Dave East Sets His Sights on the Throne With ‘Kairi Chanel’
The state and sound of New York City hip-hop has been bemoaned and scrutinized for much of the past decade, with fans local and abroad yearning for the rugged, sample-based vignettes that dominated the late 1990s and early aughts. Despite churning out A-list talent like Nicki Minaj, A$AP Rocky and French Montana, and Big Apple darlings like Action Bronson and Joey Bada$$, no upstart from the city has been able to make the leap to the mainstream while truly capturing the aesthetic that defined its kings and queens of yesteryear. Harlem native and recent Def Jam Records signee Dave East appears poised to take on that mission with his latest release, Kairi Chanel.
Throughout the album's 15 tracks, East, who's moved from ball player to hustler to rapper, delivers a diverse offering of traditional New York rap with a sheen that prevents it from sounding outdated -- a knock that has haunted past prospects from the five boroughs. "It Was Written," the introductory selection on Kairi Chanel, finds East paying homage to his mentor Nas, who made his own ascension from underground wonderkid to the upper echelon with his sophomore LP of the same name 20 years ago.
The track, produced by Mr. Authentic, grips from the outset with its haunting flutes, kicks, snares and vocal sample, over which Dave East raps, "Everybody keep telling me 'Make a club record/You ain't trapping no more, stop making drug records.'" The request is one he shrugs aside, opting to stick to his guns and deliver hard-hitting commentary. In addition, East does a bit of humble bragging about his Esco affiliation with bars like, "Butch crib, met up with fiends/Imagine Nas signed you, hell of a dream."
Dave East is undoubtedly the straw that stirs the drink, but Kairi Chanel is littered with its share of guest stars, the first of which is 2 Chainz, who contributes a highlight reel-worthy verse on "Can't Ignore." Spouting off qoutables like, "You can ask TMZ, MTV, BET/I got more dimes than CP3/Came from the EBT, now these foes envy me/That's off the top just like Kennedy." 2 Chainz's southern swag meshes perfectly with Dave East's Harlem grit, making for one of the more satisfying numbers on the tape.
Shades of R&B group Zhane's 1994 hit "Sending My Love" are present on "From the Heart," a cut dedicated to loved ones serving time in the prison system. The opening lines -- "Attica, Clinton, all my niggas downstate/Coxsackie, my boy Murder doing the pound cake/Five years, all my life, I've been around tears/Never timid around niggas that sound scared" -- feature East sending words of encouragement and wisdom to those behind the wall in between sultry crooning, courtesy of Sevyn Streeter.
Being a product of Harlem, the home of the hustle, no-frills compositions like "30 N***az" and "Don Pablo" are just short of predictable, but the East truly shines when flexing his storytelling chops on "Keisha." Produced by Mr. Authentic, "Keisha" is the rapper's stab at concocting the quintessential cinematic plot that has been mastered by the likes of New York City rap legends.
"I found exact locations and where she grew up/Her moms new boyfriend got some coke, then he blew up/She used to play with credit cards and line niggas at night clubs/Fucked a couple niggas but left 'em cause she ain't like love," he rhymes, giving a rundown of her background. East's potential freak in the sheets ultimately turns out to be more than what he bargained for. While his execution isn't as flawless as similarly themed cuts, like Mos Def's "Ms. Fat Booty" or "Trife Life" by Mobb Deep, "Keisha" is an admirable effort and one of the project's more enthralling numbers.
Kairi Chanel may have been created with the intention of expanding his musical scope beyond catering to the Big Apple and the Eastern seaboard, but the project is very much rooted in the traditional ethos that has defined New York rap over the past decade. Brooklyn meets Harlem when Fabolous and Dave East connect for "Eyes on Me," while Uptown's favorite son, Cam'ron, appears on "S.D.E.," which, like the title track, finds East showing respect to another one of his city's musical forefathers. The most lasting impressions on the tape are throughout its second half, with one of its most poignant verses coming courtesy of Beanie Sigel, who rides shotgun on "The Real Is Back."
Dropping bone-chilling bars like, "But every move he make is calculated through his hunger/It's sad to say shorty might not make it through the summer/His mom turned tricks for a fix, pills strung her/He only met his pop for flicks and a jail jumper," the Broad Street Bully proves that despite being short a lung, he's still as menacing and effective on a track as anyone in the business. But the most piercing offering is the Triple A-produced heater "Don't Shoot," which details Dave East's bitter experiences with law enforcement. This inventive cut features the MC toying with his vocals and rapping from the vantage points of his adolescence, teenage years and adulthood, and ultimately finds him being murdered in cold blood at the hands of the NYPD.
Prior to Kairi Chanel, 2016 was already a landmark year for Dave East, thanks to his inclusion as a member of the XXL Freshman class, which added to his appeal as a potential superstar. But the growth displayed by East on this mixtape only bodes well for his future, as he attempts to do what many other prospects have failed at, which is to give New York hip-hop fans a homegrown talent, with homegrown sensibilities, to champion and root for.
As he eschews the world of trap and melodic musings that dominate the sound of other current artists from the city, East appears to be in the mold of legends like The Notorious B.I.G., Nas, Jay Z, Cam'ron and 50 Cent, all of whom were underground stalwarts before unleashing the undeniable hit singles that would allow them to make a name for themselves far beyond their respective boroughs. While it's too soon to tell if Dave East will ever have plaques associated with his name, Kairi Chanel is a well-calculated step in the right direction.
Go Behind the Scenes With Dave East at 2016 XXL Freshman Class Cover Shoot