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Craig David: 'let me be a 26-year-old who’s making music'

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The Grammy-nominated British RnB artist, 26, helped make garage music mainstream in the UK in 2000. Eight years wiser, he talks his fourth album, grime music and bulking up

‘I’m quite excessive so when I do something I stay on it,’ says singer Craig David. The bulky singer is hardly recognisable from the skinnier, beanied, goateed teenager who rose to fame in the UK after featuring on the garage hit Rewind in 2000. ‘I tried to grow from boys to men!’ he laughs, in his hotel on the Champs-Elysee in Paris. ‘I worked out with an ex-professional boxer and close friend of mine, Faisal Mohammed. It makes you feel more confident when you’re going in a studio, like come on let’s take over the world.’

Craig David has denied that he consciously changed his look after he was infamously caricatured on Channel 4’s Bo’ Selecta! programme by comedian Avid Merrion. Once an overweight kid growing up on the Holyrood council estate in Southampton, he has said he buffed up after his grandmother died, who helped to raise him after his half-Jewish mother and Grenadian father split when he was eight.

Trust him

The second of Craig David's UK number ones, 'Fill Me In' (2000)

There's been a discernable change in his music direction too. He started off club DJing between the ages of fourteen and twenty-one. His mentor was ten years older, ‘which helped me when it came to songwriting because I was able to see how crowds reacted to songs.’ His first album Born To Do It (2001) sold a whopping 7.5 million copies. ‘It was amazing to sell that much. I’m now four albums in, with 13 million records (three million of which sold in the UK). It’s an amazing accomplishment, a great stepping stone which allowed me to see the world. I am on a mission to keep making good music. I want to be around in ten, twenty, thirty years time.’

For which a visit to the record company was due. 'I told them look, let me be a 26-year-old who’s making music, don’t tell me about what radio is playing at the moment or about the kind of songs I’ve done before.’ His resulting fourth studio album Trust Me, he says, is a ‘message to my fans from back in the day. Stay focused, keep your integrity. The hardest thing is when you’re trying to find someone to manage you; you don’t know if they have your best interests at heart. Make the music that makes you feel comfortable. You’ll get through all the nonsense that people talk to you.’

Reggae, dancehall, RnB, hip hop, soul, pop, jungle, drum ‘n’ bass and garage – the list which defines David musically is exhaustive. ‘To be honest, when you fuse them together that’s when you become a style,’ he says in defence. ‘I like to still MC with an acoustic guitar too, so it’s nice to be able to have the balance and touch on different things.’ Trust Me ‘talks about love and relationships,’ which he elaborates on in describing some of its singles. 'Awkward is when you haven’t given closure to a girl. You see her six to eight months down the line, should I say sorry, pretend that we weren’t together, then you see a ring on her finger, and you think there’s another guy who's thinking that she is worth marrying, maybe I made a mistake and should be with you. And his first single, the David Bowie cover of Hot Stuff? 'When you go into a club and you see some hot stuff - it's that good look which sets the night off.’

US-Europe round trip

In Miami, where David has a second home, he jokes that ‘there’s some hot stuff there for real, trust me!’ He hasn’t turned his back on Europe though. ‘It’s important for me to work Europe. France has been a big market for me, people have been very supportive and respectful.’

He is currently in Paris to play on the Star Academy reality TV show, which he says ‘has gone from strength to strength. Working with the finalist Mathieu was kind of cool. He’s a young artist who sang one of my songs in English, and I was surprised he represented.’ In the future though, David doesn’t foreesee any French collaborations. ‘MC Solaar has some really cool things. There are some great vocalists but I would like to mutually make a great record than do a duet just to break into the French industry.’

David has heard of the Tecktonik French phenomenon; ‘It’s a dance thing no? Is it good? Do they do it without music as well?’ But what about English trends like the two-step and garage music scene, which are not known well in France? ‘It’s a derivative of dance music. It throws RnB vocals like Jaheim’s Just in Case ballad over a garage beat. Most ballads would never really get listened to too much apart from in the bedroom or chilling out. But now in the UK you’ll find these slow tracks converted. People never thought they’d be dancing to Freaking You by Jodeci. It’s becoming big again now after going underground.’ The new overground can be seen in his 2008 collaboration with UK grime artist Kano on his Top Twenty single This is the Girl. ‘I love the transition, the fact that it had to go somewhere. When it became commercial, the scene felt like it wanted to get ownership again, but the underground reclaimed it and made it darker. Now it’s coming back around,' he finishes, 'and some funky house new school garage is coming back through.’

Craig David on:

Changing producer Mark Hill

Different producers bring different things out of you. It’s always about trying to push yourself. Martin Terefe (who first collaborated with Pharell Williams) and Fraser T Smith (his guitarist of four years) worked together really well which brought out new elements for the album

His album’s Cuba flavour

Terefe knew some of the original members of the Buena Vista Social Club. Next thing you know, we were out there (Cuba) and I see these guys coming in performing percussion, horns, pianist and it was sick. It was cool to be bouncing backwards and forwards

... where to go out in London

Movida on a Friday, or Cabaret on a Monday

Tour March/ April 2009 Europe – US release album and tour April/ May 2009