“Do it for the culture, I really come from the essence,” – Dave East, “Forbes List”

When rap fans try to describe the sound of New York Rap in 2015, it’s quite difficult to pinpoint it to one specific thing. New York City is America’s melting pot of ethnicities and culture. For Hip Hop, the sonic landscape continues to expand and bend as more artists are experimenting.  Although A$AP Rocky and French Montana made their name as New York natives who don’t necessarily sound like a Jim Jones or a Big Pun, other artists have made it their mission to champion the golden era days of lyricism and hard beats. Those rappers—Troy Ave, Joey Bada$$, Action Bronson, Chris Rivers, and more—pride themselves on coming up in the game listening to greats like Biggie, Dipset, Wu-Tang Clan, and Nas. They’ve established what it means to be from New York through their authenticity and have made strides with their classic material.

Dave East is a pure traditionalist. The 27-year-old Harlem native made waves last year when he released his Black Rose mixtape. It received a lot of attention because East was able to channel the heartache of losing his three closest friends to create a raw look into his life. His follow-up project, Hate Me Now, is a celebration. East knows he has a lot more work to do before he’s mentioned among legends, but Nas’s co-sign gave him the confidence to rap alongside some of your favorite MCs. Pusha T, Jadakiss, Styles P and others are his guests on the tape, but he’s featured some new blood like Floyd Miles and Tray Pizzy. “No Coachella for Me” is perfect for hoodie season, while “KD” and “Demons” are laced with tons of quotes that’ll make you rewind it back a few times. Then there’s, “Forbes List,” which features the Queensbridge icon, a shining moment for the young rapper who trades verses with Esco about chasing exquisite dreams. “I feel like Black Rose woke some people up, and now Hate Me Now will wake up even more people,” East says.

Last week, East took a break from shooting a video for “Numb” to talk to HipHopDX about Hate Me Now, working with Nas on “Forbes List,” the state of New York Hip Hop and other topics rap heads want to know. We even asked him about this year’s XXL Freshman list and his exclusion from that, as well as why he doesn’t care about being on a blog’s new artist list. Get acquainted. 

How Dave East Met Kevin Durant and Became Friends

HipHopDX: What’s your history with Kevin Durant? I’ve heard you recorded one of your tapes at his house.

Dave East: Yeah, that’s the homie. We go back to AAU [Amateur Athletic Union] days when I first left Harlem and when I first went to Maryland, B-More area. We made like first-team-all-Washington-D.C. for the state. I used to play ball so I met him playing basketball in my junior year, tenth grade of high school. Ever since then, we had a basketball relationship and then I ended up going to Towson University in Baltimore and his older brother Tony Durant was going there. He and I were roommates. From there, I would be coming to the crib and rapping and all that at the time. By that time, Kevin was already drafted. Seattle had moved to Oklahoma City and all that. Tony used to tell me, ‘You know Kevin used to have the studio in the crib? Kevin used to make beats and he’s a big fan of hip hop.

Tony was telling me, “Anytime you want to get free and go out there and record, just let me know. We’ll get you out there and record.” “Alright, bet.” So I hit KD up, got out there and I did my second mixtape called American Greed. I did that whole tape in Oklahoma City with Kevin. So that was super dope, but that’s family.

DX: For this tape, Hate Me Now, did you show him any tracks?

Dave East: Nah, I sent him the pre-order link. At the end of the day, I love Kevin. That love is there, but we both busy in what we doing. He got a billion things he doing. I’m trying to get my little shit together as far as I’m going with the music. So whenever he come to New York, he let me know that I’m in town. We may link up and we kick it, but it’s here and there. But you know that’s real friends. Business really doesn’t change nothing. I’m sure he’s gonna definitely tune in with this tape cause he hit me two weeks ago and was like, “Yo, you got the joint with Nas? That’s crazy.” I know he definitely gonna tune in when it drops.

On The Inspiration of Hate Me Now and Its Collaborators

DX: What’s the inspiration behind Hate Me Now?

Dave East: Honestly, around the time Nas started co-signing me. I’m still in Harlem every day. I’m still in the hood, in The Bronx. Queensbridge. I’m still outside in the same places that I’ve always been. It went from only my hood knowing me, people who personally knew me, to a lot of people knowing about it once Nas said my name. It came with a lot of love and it came with a lot of funny-style, little side talk, little subliminals and all that. But that just come with it. At the time when I was thinking of my next project, I said, “Fuck it, they about to start hating me because it’s about to get crazy. So I said, ‘Just hate me now. Do it right now. Don’t wait any longer. Don’t wait to hate me next summer, just start to hate me right now cause it’s only going to get worse.”

DX: Do you still think you’re getting that hate right now?

Dave East: You know what’s funny now? People see how it’s moving. The haters are secret. If I’m around them, it’s like, “Yo East!’ They want to be my friend or just they got some type of connection with me. I don’t even see it or hear it or nothing no more. I’m like, ‘Damn, I named the tape Hate Me Now.” And now it’s all love. [Laughs.]

DX: You have all these different collaborators on Hate Me Now like Rico Love, Pusha T, Mack Wilds. Did these guys reach to you personally?

Dave East: Me and Mack Wilds linked up at the Agenda Show, the clothing thing they had. We linked up there. We were both familiar with each other, but we had really never met. Me and Pusha T, I had a performance at a rooftop in the city with Rocksmith. Pusha and I, we linked up there. He had hit me on Twitter to let me know that he was a big fan of the “No Coachella” record.  So I took that opportunity to just [say], ‘Yo, me and you. Let’s do something. I got a joint for you to jump on. Let me send it to you.’ I send to him, he sent it right back. He said send it through and he sent that shit back in two days. He went crazy on it.

So all those relationships, I was already fans of all of them people. And all of them people were getting wind of me and finding out what I was doing and they are fans of me as well. Like Jadakiss and Styles, Styles is my favorite rapper. So for that relationship [to come together], that was super love on they behalf. But they fans of me as well. We talk regular, like, not about music. We have a relationship beyond music. All the features are peoples I am fans of that I basically hand-picked for this tape.

DX: You talked about the co-signs from Jadakiss and Styles P. What does that mean to you?

Dave East: That’s my favorite rappers. Every walk of life I ever been to—whether I was in jail or I was hustling or playing basketball. Whatever I was doing, from maybe 15 to 16 years old on, I was listening to Styles and Jadakiss. That’s all I was listening to. That’s all I was in-tune with. You know, I listened to a lot of Beanie Sigel and Nas, of course. But I was a huge Jadakiss, Styles P, LOX, Sheek Louch, big fan. For them to be the homies now it is crazy to me. For me to get both of them on one record, I thought I had to wait for the album. This is a mixtape.

Dave East on His Album And What Fans Can Expect

DX: You’ve been putting a lot of work. A lot of people know you for Black Rose, but you’ve also had tapes before that. What’s your mindset for your album?

Dave East: I definitely want to let this tape do what it do. But as far as the album, I’m always thinking about my album. Like I have topics and stuff that I know I’m about to talk about on my album. But I haven’t toured yet. There a lot of stuff that I haven’t done yet. I haven’t really gone out and see the world the way I want to see it where I can come back and really put out an album where people know me. I feel like Black Rose woke some people up, and now Hate Me Now will wake up even more people. That’s why I didn’t make this an album. So many people like, ‘You got Nas. You got Pusha T. You got all these [people]. Why is this not an album?’ It’s a mixtape to me. It’s still not my album. I’m still not in album mode. But I’ve still not been on the road yet. I haven’t done shows in L.A., Chicago. I haven’t done all of that. Before I do an album, I want to at least hit the road. Travel the 50 states. Get out the country for a minute, where I can see the stuff, I can talk about different stuff.  And then when it’s album time, I’d be time to go.

DX: So you want to experience the world before you do an album?

Dave East: I’m speaking from a New York state of mind.  That’s my whole basis and I’m always real because this is where I’m from. But I want to be able to relate to dudes in L.A. and the dudes in Atlanta. I want to be able to go to Europe and London and they know me. I can relate to their lifestyle and I can put all of that into my music where it is more global. I don’t want to be boxed in as a New York artist and just being in New York does that. I want to be able to travel before I put an album together.

DX: You’ve said a lot that you want to be the voice of East Harlem and the streets. Are you having any doubts with that weight on your shoulders?

Dave East: I mean, I’m just trying to be a legend as far as this goes. I just want to have a name in this shit like Nas got in this shit. Like Jay got in this. When 10, 15 years down the line, my name is mentioned among them. That’s my whole plan for getting in this. I’m not trying to get some quick money or get the girl. I want to have my name in this shit when I ain’t rapping no more. They’ll always bring me up. “Yo, Dave East, Nas, Jay, Biggie, they was crazy.” That’s the mix I want to be in.

On Not Making the XXL Freshman Class and Why He Doesn’t Care About ‘New Rappers to Watch Out For’ Lists

DX: On one of the songs, “Demons,” you say that you don’t give a fuck about a blog list. Do you have a problem with publications putting together new artist lists and you’re not on it?

Dave East: I just feel like with the blog line, I just feel like I never see you dudes anywhere like 95, 85 percent of the bloggers. I’m everywhere. I’m at different shows, different events, meet and greets, all through New York. I’m everywhere there is to be outside. So, I don’t be seeing them. So I feel like a lot of [bloggers] are just sitting behind a computer. They just writing how they feel and they got their Chipotle or whatever they order they food. And they just sitting there and they just behind the computer, going online talking what they talking. But they really not seeing what is going on, hearing what people saying in the street and seeing who really got this shit rocking. That wasn’t even really a shot at no specific person, it was just I don’t give a fuck about a blog list. That’s not what I’m in it for. I’m not in it for ‘Oh, these are the new rappers to watch for this year.’ I don’t give a fuck about none of that. At the end of the day, I know what I’m bringing to the table and I know my sound. They gonna have to hear it. Blogs, radio, whatever. They gone have to hear it and pay attention to it.

DX: Do you think a lot of writers aren’t out there looking for talent?

Dave East: It’s a few that are. I kick it with them. I have relationships with them. I’m not gonna say they name or say what they publications and all that. There’s a few that I definitely see out at events. When I see put blogs up, I retweet it all and I support it because I know they have valid information that they tweeting and writing about. They out in the streets. They putting the work in that the artists are putting in. You can’t just make a blog list and just think, ‘This is my blog.’ Cause you got too many followers. You got people really believing that shit. You get what I’m saying?

DX: You really just don’t give a fuck. If a publication or blog doesn’t co-sign you, it really doesn’t affect you.

Dave East: You know why it’s funny because I see now every blog posting my shit, and I don’t have [to do anything]. It’s so funny. I could tweet one thing and every blog that I tried to email them or I used to try to find out who I could get ‘em to post. Now, I see the way it changed. I see how all of the blogs is on it. I know where it came from, but I see that they have no hesitation to post shit. They can’t wait to post it now. It actually brings more people to their site. At the end of the day, I see it as a turnaround. I ain’t mad at it. It came with it. I just had to get my name up that’s all. I’m still getting my name up.

DX:  We wrote about the XXL Freshman list this year and we said that you were snubbed. You also rap about it on “Dumb Shit.” How do you feel about it now?

Dave East: You know what it is, I just feel like, to keep it real, I had some super official people in my corner with that. I was like, “Man.” I knew it was politics. I had no record out. Nothing like that. At the same time, I knew that my buzz and all of that was an underground [and] street. It was starting blow up more around the time they were doing the voting and all of that. That was just a funny shot cause my whole hood was like, “Yo, you think you gonna win that?” Cause they had me in the voting and all of that. So I had people in the city and people that know me like, “Yo, you might get that shit. You might win.” Once I didn’t, I was like, ‘Aw, that shit is bias. It is what it is.’ If I would have got it, dope. If I didn’t get it, it didn’t make or break nothing I’m doing. It’s all good.”

Now, I’ll be in a position to [decline] if they want me on there next year. I get to decide. I can pick and choose if I want to be on that shit. I’m putting myself in that position where I’m not, “Oh, XXL chose me!” Nah. Now, I’ll be in a position where and say, “Eh, I don’t know.” Let me see the rest of the list. Who do you y’all put me with and then I’ll let you know if I want that shit.

On Building a Foundation Through Street Buzz Rather Than The Internet

DX:  What do you think about Internet rappers like Riff Raff and Yung Lean who get the crazy buzz online? These guys have huge Internet followings but might not have the streets on lock.

Dave East: Riff Raff is my man. That’s a funny thing. I done and got high with Riff Raff a couple times in LA. That’s the homie. I just feel like it don’t be authentic. To me, that’s an equivalent of like a female has 500,000 followers on Instagram, but she live in the projects. She got one couch in her whole house. She walk up to spots and don’t nobody know her. But you go on her Instagram, she got 500,000 followers cause she take good selfies or whatever she doing.

I feel like it’s a façade. You can have all of that popping online and all of that, but you come outside and it’s like nobody knows you. I mean, them dudes actually eat. The Internet can definitely sell out shows for you. Just off the Internet, you can definitely do that. I’ve seen it happen, but I don’t think that connection be there. People won’t be fans of you forever. They fans of you until the next Internet sensation comes around and they on to the next one. You get what I’m saying? I don’t feel like there is a real connection with the artist when it’s based on the Internet.

DX:  Is your career going backward? You have the streets first and the Internet buzz is coming after?

Dave East: Yeah, that’s how I wanted to do it. I wanted people outside talking about me, wearing my merchandise and all of that. The internet is there. That shit is gonna be there. I’m more into the face-to-face, confrontations with people where they running up on you. ‘Yo, East, I love what you’re doing. You are motivating me to wake up and getting to this money.’ I rather [have] that then somebody tweet me: ‘Yo, Dave East you’re dope.’ That’s cool too, but I much rather have that person that go out they way to come and say, ‘Yo, I listen to all of that Black Rose. That shit touched me.’ That gives me much more motivation to keep doing it. The Internet could get shut down tomorrow if the government pulls the plug and there’s no more Internet. Then what?

On Working With Nas on “Forbes List,” His Co-Sign and the Landscape of New York Hip-Hop

DX: Did you record “Forbes List” with Nas in the studio?

Dave East:  Yeah, we locked in together on that one. I already had the hook and my verse on there. I had a session with Nas where I was just playing him some records. He actually picked like three different joints that he wanted to actually get on, but that one had his feel 100 percent. So he got right into his zone. That one was crazy for me because just seeing him vibe out to my music that I’d had already made and him put together a verse. That was crazy. That’s definitely one of the moments on the tape that was life-changing for me to see Nas be a fan of my shit the way he is.

DX: He believes that you’re going to be the new face of New York Hip Hop. Do you think you’ve lived up to that yet?

Dave East:  People ask me all the time like, ‘Is there any pressure?’ This shit is fun, man. I’m from the hood. At the end of the day, I know where it came from. It came from me just in my crib writing and coming outside and rapping with dudes and being outside just doing it like to the point where Nas reached out to me. I had no way of calling Nas’ phone or reaching out to him. That came to me. I’m taking it in like, ‘Aight, the big homie co-signing it. Now, I’m about to bomb on everybody.’ That’s all I was waiting for to be honest with you.  That’s all I was waiting for. I’ve been knew I was dope. I been knew my story was real. I been knew I was talking for the streets. I been knew all of that, but I just never had a co-sign the way the masses could pick up to it. That’s all I was waiting for.

DX: Do you think the New York rap scene is a good place? Or are you here to change it?

Dave East:  I’m trying to shake it up and change it because I feel like it’s dry right now. The excitement for it. There are a few artists that are exciting right now. They balling right now like Future and Drake. There’re a couple of artists right now like Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole. They exciting. They are a breath of fresh air. They bringing something new, but it’s something that’s already been done before. They are just doing it their way.

At the same time, I feel like I want to shake up New York. New York has no identity right now. New York thinks they are from Atlanta. New York thinks they from Chicago. New York—there’s no identity here. There are only a few dudes, and it’s really the older group of dudes and a few younger dudes that really embrace and try to keep promoting where we from. Everybody else is on their club, Future, Atlanta, Chief Keef, bang-bang, that’s what everything else is. I want to bring it back to the actual essence of rapping and bars and making people rewind. I know “Forbes List” got rewound 100 times. You get what I’m saying? That’s what my whole thing was. I’ma bring back that fly talk.