East Harlem Native Rebirthing 90’s Rap

Tiffany Filawo, Staff Writer

The East Harlem Harlem native, Dave East, finds a creative and vintage way to bring the story of the struggle of balancing roots in the hood to a sudden transition into the music industry in his album Paranoia: A True Story. Growing up East was a basketball prodigy and almost went to the NBA, until he decided to pursue the passion that kept his head above the struggles that came with his surroundings growing up: writing rhymes. East was discovered by renowned 90’s rapper, Nas, and signed to Nas’s record label, Mass Appeal Records, in 2014, then soon signed to Def Jam Recordings in 2016.

In the album’s first song, “Paranoia”, which includes a feature from Jeezy, Dave East lets his crowd into his vulnerable side as he speaks of the paranoia that comes from being in the music business. He further describes the root of his paranoia in his skit and audio of “The Hated.” In the skit, listeners hear two men from Dave East’s hometown, welcoming him back home and congratulating him on his success, but wait for him to leave before disclosing their jealousy of him, saying how much he does not deserve the fame he has acquired. The audio version of “The Hated”, which follows the skit, opens up with Nas’s revelational remarks on how he experienced jealousy from those he grew up with after being able to leave the hood and start off a career which heavily impacted the sound of 90’s rap, which East models his sound after. The heightened levels of jealousy from the ones East grew up with, known as Ant Live and Cory in the song, is brought to the listeners’ attention with the hook, “They hated Jesus, hated Malcolm, hated Martin (They gon’ hate) eight ****** living in a two-bedroom apartment.” With this line, listeners understood East’s message that all the Ant Lives and Corys in the world even hate on some of history’s purest-hearted selfless leaders such as Jesus, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr., and would even envy the life of eight struggling people trying to squeeze into a two bedroom apartment.


Speaking on his relationships with women, specifically how he has gotten swerved in his song “Perfect” ft. Chris Brown and in “My Dirty Little Secret”, his hard work to get the girl of his dreams. “My Dirty Little Secrets” also mention the change in his interest in women with a direct reference to his song “Keisha” from his tenth mixtape, Kairi’s Chanel. The radio success “Perfect” has been well received, being his first single off of this album, and also a showcase of his ability to collaborate with other artists of varying genres, such as R&B singer and artist, Chris Brown.


Dave East further displays his collaborative skills in “Maneuver”, featuring French Montana with the accompaniment of the raw sound of a horn and complimented by soft percussions. In this song, Dave East talks again about how he “Made it out of the jungle, came back in a Jaguar” depicting the struggle of growing up a young man in the hood, but the fortune of being able to make it out successfully as he did. Other famous features on the album were the likings of Whiz Khalifa in his album’s fourth song, “Phone Jumpin’, and the smooth voice of budding R&B singer, D’anna Stewart, at the second bridge of the album’s seventh song, “Found A Way”. The addition of D’anna Stewart helps ease listeners into the end of his storytelling of how he “Got tired of wearin’ the same clothes” and “… had to sacrifice for his life” but he “…found a way,” and “From the grind came the fame.”


Another one of the causes of Dave East’s paranoia surfaces in his skit, Kairi, implying the pressures he now has, of providing for his young daughter. Touching the hearts of listeners with the genuine conversation between East and his daughter, displaying the deep love he has for her, allow his listeners to see him through a fatherly lense.

Dave East lovingly looks Kairi in the eyes as he cherishes the quality time they spend together.

Amidst all of the commotion in East’s life since entering the music business, he humanizes himself in “Wanna Be Me”. In the song, he mentions the struggles he’s faced with such as the daily pressures of providing for first an foremost, his daughter, and those around him, all that while “Tryna’ learn the music industry.” After all he does for people he cares for, they are ungrateful and claim that East cares about nothing. He also talks about his family misfortunes such as the passing of his Aunt Barbara in 2008, his father’s diagnosis with diabetes, and wishing he was closer to his nieces and nephews. At the end of the day, as most people do, he just wants to set his worries aside, enjoy time with his daughter, and be himself.


For his first album, East’s fans get a pretty close look at his psyche and how that is the basis of his music. Not only has Dave East proven his strength in storytelling, he has brought back the sound of the 90’s New York rap and its purpose to tell the rags to riches stories of rappers to empower and instill hope in young people who were born into the same rough circumstances as they were. With the death of the legendary Biggy and the dying out of the legendary sounds of the 90’s rap era, those of us with an ear for that sound thought it was gone, but Dave East seems to be the hope of bringing back the original hip-hop culture into mainstream musical culture.