Dave East Talks Harlem, ‘Hate Me Now’ Mixtape and the Near-Death Experience That Changed His Life [EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW]
Harlem is the home of the hustler and known for its flash and flamboyance, but the closer you are to the neighborhood's East Side, the closer you get to the grittier side of things. And when you hear talk of that part of Manhattan these days, one of the biggest topics in the conversation is the emergence of Dave East. The 27-year-old is one of the more promising rappers to emerge from the borough that names like Bumpy Johnson, Rich Porter and Alpo helped make infamous years ago.
Those legends may have ran numbers or narcotics but Dave East is more than familiar with the grind of the streets for a different reason. He prefers to make his name with potent bars and an intense delivery that will have you skitzing like you took a hit from the pipe. While his affiliation with lauded MC Nas and his signing to Mass Appeal Records may draw the envy of others, East maintains that all was earned and nothing was given.
"It took mad failures for me to start to win," Dave East tells The Boombox while rolling a blunt the size of a miniature baseball bat. "It took ball failing, me not winning at that and it took me going to jail and me trying to trap and do what I do. It took all these failures for me to now be in the position to win."
Those wins may be piling up, but it's only as of late that East feels comfortable enough to bask in the glory. Trials and tribulations such as the death and incarceration of much of his inner circle left him in an emotional rut during the making of his breakthrough mixtape, Black Rose, in 2014.
But a year later, he feels all the better for it. "If I didn't go through that, Hate Me Now would be no Hate Me Now. So as much as I love my cousin and he's dead, that created something for me. As f---ed up a part of my life as that was, it's something I can talk about where I know it's other people that's gonna relate to that 'cause they know somebody. So as much as that might've hurt, that's a positive as well, it was something I could move on with. So I'm grateful for everything. It gives me a platform, it gives me endless stories to talk about right now."
And Dave East sure has a lot to say on his latest mixtape, Hate Me Now. Featuring the likes of Nas, Pusha T, Jadakiss and Styles P, among others, Hate Me Now has the makings of what should be considered one of the landmark rap projects out of the five boroughs this year. The tape may be devoid of any crossover attempts and is strictly for the street, but East is more concerned with building the foundation for his legacy and gaining trust from the people. "Everybody got fans," he states. "[Michael] Jordan had fans and then Penny [Hardaway] had fans. I want n----s to be like, 'Dave East, that's who I'm rocking with. I f--- with him.'"
The Spanish Harlem representative stopped by The Boombox office to discuss his stomping grounds, Hate Me Now, resurrecting the Notorious B.I.G. and the near-death experience that changed his life.
The Boombox: You're from the East Side of Harlem. How would you say being raised there affected you -- for better or worse?
Dave East: I think it made me ready for everything. It prepared me for a lot at an early age. I was kinda familiar with a lot of things before the age of 15 years old so it just prepared me for life more than anything. Corporate, street, all of that. It just put me on to how to read people and how to read different personalities. East Side is crazy, so I was able to see a lot coming up as a kid. I was able to pinpoint who to deal with and who not to deal with, what type of people to deal with, what type of people to not deal with so I think it just shaped me as a man at the end of the day.
How does it feel to be the latest out Harlem to be buzzing?
It's dope. I definitely wanna keep it going as far as everybody [that came] before me from Big L to Cam, Dipset, all of that, but I just feel it's a new day now and it's different stories -- people done had their time and all that. And that's with everything, it's always new blood, new people coming. So I just feel like I take it on, full stride, I just take it how it comes, but I make sure it's valid and I can stand on my own two and make people know that Harlem ain't ever change. Harlem is gonna be Harlem and the people that come from Harlem is gonna be the same way.
What do you feel sets Harlem apart from other parts of New York City?
The style, the conversation, the fast talk, just overall the aura is different. It's always been that way in my eyes. I'm biased, of course 'cause I'm from Harlem. But I can remember all type of dudes from Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens coming to Harlem, coming to Dyckman and 125th to shop, I can remember seeing all that. I feel like it's always been the center of fashion, basically the center of what's going on. The slang, the clothes and all that, we did that s--- first.
I feel like it's always influenced the rest of New York, definitely the other five boroughs. Not taking nothing from no other borough, but Harlem has always been the center of getting it, getting to that dollar, getting that Dapper Dan, all of that. Since the '80s, Harlem has the place to go. Before the '80s, just as far as hip-hop go, Harlem has always been a strong point, fashion-wise, music-wise, all of that.
Watch Dave East's "Numb" Video
I saw on Instagram that you just got in a car accident and had a near-death experience. What's the story behind that?
I was in Sin City [in the Bronx, N.Y.]. Me and my n---- Peedi Crack from Philly, we was coming from there. One of my mans was driving on the FDR, right on the East Side, right before you get to Wagner there's a split where you can go on the Triborough Bridge or stay on the FDR. I guess my man was drunk and he lost control of the wheel and he hit the divider going like 70 [mph]. I fractured my nose, face was bleeding and all of that. That s--- woke me up. I was froze up for a minute, when the car initially hit, the airbag popped out and smacked me and all that. So I got out the car, walked up the FDR to Wagner, the projects right there, and walked to 1st [Avenue], caught a cab, like "I'm going to the crib, man."
I seen the s--- flashed and it let me know don't take nothing for granted, you can't be out here just frivolously living. Basically, it woke me up to watch who I deal with 'cause nine times out of 10, I'm not putting myself in those situations. I don't mind catching a cab, I'll do that, but somebody else can put my life in harm. So that just kinda woke me up as far as to watch who I move with and watch how I deal with people. A lot of people wanna get involved with what I'm doing now so I gotta watch that.
You got the mixtape, Hate Me Now, out. What made you name it that?
At the time, when Nas was really first cosigning my s--- and a couple of other artists like Styles P and Jadakiss, you know, The Lox was showing mad love, the talk in the hood, the talk in the street starting getting kinda funny. There was a lot of love, but there was also a lot of hate. So I was like, "Aight, hate me then, n----, do it now 'cause I'ma keep bombing on you. This is just the first of many so do it now." So it just fit. And then it just so happened that Nas go the record "Hate Me Now" and all that so it was just a coincidence with that and it all came together. So that was just one of them divine intervention things.
What's the difference between your Black Rose project and Hate Me Now?
My mental for this one was a a much better space. I was making a little more money this time. Since I started recording Black Rose 'til now, nobody close to me died or nobody close to me went to jail or did no real time like that. My mental been different; it's just been a more positive cloud [around me], I'm just in a much more better space. It allowed me to touch on different topics and have a lot more energy.
I had a lot of struggles with it but I also had a lot of fun with this tape. Black Rose was real. My cousin had just got killed. Bully home now, Charlie still got five joints to do left and I was just with them everyday so I was doing that everyday and just recording and I was f---ing with a lot of different Percocet pills and s---. Like right now, I feel it more, like, "I'm on my way," like, I feel it now. Before, I was like, "I know this s--- hot, but who f---in' cares?" It just feels better now.
You did a track with Nas called "Forbes List" that's been making the rounds. Is that the first track you ever did together or just the first you released?
Nah, we got more joints but that's the first one he wanted to put out 'cause I already had that record done. Like, I had the hook and my verse for it and I had a session with him, I was playing mad songs for him and he said he was f---in' with that one crazy. So he got in tune with that one.
Were there any features that you wanted on the tape that you didn't get?
Raekwon. Raekwon was actually supposed to be on a record I got on there called "Momma Work Em." It wasn't that he couldn't do it, he just was doing [a lot] at the time. I respect it 100 percent because every time we talked he was like, "Yo, I wanna be a part of that project." Those type of relationships like that, that's gonna come, you're gonna hear me and Rae on some s----. But that was the only feature for the tape honestly that didn't make it and I wanted it to make it. I went and put another verse on it and it turned out to be one of my favorite records.
What's the three songs you can't wait for listeners to hear?
If you could bring one rapper back from the dead and do a track with them, who would it be?
Biggie, just to see his process. Everybody said he ain't ever write or nothing and I ain't ever hear nobody talk like Big. To this day, Big was Big so I'd probably say him. Just to be in the studio with that n----, laughing and smoking, just to really catch his vibe. I'd want to see how that was like. My whole life growing up, I'm thinking, like, how I hear Nas and Jay and all of them now and how they 30, 40 years old, I was thinking Big was like 30-plus that whole time. This n---- was 21, 22, 23 years old making all of those records. So I guess just his aura and the way he was, it made me feel like he was an older n----, like, he felt 30. But Big died after he was like 24. So everything he was doing, he was so young and he was talking crazy. It'll never be nobody that age to talk crazy like that.
Which album do you prefer between Ready to Die and Life After Death?
Life After Death.
Why that one?
I feel like... I feel it with Chinx too, it's scary. I feel like when you about to go, somebody let you know that. I don't know what state of mind that puts you in or if you really be paranoid, but I feel like Big, musically, was sure of himself. Ready to Die was straight, "I'm from Bed Stuy." By the time Life After Death came, he had the formula. Diddy had to let him know how it's supposed to go. But you can hear that uneasiness, him not knowing. He sounded scared, but that was his best music to me. Chinx best music was his last s---. That last s--- before they did that to him was crazy. That tape would've had him on some other s--- and you don't know if a n---- know that.
You're signed to Mass Appeal Records, which is still a relatively new situation in itself. What made you go with them and what's the best thing about working with the label?
I had a relationship with Jungle, Nas' brother. He let me know that Nas was in tune with what I was doing. I got a call from Nas' manager, Ant, maybe two weeks after me and Jungle was talking about it and he introduced me and let me know about what the label was about and all of that. So once I heard Nas was f---ing with it, I was like any label could've offered me whatever amount of bread and the dough might change my life, but I'm not gonna get what I get from him here. And actually after learning what I'ma learn from him, I'ma learn others ways bout how to get to that bag.
I never thought I'd be sitting across the table with the owner of Hennessy. He's even putting me in positions where I'll able to get at it. I didn't wanna be at a label for the money and be like, "Damn, I could've been f---ing with Nas" or "I could've really been learning the game from a n---- that's a legend in the game," you feel me. It wasn't about no bread or what the label can do, I was really more in tune with learning what I can learn from him and us growing together, but taking what I've already created myself and just running with it. That was my whole basis with signing with him.
If you had to pick three songs he made that changed your life what would those be?
"Memory Lane," that was one of my favorite joints. I love talking about the steps it took me to get to where I'm at. "New York State of Mind" for sure. It put you in a certain state of mind. This is the one that might've been a sleeper, but one of my favorite joints that he ever did was the joint he with Aaliyah, "You Won't See Me Tonight." I know that s--- word-for-word. Just that whole vibe and how he talking. Timbaland on that beat. But them three songs stand out to me the most.
Have you started working on the debut album yet and when can we expect it?
I'ma keep it real, my biggest focus right now is Hate Me Now, but I haven't moved around enough yet to really lock in on an album. I wanna tour, I wanna do certain s---. When them album dates come out, n----s gotta be like, "I gotta get this s---." And not just people from New York, people from everywhere, you know what I'm saying. I wanna move around and travel and really gain my fans and really put in the groundwork where they seeing me and I done sold out 10-15 shows or whatever before I really get into album mode. People always ask me how can it be a mixtape if I got cats like Pusha T on there, how's it a mixtape, but this is where I'm at right now. It's just that I'm to a point where I can ask them people to do music with me and them being fans of what I'm doing is just as excited to do it as I am, but it's still not an album. I still haven't traveled, I haven't been on a tour, there's a lot I haven't done. I'm still in Harlem, you feel me.
So at the end of the day, I wanna be able to talk from a broader standpoint when I put an album out. I wanna talk more globally. I wanna say that fly s---, like, "I been to Dubai." Certain s--- I wanna be able to say that I can't say right now so before I put an album out, there's a lot of things I wanna do, lot of places I wanna see, lot of events and s--- I need to be at before I feel it's time cause I don't wanna flop [laughs]. No matter how dope you are, if you ain't really built, if you ain't put that groundwork in, you gonna flop. Nobody gonna fill those arenas.
Like J. Cole, I can remember him putting on Twitter, like, "Yo, I'm in New York City, if you hit me up and let me know where your job is at, I'ma come pull up on you." He's a star, he don't gotta do that s---, but for them five or six people he did that for, it looked crazy to the masses. So it was no surprise when his album did what it did with no radio and none of that 'cause the people feel him. He relate to the people, the people relate to him. He make the average college guy look super cool, like the coolest ever. So at the end of the day that's what it's about as far as the album go.
Where do you see yourself in the next three years as far as your place in the game and your career?
Three years, I see me selling out tours, tours sold out. I said it in "Forbes List," at the end of the record, "N----s asked where they see me in five years, rich, n----, f--- you think." How else I'm supposed to see myself? I don't see myself where I'm at now in five years. I see me and I see Wayno in a Bentley in five years, I just see certain s---. But at the same time, I know the groundwork gotta go behind it, you smell me. I know how much I put in just to get to this and I'm still in the hood, all that, but I've gained the respect and credibility of legends but I know how long and how hard I worked to get to this point.
So it just put me back in second gear ready to go harder for the next one. But in three more years, I see me selling s--- out, I see me having joints with Jay and Drake bringing me out for OVO Fest, that's what I see. I'm not doing nothing to stay stagnant. I wanna get to the bacon with this s---, everything I can get. Movies, clothes, I could put out a bottle of water that say East on it, I'ma do it.
What do you feel sets Hate Me Now apart from other rap releases this year?
Honestly, I feel like there's something on there for everybody. What DJ Drama say, quality street music, that's what I think it is. You don't even gotta be street to be able to relate to it and feel it, but for the street people, you gonna always be a fan of mine. I feel like I put out a body of work that people can stand behind. I'm not gonna call it a classic yet, I'ma let the people do that. I gave you every angle, every piece of me, from the girls to the drugs to the jail to the ball -- I gave everything on that tape. If you ask what Hate Me Now is in one word, it's Dave East. It's me and I really let you more into me on this tape. You'll f--- around and cry listening to this tape on some G s---. I definitely did and I recorded it. I feel like it's supposed to move you.
Listen to Dave East's Hate Me Now Mixtape
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