Necessity is the father of invention. Dave East grew up with hoop dreams but life lead him from the hard top to hip-hop. “I definitely thought I was gonna go to the NBA. I could play ball so in my mind, that was my ticket out of the bullshit that I had been through,” the rapper says. “It didn’t work out.”
Born David Brewster, Jr. in East Harlem, New York City, the 29-year-old excelled at basketball. He played in the Amateur Athletic Union with future stars Ty Lawson, Greivis Vasquez and Kevin Durant and attended the University of Richmond with ambitions of going pro. He majored in Communications Studies but his temperament proved problematic. He was kicked out of the college after a year. “I had a hot temper. I had a bad attitude,” East admits. He transferred to Towson University for a year-and-a-half but plans got derailed after he was incarcerated on a gun charge. “After I got locked up, basketball was over with.”
Six months behind bars in Baltimore was a turning point; East vowed then and there to change the trajectory of his life. “I was like, “Once I get up out of here, I never want to be here again.’ That was my whole motivation when I came home—to never go back.” He became introspective and realized that music could fill the void that basketball had left. “I had to figure out what my next move was gonna be. That’s when I really put my mind on what I was gonna do with the music.” Prior to that, rap had been a hobby; something he did with his basketball teammates in the locker room or at the back of the team bus. “I was always rapping. I’ve been writing raps since I was 12. All my homies knew. All my teammates were like, ‘You’re real nice with that.’”
East returned home after his bid, laser focused. He found solace in Islam and converted. He had a story to tell—a story of big dreams, trials and adversity—that he felt would resonate universally. “I knew I had a real story. I knew I would have substance in my music.” Inspired by artists like Notorious B.I.G., Cam’ron, Styles P, Fabolous and Jadakiss as well as Nipsey Hussle, Gucci Mane, Lil Wayne and T.I, he decided upon the stage moniker “Dave East” and released his debut mixtape, Change of Plans, in 2010. “It was my first time really, really recording.” It was a grassroots effort on all fronts. He remembers borrowing his friend’s Hermes scarf for the artwork and hosting the mixtape on the burgeoning website Hot New Hip Hop.