Dave East

When he was putting together his first full-length album, 2019's Survival, rapper Dave East knew he had a choice: He could swim with the current or swim against it.

Raised in Harlem and Queensbridge on New York street-rap classics-Hov, Nas, Biggie, Pun-East's gut told him to stick with tradition, with narrative, with a sound and style he felt had gotten lost in the cultural wash.

"It's like, it's not the go-to, you know what I'm saying?" he told Apple Music in 2019. "It ain't trendy. But it comes with where l'm from and what I represent. To have stories, to have real-life things that I happen to be able to put into words—| don't feel like that's something everybody can do."

Born David Brewster, Jr., in 1988, East started releasing mixtapes in 2010, eventually hooking up with Nas—a mentorship that helped put his career on a higher track. For all his fidelity to the past, East never comes off as nostalgic, holding ground as comfortably with trap- and pop-oriented artists like Lil Baby and Gunna as with old heads like Fabolous and Styles P—a balancing act that stands out in a culture where progress and tradition don't always get along. Yeah, he grew up then—but he's living now.