Like most people I'm prone to constantly evaluating my life. How well am I doing? Have I achieved enough? What of this – what of me – will be remembered? I fast forward to my deathbed, a limp candlelight casting flickering light over my puckered hands, my mind's eye rushing back through time in a frantic scramble for something lasting. Shuttling through the blackness into the further reaches of my past, I hear a voice. It's calm and effortless – clearly media-trained and unrelentingly positive:
Angus, can you hear me? Angus? Angus, this is Craig David. Never forget. Never forget the modest role you played in my return to the mainstream in the mid-2010s.
Let's leave my death to one side for now and hop to a closer point in time. August 2015. I was a few months into my job at VICE, at the time working as a Noisey staff writer. Craig David had been popping up with increasing regularity – his TS5 Ibiza shows were growing in scale and audience size, and he'd just performed a now internet-famous freestyle in the 1Xtra booth alongside the Kurupt FM crew and Big Narstie. I had a question: what exactly had happened to Craig David and why?
How was it that the artist responsible for what's been labelled the fastest-selling solo debut album by a British male in UK history, had disappeared? Why had we allowed a black British artist who'd straddled commercial success and critical acclaim all before his twentieth birthday to become little more than a cheap punchline for a sketch show? And not only a sketch show, but one that involved Leigh Francis, a straight-to-ITV2 comedian, donning rubber blackface and cawing inexplicably "urban" cliches in a Northern accent. Maybe somebody found it funny once in 2002, but rewatching now it's painfully misjudged. It struck me that Craig's career had gone much the same way as grime's first wave: a rapid ascent that no major label really knew how to handle. Poor decisions had been made – a Motown covers album, for example – and ultimately the artist had suffered.
Yet I was also struck by the thought that British culture was uniquely positioned to re-embrace him. The online response to his reappearances proved his original fanbase's affections burned hot, and on top of that a new generation was paying attention – kids who'd never seen an episode of Bo Selecta in their lives. So I called it, with this piece: Rise Craig David, your time is now. At the time I'd written the article as both a winking tribute to the man and his music, but also a genuine observation that Craig David was uniquely positioned to become a viable mainstream commercial artist again. And happen it did. Ibiza residencies, a number 1 album, a sold out UK tour, the works.
Craig's got new album The Time Is Now out in January so he suggested we have a quick catch up before he boarded a flight. We speak somewhere between the Live Lounge and the departure lounge, as he travels from Radio 1 to another international tour date. He greets me with the usual blend of boyish enthusiasm and earnest clarity. I've interviewed him a number of times now, and in doing so have picked up a few certainties about our chats.
Things that will happen in every conversation with Craig David:
- He will be unrelentingly positive. Every other sentence that leaves his mouth could be framed and hung in a school counsellor's office.
- He'll share a bunch of analogies – he loves a good one. See: "I'm like a striker. Back in the day you'd be doing crazy sprints all over the park to try and score a goal, but when you see the players who've been playing for a minute, they're in good health, good fitness, they'll just pin it from 50 yards. Top corner."
- He will never not take an opportunity to tell you how grateful he is, for everything that's happened to him in the past couple of years.
- He will mean every word.
I start by asking him: why another album already? His comeback record Following My Intuition was only released late last year. "After the tour I was in such a creative space," he says, with the near religious sincerity of a man on a divine mission. "It kind of spilt into me using the time where things slow down in December. I started to use all of that time through the 24th – saw my mum on the 25th – and was back in on the 26th and there all through New Year." Enjoy the new Craig David album everyone, he gave up his Boxing Day to make it.
"I always have this A, B, C list when I'm making songs," he continues, "and it started to seem to me that the A list was starting to overflow, to the point where I was like, 'it feels like there's another album in this'." The new record, according to Craig, is going to pick up where the latter half of its predecessor left off – favouring his slower side over the party anthems of FMI. "It's a UK R&B album. I'm getting back to a place where I can make 'Seven Days' type stuff." It's an interesting proposition. So far the bulk of his comeback material has struck a reliable formula, pairing his vocals with tried and tested names in chart dance music. The challenge will be finding a version of contemporary R&B that satisfies the nostalgists without sounding anachronistic.
It's a conundrum that characterises his resurgence. What I've found endlessly fascinating about the Craig David revival – you know, the one I kickstarted? – is the fanbase he has engendered. I went to one of his shows earlier this year and it's really something to behold. Families stand for the entire two-hour performance. Starry-eyed kids Snapchat away while their parents, dribbling over-priced pints of Carling in awe, experience the most fun they've had since 2003. Crazier still he's in Ibiza playing to house bros and sixth-form party girls, or at Glastonbury playing for pretty much everyone. I'd struggle to think of an artist with a stake in so many demographics.
It's a tricky thing to try and sustain though – a delicate balance between nostalgia and hype. Only if you pose the dilemma to Craig, you wouldn't know it was a thing. He greets the conundrum with the same edgeless optimism he answers every question with – a skill that either comes from a 15-plus years of interviews, or a genuinely unbreakable spirit. "I've got back to what resonates with me," he says. "It's what I had on that first album – I was so excited to go out and press play on those Technics and watch people's faces light up."
Talk of his new record also brings me to the crucial burning question. The thing I really wanted to get to the bottom of when I phoned. His new album is called The Time is Now. My piece was called Rise Craig David, Your Time Is Now. Craig's relationship with this phrase dates back a few years – in fact, it appears to be something of an ideology to him. Each time we've spoken in the past he's mentioned the importance of "living for the moment", how young he feels again – at one point comparing himself to Benjamin Button. For a while he even wore a watch that said "NOW" instead of any discernible time. One thing I've come to understand about Craig is that as a sentiment, it's also totally sincere. Perhaps it takes a career of highs and lows as lurching as his for the phrase "the time is now" to graduate from meaningless into mantra.
However, watch or no watch, it's important for me to know the truth, and so I edge towards my final question: "Craig, did you… did you name your album after the article I wrote?"
He stops and laughs.
"This is how weird it is: your piece, my 'now' watches, me being very much about living in the moment, calling the album The Time is Now, it's all linked. So I have to say yes. It's all part and parcel of realising that instead of always searching for 'the next thing', what it's really about is what you have now: your mates and your family. When you get that, it takes so much of the weight off. What more do you need? You just want to be around your friends and have a good time." It's a Very Craig David answer – a way of saying "no mate" that is diplomatically and delicately engineered to sound positive, somehow reaffirming.
But to be clear: he basically said yes.
We end, as ever, with Craig thanking me. He does this every time we talk, even though, really and truly, my role in his creative journey has been pretty minimal. "You should be proud of yourself," he tells me. "It's not like a new artist, when you come out the blocks you're like a speedboat making quick manoeuvres, quick changes, because nobody knows too much about you. This has been like a huge cruise liner; to make a turn, it's a slower effort, but when it turns? Wow. You are into a good lane."
Told you he likes a good analogy.
You can find Angus on Twitter.