Craig David’s guide to being relentlessly positive at all times

The R&B superstar’s career has had ups and downs, but he’s remained imperviously cheery throughout. Now he’s back – again! – with ‘The Time Is Now’, his cutting-edge, uplifting and tirelessly fun seventh record. Jordan Bassett learns from him

Craig David is wearing a watch that simply reads, ‘NOW’. Despite his timepiece’s impracticality, the pop legend arrives bang on time for his first NME cover shoot in 18 years. That came before his debut album – 2000’s ‘Born To Do It’ – shifted more than 8 million copies, and before he was lampooned on the comedy show Bo’ Selecta! from 2002-6. It was also before he moved to Miami and then re-emerged to release Number One album ‘Following My Intuition’ in 2016. His slinky follow-up, fittingly named ‘The Time Is Now’, is full of cutting-edge UK rap, indicating he’s had his ear to the ground the whole time. Craig is the picture of positivity, his Zen-like patter as consistent as his impeccable hairline. Here are his lessons for living well.

Use social media wisely

Craig says: “The news is very negative. What I’d love to hear is, ‘Oh! A beautiful baby has just been born.’”

It’s important to remember that Craig’s initial experience of fame pre-dated Facebook and Twitter. He seems genuinely thrilled to receive messages from fans, and to be able to respond directly. Social media, of course, is both a source of delight and a place of peril – a fact not lost on Craig, who likens negativity on social media to relentless bad news on the TV. “Naturally I see people saying negative things about me,” he admits. “Twitter is an enabler of free speech, so it’s gonna go both ways. People tend to see the 0.01 per cent [of negativity] and they want to tap into it. It’s like that Black Mirror episode about a liking system – you have to be very careful, because you can get into that world. You’ve got be balanced enough to see both sides of it, and to know what to engage with and what not to engage with.”

Channel your inner child

Craig says: “Children remind you that you’ve tried to grow up, be an adult, get too responsible and be all serious.”

Craig recently ’Grammed a snap of himself a child, captioned, “Bursting into 2018 with all of my little Craig energy”. He explains, “I could see such a happy little kid that had no worries in the world and didn’t take anything too seriously. Kids are just like, ‘I like this thing and I want to play with it.’ They’re like, ‘I’m not really feeling this conversation – I’m just gonna walk over there.’ You can take elements of what made you happy back then, and start to remember that that’s who you really are.”

Don’t hold your grudges

Craig says: “If you hold grudges with people, it’s the worst poison.”

Craig was famously spoofed on ’00s show Bo’ Selecta!, named after Artful Dodger’s 1999 smash ‘Re-Rewind (The Crowd Say Bo Selecta)’ on which Craig featured. Comedian Leigh Francis – as alter ego Avid Merrion – wore a rubber mask of Craig’s face, had a kestrel called Kes and pissed himself often. It was surprisingly cruel, but Craig’s typically chill about the whole thing. He hugged Francis at Fearne Cotton’s wedding in 2015 and explains now, “I was just like, ‘OK, the guy’s taking the piss out of me and he’s taking the piss out of everyone else on the show. He’s a comedian – isn’t that what comedians do?’” He does resent, though, that Bo’ Selecta! turned ‘Re-Rewind’ into a punchline. “‘Rewind’ is a song of heritage, of culture. Now, for it to become [a joke]? That was only part where I was like, ‘I’m not really feeling that.’”

Seek out good people

Craig says: “I wanna have a positive impact and bring in artists on the come-up. It gets me hyped!”

This 2.0 edition of Craig David is a dab hand at pulling in stellar collaborators. Indeed, his big comeback was jumpstarted when, in 2015, he joined comic garage MCs Kurupt FM in the BBC 1Xtra studio and freestyled his vintage megahit ‘Fill Me In’ over Skrillex, Diplo and Justin Bieber’s ‘Where Are Ü Now’. The new album boasts collaborations with pomp-pop purveyors Bastille and hotly tipped rappers GoldLink and AJ Tracey, while he’s recently been in the studio with London MC Yungen. Yet one big dog has historically eluded our hero: Drake. He told NME about his desire to reel in the 6 God back at the BRITs in 2016, after the pair were introduced at a steakhouse in Los Angeles. “We had a mutual appreciation of each other,” Craig says now. “I would love to work with him. I love his ability to go from the melodies to rapping – it’s everything I grew up with.”

Follow your intuition

Craig says: “You know when something isn’t authentic, or aligned, and it’s not what you  wanna be doing.”

Many people spend years in therapy before they reach the level of self-knowledge and calm that radiates from Craig. He’s never spent time on the analyst’s couch, he says; with him, it all comes from within. “It’s
a realisation I had on the come-up. Most people know what their purpose is, but their mind will tell them a million stories [as to why they can’t achieve it]. Like, ‘You don’t have the right contacts.’ Well, look at my career. Talk about someone that doesn’t have the right contacts! I was in a working-class family in a council flat with my mum, yeah? When I was a young kid in Southampton I’d tell my mates, ‘I ain’t going out raving with you, I need to finish this song.’ What was it that told me to stay in? Something was intuitively saying to me, ‘You’ve got a talented thing with your music here – keep doing for that a second.’”

Take a step back

Craig says: “Any time you try to force something and it’s not going right, just try to pull back from the puzzle.”

2010’s ‘Signed Sealed Delivered’ is at once Craig David’s most basic record, and the curveball in his career. Who knew that the innovative R&B loverman’s fifth album would be a bog-standard collection of Motown covers? There is a reason: having released two disappointing albums, Craig had found himself without a record deal. He was offered the chance to record a covers album – as Seal had done with enormous success a couple of years previously – and saw it as an opportunity to get back in the game. Alas, the response was predictably muted. “I wasn’t being authentic to my real self,” he says now. “There wasn’t an option to go on and do another album. I said to myself, ‘You were ‘Re-Rewind’, you were part of the culture – and now you’re doing ‘(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay’. You need to go away. Go live the dream, go party.’”

Party like you’re born to do it

Craig says: “Even when you’ve had a couple shots, you sober up real quick when the music gets weird, yeah?”

And party, reader, he most certainly did. Craig moved to Miami, drove around in a sports car and kicked it in the Stateside sunshine for a few years. He brought himself an apartment in the swanky Mondrian South Beach Hotel and fell into the velvet ropes of Miami nightlife. In time, however, the lustre of the VIP club scene wore thin. “I didn’t like the elitist thing of being in the VIP area,” he tells NME. “I didn’t like the BS of people outside being somehow inferior to the people inside the rope.” So he began to host parties in his apartment (don’t worry – the walls were hurricane-proofed). He played everything from The Notorious B.I.G. to Nirvana to – get this – even ‘The Macarena’, and the numbers grew from 10 attendees to over 100. That’s when he brought his club night, which he named TS5, to the masses.

Look for patterns

Craig says: “[My comeback] feels new and familiar at the same time. I get déjà vu.”

Born To Do It lifts its title from 1971’s Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory. Asked how Wonka makes his confectionery, a shopkeeper replies, “Do you ask a fish how it swims?… They do it because they were born to do it!” Rewatching the movie in 2016, Craig was stunned to discover that main character Charlie Bucket finds his Golden Ticket on September 30 – the very same date that ‘Following My Intuition’ came out. “I thought, ‘Are you for real? I had shivers running down my spine.’ The underlying tone of that film – the kid from the poor family, who feels that he’s got as much chance as anyone else out there to win
a Golden Ticket – is why I have such a strong affinity with it.”

Take nobody for granted

Craig says: “With every person you meet, there is a new and exciting experience to be had.”

Having brought the TS5 parties to the UK, Craig linked up with irrepressible London MC Big Narstie. Their track ‘When The Bassline Drops’ entered the Top 10, ushering in Craig’s renewed success. “I’m grateful for what I have and the people around me,” he says. “You and I are here, having this conversation and, OK, we know it’s for the cover of NME. But I’m not gonna use this conversation to be like, ‘OK, I’ll pass you a couple stories, hopefully you’ll give me a nice little write-up, and then we’ll move on.’ If I did that, I would reduce you [to] a means to an end. You’re a human being. We’re sharing dialogue together. This is how any relationship or friendship is built. That’s life.”

Goals are overrated

Craig says: “What I’ve realised is that goal posts constantly shift. It’s not about achieving a goal every time.”

Few artists manage what Craig David has achieved since 2015. It’s one thing to come in from the wilderness (OK, Miami) and remind people of your legacy while also pushing forward creatively, but another to translate that into a Number One album and an impressive follow-up stuffed with top talent. Is he afraid he might run out of steam again, as he did in 2010? Nah! “When you first come out of the box,” he says, “you want to play the 300-capacity place, then it’s 1,600-capacity, then it’s an arena – so, do you want to be in a stadium now? The ego keeps telling you that it’s not enough.” Instead, he’s learned to appreciate “this moment today”. That watch is more than an eccentric fashion statement: it’s a reminder about living life the Craig David way. If you want to follow suit, the time is always now.

Craig’s new album, ‘The Time Is Now’, is out now