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Dave East’s truth is unmistakable. From his navy blue New York Yankees cap down to the Nipsey blue Puma sneakers and “Crenshaw” socks covering his mosaic of tattoos on his legs, the rapper was literally walking what he talks all through the artist compound at Rolling Loud in New York City this past weekend. His upcoming 18-track debut album, Survival, — an unflinching look into East’s issues with voting, death and raising his daughter — is no different.

But, comfort in your truth doesn’t preclude weariness when putting it out there, especially when you’re a rapper and the pain follows you long after your songs are released.

“The shit that is hard [to record] is the pain. That’s the shit that is hard to talk about because I’m like, ‘Ahhh, do I really want to tap into that?’ East revealed to REVOLT TV at Rolling Loud. “You could say some shit in the studio, but if it makes your album, then you have to perform it.”

As he prepares for the Nov. 8 release of his album via Nas’ Mass Appeal Records and Def Jam, East got candid with us about how Nipsey Hussle’s death stopped him from recording, his first Nas collab, and the pain he tapped into for his debut. Peep the conversation below.

You performed at Rolling Loud and I saw your mom behind you recording on her phone.

Mama dukes on deck, nigga! She said she cried to see the love I get. I keep mama around because that’s who brought me here, and she likes to party, so we out.

I know you heard a few rappers weren’t able to perform because the NYPD requested Rolling Loud remove them.

Corny! Corny! Corny! Shout out to Cas[anova]. Shout out to Pop Smoke. Shout out to all of them. That was corny.

When you heard about that yesterday, did it make you want to move differently?

Nah, I pull up how I pull up. My name wasn’t on that list, so I’m thankful for that. Thank you for not having me on there.

In less than a month, your debut album, Survival, is finally coming out. When did you know it was done?

I didn’t know until I did a tribute for Nip[sey Hussle]. I didn’t want to talk about anything else. I talked about everything. I got shit about my moms. I got shit about me playing ball. I got shit about me being locked up. I went mad personal and I wrapped it up with a tribute to my boy. Once I said what I said to Nip, I was like, ‘We’re good.’

Brittany Brand

How long after his passing in late March did you record that song?

It was maybe around August. I was fucked up. I didn’t want to record. I had music that I already had done. But, a lot of people don’t understand. They ask, ‘Why did you push Survival back so long?’ [Nipsey’s death] fucked me up, bro. I didn’t want to drop any new music. My boy had so much shit he was going to put out. I’m glad the acting shit came when it came because it took me out of that space.

I didn’t want to put out any music. But, now, it’s time. That nigga said, ‘You tripping, cuz. Put that shit out.’ So, I finally got the label in tune and everyone on the same page. November 8th, we’re here.

I heard Survival early and loved your tribute to Nipsey. On the song, you caught my attention when you said you two were planning to put a project together. How deep into that were you two?

We were six songs in. We were planning a tour and all of that. Fuck rap. I’m going to keep it 100. That was my nigga. Anything we did together or anytime I had to be around that nigga, I cherish it. It’s wack he went out like that. That nigga’s a king. Kings ain’t supposed to go out like that. But, that’s the world we’re living in. It’s wack he went out like that, but it sharpened me and a million other niggas up. He went out like a G.

It showed a generation of niggas to be focused and on point. Now, niggas are watching their mans and everything around you because of Nip. On top of that, you want to get it. You want to drop clothes. You’re motivated to do everything that nigga did because he’s from the ‘hood. I met that nigga on Crip time. No rap. No song. I’m from the [Rolling] 30s [Harlem Crips]. That’s how we met. I love Nip death and I’m going to put on for Nip until my death.

Back to the album, what was the fastest record for you to record?

Probably the record about my daughter. I have a record about my daughter and she’s on the record with Jessie Reyez on the hook. That wasn’t that hard because it was positive. The shit that is hard is the pain. That’s the shit that is hard to talk about because I’m like, ‘Ahhh, do I really want to tap into that?’ You could say some shit in the studio, but if it makes your album, then you have to perform it. So, all that play in my mind. So, the easiest record was probably the one with my daughter. I recorded it with her. I was just paying homage to her and the love she’s brought me.

Besides the Nipsey tribute, an obvious standout is how you and Nas murdered that ‘ Godfather IV’ record on your album. What did you learn from Nas while making that?

I learned he’s one of the illest niggas to ever breathe. Simple and plain. Niggas ain’t fucking with Esco.

There’s this part in the song where y’all go back and forth with this airplane metaphor that’s dope.

He started it. He started talking that pilot talk and I was like, ‘Oh, we’re on a flight, now (laughs)? Let’s go.’ I’m a student of the game and I’m a big student of him. He changed my life. He got me out of the projects. Just to vibe with him and watch how that nigga works, I was like, ‘This is what I’ve been waiting for.’ He signed me in 2014. It took five years to catch that type of interaction with big bro. I’m in debt to that nigga forever. I love Esco.

Brittany Brand

That song flows perfectly into your song ‘Need A Sign’ with Teyana Taylor.

T! Spike T! She’s directing shit, too.

When I spoke with your recording engineer Mike Kuz , he said you and Teyana could probably do an entire tape together. Where does that chemistry stem from?

It’s Harlem. I’ve known T for years. I’ve known her for at least 10+ years. She’s just a good person with good energy. She’s focused and professional. I had never seen her direct before. I just did something with her in Atlanta that she was directing. She’s another one of the people that can embody different talents and spaces. Shout out to Teyana Taylor. I had to get her on the album. She gives me Mary J [Blige] vibes.

You already did the Beloved joint project with Styles P. The year 2020 is coming up soon. Who are you looking to do a collab project with next?

I’ve been talking with Benny [the Butcher] and Conway [the Machine], the Griselda boys. We’re trying to put that into the universe right now. Those are my niggas. Those niggas are hard.

Please make this happen. You on Benny’s ‘18 Wheeler’ with Pusha T would’ve been nasty.

Them niggas are hard. Them niggas got it right now and they ain’t even from the city. I’m a fan. I support it. I knock it in the car, the hood, and in the gym. Benny and Conway got it. WESTSIDE GUNN hard, too. But, I’m a fan of Benny and Conway. Them niggas are talking!

How did you being a student of the game affect the making of this album?

I was listening to Snoop Dogg’s first album, Doggystyle. I was listening to Cam’ron’s first album, Confessions of Fire. I listened to 50 Cent’s first album, Get Rich or Die Tryin’. I was listening to everybody shit. I knocked everybody’s first album. I studied what energy these had when they came out the gate to the world. I said, ‘Alright, let me paint this picture, give these niggas my life, make sure the skits are right.’ I got a Madd Rapper skit on my album. Madd Rapper was on Biggie’s album and I grew up on the Bad Boy era.

I put all that together with my day one niggas that are still outside. I’m the only rapper besides [Kiing] Shooter that’s around me. Everybody else is outside. Having them around, them giving me stories and I’m like, ‘Oh, I remember that.’ That’s what made Survival sound classic. It’s pain. It’s all pain, bro.

Brittany Brand