The year is 2016 and Craig David is one of the hottest, most powerful pop artists in British music. New single 'When The Bassline Drops' is an anthem everywhere from clubs to school-yards, while the singer has just signed off yet another major label deal – inking a fresh contract, on his own terms, with Sony. More than a decade after the singer departed to soak up the sun in Miami, he's returned to reclaim his throne with near effortless ease.
Yet even a few months ago it was all so different. The hit comedy show Bo Selectah cruelly lampooned the singer, turning his appearance – beanie hat, pencil thin facial hair – into an instantly recognisable joke. Shifting from his UK Garage roots to a smooth R&B sound may have been a sincere effort to broaden his approach, but it made Craig David appear slick, commercialised, at almost the exact same time as the mainstream swung away from anything urban in favour of a MySpace-led indie boom.
So he did the natural thing: retired. A kid from the streets who got lucky making music he loved, Craig David found himself with a luxury apartment in Miami. Someone born with nothing, he ended up with everything he ever wanted – so he stayed there. Curiously, though, this silence simply seemed to amplify his reach online. Maintaining an active Instagram account, his tales of gym-life - #EatCleanTrainDirty – and homespun philosophies quickly went viral. More than 200,000 followers flocked to his account, with Buzzfeed – perhaps in jest – labelling it “the best thing on the internet” back in 2013.
But there's the rub. Even when Craig David was at his furthest point from the media world, the world came to him. Somewhere beneath the sly digs of the internet was a genuine – and startlingly huge – fan base, one that retained a certain loyalty to someone who soundtracked their youth, whose music poured from their Nokia and sat in the background as they first tried to blag their way into a club.
- - -
- - -
The power of nostalgia isn't something to be easily dismissed. UK garage itself began to enjoy a revival a few years back, perhaps encapsulated in an underground sense by Mosca's speed garage homage 'Bax'. Rinse FM went legitimate, with its label arm launching the careers of Katy B and Jessie Ware, both of whom would frequently hark back to that glamorous bounce of UKG. And then came last summer. Craig David played a set at Notting Hill Carnival, the star performer on the Party On The Moon Stage. Playing a medley of his classic hits – 'Re-Rewind', '7 Days' et al – the crowd erupted, and despite only being onstage for little more than 15 minutes his set became one of the weekend's most discussed events.
Sporadic live shows followed. Expertly curated, Craig David spent a weekend in London at the tail end of 2015 and seemed to quite literally be everywhere. Warehouse raves and massive venues, the singer was capable of working alongside bass juggernaut Major Lazer and pirate radio comics Kurupt FM within just a few hours. It's perhaps Kurupt FM who inadvertently catch Craig David's appeal – there's that sense of nostalgia, of self-mockery, but underneath it all a genuine love and passion for the music.
Signing a major label deal a matter of hours ago, Craig David has thrown himself back into the studio. Grime producer Preditah has been working on beats, while new single 'When The Bassline Drops' is an absolute smash. Rarely has a pop single been so better named – that bassline works on both a system and a tiny radio set, while Big Narstie's guest verse is about as genuine, sincere and genuinely funny a co-sign as you could ask for.
Craig David's career has always employed an enormous sense of ambition, a thirst for something new, and it's seems that, definitely that thirst has returned. Whisper it, but the pop star most capable of linking the old with the new, the underground with the mainstream, in 2016 is... Craig David.
- - -
- - -