It’s the year 2000. The world has entered a new millennium wide-eyed and optimistic. London saw the grand New Years opening of the Millennium dome (now the O2 Arena), Sydney held host to a delightful and dramatic Olympic Games, Euro 2000 was played out across Netherlands and Belgium and Destiny’s Child conquered charts across the UK and stateside. Little did we know however, the impeccable rise of a 19-year old Craig David from Southampton was imminent. It was the beginning of a journey that would propel him to global superstardom, a truly zero to one hundred ascent, which would have us tuned in for the next 22 years.
“That journey feels like only yesterday when I released my first album Born To Do It…” Craig began, reflecting reverently. 22, the title of Craig’s now 8th studio album, holds symbolic meaning of not only his years in the game but an introspection which may not have been so forthcoming until now. “22 years. We’re releasing another studio album, that’s career. Also, if you’re into angel numbers, 22 is a very powerful symbolic number of foundation, being of service and using a platform. Which I now realize as a journeyman…who has learnt a few things along the way…that I use this platform to help rather than frivolously throwing it away.”
Following Re-Rewind, the definitive 1999 UK Garage collaboration with Artful Dodger, the turn of the new millennium witnessed Craig David reveling in the chart success of his debut album Born To Do It, featuring two number one classics 7 Days and Fill Me In, a whole host of other Top 10 tracks and with the album going onto sell 7.5 Million copies. The success was undeniable but seemingly more spiritually taxing than one may have thought, Craig expounded upon this. “Up until around 16 it was a very ‘normal’ life, living in the council flat with Mum…then when the album went it was zero to hundred. Number one all around the world, three nights at Wembley Arena, traveling, meeting people, Destiny’s Child and Mariah Carey go from being posters on my wall to coming to my shows. Despite the grandess of the experiences, the same questions apply under the hood. Ok, is it defining myself by numbers now? I questioned it all.”
Such remained the case upon the release of Craig’s second album ‘Slicker Than Your Average’ two years later in 2002. The album went on to sell almost half of his debut with 3.8M, by any means no mean feat, especially in today’s era. “In my head, that was unbelievable, but the label at the time were like, we projected more, you’re on the decline… So I took that on board as ‘this is a failure.” He continued, “…And that’s a good example of how the nonsensical stuff happens early doors and they define everything by the numbers. I started to unpack that and realize, actually it’s about doing the thing I always loved, making the music and speaking my truth. Do the right thing and the right thing shall follow. It’s all innate inside of you but becomes more apparent when you live life.”
“We’re all spirit underneath the shell. When are you gonna lean in and see actually your body, mind and soul are all intrinsically connected as one? If you’re willing to lean in and look for answers, you start to get profound teachings…”
Fast forward to 2022 and we’re now tuning into 22, a musical landscape carrying both nostalgia and new-found craftmanship from a host of artistic brilliance. From the familiar harmonizing opening on Teardrops to the big hitter Pop & Dance collaborations with MNEK, Duvall and Galantis, all threaded together with a unmistakeable R&B foundation, ushered in by a new generation, Nippa, Muni Long, Isong, not to mention appearances from KYLE, Gracey and legendary Wretch 32. It’s the journey of Craig’s sound, music, career and it runs parallel with the journeyman’s journey itself.
Speaking of Nippa, having set alight what he coined the ‘Hood R&B’ scene, most notably with Situation, the young Tottenham native has excelled with his work on 22 featuring on the track G Love carrying a braggadocios, classy yet profound swagger, complimented by Craig… “I had heard of Nippa, I was aware of his tune Situation. I loved his swag. So Hip-Hop and R&B. So 90s. So we met for the first time [At a BLXST show], we exchanged numbers, and then the next thing you know we got in the studio. I played him the hook of G Love and I wasn’t sure if he was gonna be fully about it, but he got the memo, he understood.” Their work together didn’t end with the track however, as Nippa also accompanied Craig on his UK arena tour throughout the first half of 2022. “To bring Nippa onto an arena tour and to see him excel in front of that many people, especially London, two nights at the O2…I felt so proud of him when he came on with that swag. My mom met him at one of the shows and she said he reminds her of me when I was younger, same energy, same passion.”
The euphonious foundation of 22 however laid firmly in the hands of producer and songwriter Mike Brainchild. In the lead up to production, Craig had invited a few producers to work with him but Mike seemed to have the key. Mike’s understanding of the assignment and ability to stack harmonies, create space and push adlibs as part of the topline melody evolved into him becoming the main producer on the album. “He understood the R&B that I grew up listening to…” Craig explained. “…But at the same time he had the sensibility to be like ‘we don’t always have to make it throwback’. Once we connected we formed a really good relationship and he’s a really good friend now. He’s really talented. I hope people recognise him as the Rodney Jenkins of the UK.”
“How do you make people feel? That’s the legacy you leave here. Not the number or amount of sales.”
The most wholesome sentiment of this project however, is that it comes full circle. It signifies the beginning and end, the return to the reason. Realizing we had all the tools at the start but just not the experience. “If this album means anything to anyone who was there the first time round…” Craig imparts… “When you had your little Walkman player, with the bass boost button, headphones on, just gassed in your own world, if we could fast forward 22 years and you can put this album on and you can get lost in a world that’s magical, creative, inspired, your worries have gone for an hour, then my work is done here. It’s a feeling thing. Not a thinking thing. Hear the tunes and hopefully you feel how I felt.”
Listen to the full interview below on AAA Pass