes. So I gotta have those joints for them.
On Kairi Chanel, you had Beanie Sigel, Fabolous, 2 Chainz and more featured on the tape. Who did you tap for appearances on Paranoia?
For Paranoia, I got French Montana. Me and him got a single on there. Of course, the Chris Brown record. Got Jeezy on the intro. Me and Wiz [Khalifa] got a joint called “Phone Jumping” that’s crazy, but those are the features on Paranoia. I got Jazzy Amra. She was on “Slow Down.” She has her own interlude on Paranoia.
I kept it tight again. With Kairi Chanel, that had three-four features. With this one, it’s three-four [features]. It’s less music on Paranoia. Paranoia is nine joints and with skits, I packaged it a little more, but everybody that I got on the tape made sense for the records that I got them on. I wasn’t like, ‘Let me get him on because he’s hot right now.’ I really wanted the records to make sense. So they all fit.
I remember you told us at Def Jam Upfronts that this would be the appetizer for your debut album. What stories are you saving for your debut project?
A little more of the stories right before I got on. Like for what I was going through, there were a lot of stories that I didn’t really touch on, like super-detailed and specific moments that I haven’t really spoke about on records. That’s more than anything that and I still want to run around a little more. I still ain’t tour yet.
There’s a lot of things that I still want to do before I say, ‘Alright. Here’s my album.’ I want [Paranoia] to be everywhere. I feel like right now I’m moving at a good pace, but they need Paranoia first. It’s not album time. Mentally, I’m there. Musically, I’m there, but just as far as where I’m right now, I don’t think it’s album time yet. A lot of people tell me it is, but I rather give them this, see what this do and come right back.
What are you most paranoid about?
Just ’cause of how fast my life changes. It changed overnight, but it didn’t happen overnight. It kind of flipped quick. I was in the projects one day and then I was gone. Me being a father, I feel like I’m her sole protector more than anybody on Earth. That had me paranoid. Like I always gotta get back to her. I always gotta be in a position where I’m not jeopardizing no time away from her that I’m not making no money.
The streets. Just people. I don’t be knowing what that love like. I don’t know if that sh-t is genuine. I don’t know no more. So I kind of try to keep the same exact people around me. I’m paranoid about leaving a life that I know I became so comfortable in. I was comfortable with walking to the stores. Just chilling on the block and smoking. I can’t do that no more. You can’t turn fame off regardless if you’re a platinum-selling artist or you’re in jail every week. If you’re famous, you’re famous. You’re in the headlines either way you go.
You went from the projects to hanging out with Drake and Nicki Minaj to being spotted with Christina Milian every other day. How have you maintained your focus and remained level-headed despite your star power growing?
I don’t forget nothing. Honestly, all this s–t be cool. It be more of a like, ‘I told n—-s that I was going to do this s–t.’ I felt like I was telling y’all in the hood what it was gonna be. So for it to happen, it was one of those I told you so moments, but I don’t care about none of that s–t, man. At the end of the day, I care that my people are going to be set for life.
I’m trying to set up certain situations where me and my closest are good because this s–t come and go. There’s people that were super hot last summer and you’re all around those same people and you don’t hear about them no more. I don’t want to be one of those people. I need to be around and now that I’m being accepted and being liked, saluted and respected by the top people in the game, the only way to go is up.
You said that you and No I.D. were locked in the studio for your debut album. Have you guys made any progress since?
We got a couple joints. We got a good four, five in right now. He knows what I want to do already. That’s the difference with this s–t. You have people that want to hear you their way or show you something that’s like, ‘Let’s do it like this.’ He’s more of a like he knows what I want already. He’s worked with all of my favorites. All my favorites he’s worked with.
So as far as my goals that I’m trying to accomplish, the sounds, he knows it already. I just gotta tell him what I want to talk about and he gets right into it. With him, it’s like, ‘Wow. I’m really creating music with one of the best producers ever.’ That’s a beautiful thing and I didn’t know he was doing JAY-Z’s [4:44] album like that. So just the timing, I couldn’t have asked for something better.
What was your favorite 16 off Paranoia?
Probably on the outro “Have you Ever.” The second verse. It brought me back to a certain time period when I hid my pistol in my socks draw. [Begins rapping] “I hid the pistol in my sock draw/ We had the hard and you could cop soft/ For some reason I don’t feel nothing when they knock a cop off/ You ain’t the only getting money, I got these dropoffs.’
It was me when I was 18. It brought me back to me remembering having my gun in my socks draw and my mother doing my laundry, finding the s–t. I could remember vividly certain sh-t that had happened. The second verse on the outro sum all that up. It really brought me back to that point in my life. I was dreaming about this s–t and all these artists that I was working with and f–king with now, they were artists then. They were who they were when I was a nobody in the projects.
Me and Drake working on a record right now; a few records. I could just remember talking about that s–t. Now it’s a reality.
How did you and Drake link up?
Through Karen Civil. Shout out to Karen. I was in a soccer game in Miami, El Classico. He was the coach. It was him and Draymond Green. Draymond was the other coach, [Drake] was my coach. It was one of them things where it was like I’ve been a fan of what he’s doing. He’s all the way in tune [with me]. I used to see him liking videos. Anytime I’d be rapping — not pics — he’d like the videos and s–t like that. So I knew he was familiar with me. We just never met or never crossed [paths].
We were on the soccer fields. We got to kick it then and I just was like, ‘Yo. We need to get it in my n—-a. We need some rap s–t. I know you could spit.’ He was like, ‘Pssh. I was thinking the same thing.’ We were able to vibe out for the weekend in Miami. We had a few private events. I went and kicked it with him and we just been chopping it up every other day.
He a good dude. He a fan of what I’m doing. So I gotta take that and capitalize off what I’m doing. I’ve been a fan of what he’s doing. So I think it would be dope to hear that mix. So many people are used to hearing me with the street sh-t. I feel like it’s gonna create a challenge for both of us because I can’t sing, but I can spit.
Are we gonna get a “Find Your Love” Drake or a “6 A.M. in Dallas” Drake?
Nah. He gon’ rap. He gon’ rap. It’s hard. The record is hard already. He got it. He got the record already. It’s hard.
I remember you touched on possibly getting JAY-Z and Nas on the same record for your debut album. Have the vocals been sent to you already?
Nah. That’s an idea that I let both of them know and yeah we’re gonna finessed this. I’ll be the first one to do that from anywhere. I don’t know another artist that got both JAY and Nas on a record. We gonna see what it do. We’re gonna keep our fingers crossed.