Craig David Biography
Became Teenage MC, Launched Solo Career, Remained Loyal to Home-Grown Values, Selected discography
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.
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
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