Craig David chats the power of timeless R&B ahead of his December performance in Cape Town

Oh, sweet Craig David. If 20-year-old me knew that I’d be interviewing Mr 7 Days himself on a blustery week day over a dodgy internet connection, she would have run shrieking through the house like a banshee.

A whole two decades after “7 Days” and “Fill Me In” made Craig David one of the biggest pop-R&B singers in the world, the release of his eighth studio album 22, proves that the man is more in touch with what’s going around him musically than ever, with his new single “Obvious” featuring Muni Long hitting that ‘00 R&B duet nail on the head.

“The response to this song is everything that I had imagined it could be,” Craig David smiles at me from my dirty laptop screen. “For me, from 1999 to the early 2000s was a really beautiful era for R&B. Things were just landing–from Destiny’s Child to Mariah–but then you’ve got Mary J Blige and 112 and it was just good times. So to have a song like this in 2022 which embodies that feeling, without it trying to do anything but be from that era, is special.”

“And then to have someone like Muni who understood the assignment when it came to writing her verse was so incredible!” he continues. “I had the template of the song, which I sent over to her because I was in London and she was over in LA, but when she sent the verse back so quickly, it gave me a feeling of like, Brandy & Monica’s Boy Is Mine’. She hit me back with this verse that was like–listen, I’m not trying to make you jealous I’ve actually just moved on. And I loved it! It was so raw I was like, ‘Yes Muni! Let me know the deal!’”

The rest of the album is as sensual as you can imagine, but also exudes this very fresh R&B sound because Craig really immersed himself in pools of new talent, repping the next generation of singers in a way that few of his established contemporaries are doing. “One of the things that served me really well when I moved back from Miami in 2016, was to drop the whole thing of–what you’ve done, what records you’ve sold, what places you’ve sold out–drop all that story,” he says, shaking his head.

“It’s always the stories that box you into being about a certain era. People don’t want to let down their guard. The only way to be current is to walk into a studio with someone who is 20 years old and just let the talent flow out, and if you get that rapport, now you’re relevant, that’s the cultural shift. Rather than walking in there with a whole moniker of, ‘Oh I’ve done this and I’ve done that,’ then you box yourself back into being some guy who put some tunes out years ago.”

“You have to be the underdog, but walk into that situation knowing you’ve got all the tools and wisdom and experience to write songs so that when you go in, you really go in. So when I worked with Nippa on ‘G Love’, I leant into his world as much as he leant into mine. He’s like this 18-year-old kid who will now call me up and we talk on his level,” he smiles.

When Craig makes his way to Cape Town on 8 December to perform at Grand West Arena, you better believe I’m going to be there stage-right and 20-year-old me is craving all those hits. Yes, I’ve obviously checked setlistfm, but Craig’s known for pulling one or two surprise punches during his show. I ask him which song he still gets a rush performing after all these years and his reply is swift as he starts to hum the opening melody of “Fill Me In”.

“Anything from the Born To Do It album really, it’s the gift that keeps on giving,” he muses and I conquer. “There’s a certain R&B sound that’s timeless. When I look at ‘7 Days’ and I think about what makes that song timeless, well firstly I love that guitar melody, it’s the most infectious thing ever, and the sentiment is just me being a kid and throwing lyrics out there. But now culturally, when any kind of social event happens to do with the days of the week, that song seems to kick in. And I’m very honoured that I have one of those kinds of songs.”

Craig David comes to Cape Town 8 December, I think I mentioned this already, but it’s worth repeating. Make sure you’ve got your ticket.