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Rhythm of Ages

Craig David may be young, but he's got a grown-up soul.

Comeliness is the only credential most youthful heartthrobs need. After all, good genes and an attractive mug are more than enough to justify the video and magazine exposure that fills the brief careers of typical nouveau hunks or pubescent toy boys. But while twenty-year-old British swoon-inducer Craig David certainly benefits from alluring physical qualities, he arrives on our shores with additional accessories -- namely, legitimate musical skills and an actual title. He's been dubbed the King of Two-Step for his role in popularizing the latest trendy dance-music craze to sweep Europe.

Bully for him, right? Sure, but there are a couple of problems with David's designation. For one thing, few people can clearly and concisely define what the singer is the king of. In an article last June for Salon.com, writer Andy Battaglia spent more than 3,000 words touting two-step without ever quite saying what differentiates it from drum and bass, or house, or whatever. To add to the confusion, some experts, including David, see two-step as a spinoff of garage, a moniker associated with both a previously established dance style and a type of primitive rock and roll. And David himself concedes that his first-rate debut CD, Born to Do It, which has already spawned a pair of irresistible hits ("Fill Me In" and the current "7 Days"), is far from being a primer.

"The album has a few two-step influences," David notes. "'Fill Me In' has the influence in its chorus, but the verse is very R&B. And 'Rewind,' which was one of my first big songs in the U.K., is kind of the other way around. The verse is very two-step, and the chorus is very R&B. So really, the two-step stuff is only on two tracks, and they're not fully two-step in their whole structure."

British crooner Craig David's career has taken two steps forward.
British crooner Craig David's career has taken two steps forward.

In other words, David is hardly the poster child for two-step, because it's merely one ingredient in his sound. But he doesn't complain too vociferously about being miscast. "A lot of people have said, 'Your album's two-step, man,' because they've kind of got it into their heads that two-step is this different style of R&B, I guess. And since nobody's telling them different, they'll be like, '"7 Days," that's two-step, yeah!' But if you think '7 Days' is actually two-step, I'll roll with you. I kind of humor it to a degree, because it's not fully understood at the moment."

Such an approach may seem calculating on the printed page, but not when it's articulated by David. In conversation, he comes across as personable, sincere and, most of all, smart. Thus far, for instance, he's managed to appeal to the pop audience without being limited by it -- a trick that few of his contemporaries have managed to turn.

"It's cool to be embraced by urban radio and pop radio at the same time," he says. "I like it when people are given the opportunity to decide if they like a song or not, as opposed to the formatting of a radio station making the decision for them because they're supposed to like this or like that. I look at pop music as being popular in general, so when people say, 'Oh, man, that's pop,' I can't really understand that. I'm more interested in if something's good, not if something's pop. Like 'Baby, One More Time' -- that's a great pop song. And maybe my songs aren't pop in the same way, but if pop fans hear them and like them, I think that's great, too."

David hasn't gone out of his way to lure such listeners, however, and his attention to quality gives him a chance to be around long after his more superficial peers have become the topic of trivia questions.

"I think the one thing that any artist has control of is his integrity -- and you kind of see how people maintain that or how people lose it," he allows. "There are always people who come in and tell you, 'Hey, you should do it like this,' or 'This is the way it should be done.' And sometimes, when you don't actually know what you should do, you kind of go with the flow. But somewhere in everyone there's a voice inside that says, 'Yeah, this is right; let's do it this way.' And I try to listen to that voice."

Indeed, David seems determined to do things according to his own plan, based on his particular values. A native of Southampton, he was raised by his mother in council estates -- government housing. But, unlike many American hip-hoppers and R&B figures before him, he refuses to use the story of his less-than-tony upbringing as a way to boost his street credibility.

"A lot of people use the excuse of music to live out a certain lifestyle," he points out. "And I think that's disappointing sometimes, especially when it doesn't present a positive role model. It frustrates me a little bit when I see people doing the whole keeping-it-real and staying-ghetto thing -- when they do the bad things they were doing back in the day just to keep this kind of ethic of being cool. It's like you know in your heart what's right or wrong, but you feel you have to prove to everyone else around you that you're still down. And I'm like, why?

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