“I got it tatted on me, ‘born broke, die rich,’” said rising rapper Dave East, lifting his white T-shirt and revealing the cursive letters marked below his navel.
The 31-year-old New York City native, born David Brewster Jr., came from humble beginnings, becoming a Crip as a teen, and later, facing a stint in prison for selling drugs. Following the 2010 release of his first mixtape, “Change of Plans,” and the broader attention that followed with 2014’s “Black Rose,” he’s been forging a different path and is now signed to Def Jam Recordings. With 2.4 million Instagram followers and millions of YouTube hits on each music video (“Perfect,” featuring Chris Brown, has 34 million views alone), East is one to watch.
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“Them four words mean everything to me,” he continued. It’s also the title of a 2016 collaborative EP with Philadelphia rapper Kur. “You’re born a certain way, but you don’t gotta die like that.”
All eyes were on the rising rapper as he held court on Fairfax Avenue, smoking a joint in front of Diamond Supply Co., where he celebrated his collaboration with the streetwear and skateboard label on Thursday evening.
Inside the shop, “born broke, die diamond” read the $36 T-shirts hanging on a rack. The items on display, available online starting today, included a sweatshirt ($99) and tracksuit ($122 for the jacket, $99 for the pants), all of which come in white or navy blue.
“I’ve been a fan of Diamond [Supply Co.] forever,” shared East. “I finally got a chance to link up with Nicky [Tershay] and really discuss the collab and put something together. They don’t do work with everybody. I feel like it’s a real exclusive company, and I felt like it wasn’t nothing that would have just been some throwaway.”
Diamond Supply Co. founder Nick Tershay, too, was a fan.
“To me, I feel like he’s old school New York, even though he’s young,” said Tershay, whose past collaborations include releases with rappers Travis Scott, Wiz Khalifa and Tyler, the Creator. “His vibe is really authentic. I love his music. I think he’s amazing.”
The two met through a mutual friend, he shared: “He liked Diamond [Supply Co.], and we gave him some stuff. He came to meet us here in L.A., and we just clicked. We were like, ‘Hey, man, why don’t we do something. [It] makes sense.’”
When it came to the collection and design, East requested “a tracksuit and to do something with his existing logo,” continued Tershay. “When you do a tracksuit, it’s usually pretty basic, but we added some really cool fabrics. We did an ultrasuede on the back, nylon and polyester on the front for the navy blue. The fabric breaks made it interesting and different. For the white one, it was the same fabrics, but we did contrast stripes on the pants. And we took his ‘D’ logo, and inside it, we put a patch of the Empire State Building. Obviously, ‘D’ is also for Diamond so that worked out really well.”
For inspiration in fashion, East said he looked to Off-White creator and artistic director for men’s wear at Louis Vuitton, Virgil Abloh. In music, it’s fellow New York rapper Nas, who gave East his big break back in 2014 when he signed him to his label, Mass Appeal Records.
“They go against the norm,” said East. “They go against what’s regular. They’re constantly doing something to either push the culture forward or challenge the game. They inspire me in certain ways, but other than that, it’s the streets. The people whose names you don’t know. When I go back to my hood, Queens, Brooklyn, or here in L.A., the people that’s not famous, that’s what inspires me.”
Now, following his 2017 debut LP, “Paranoia: A True Story,” the rapper is getting ready to release his sophomore, anticipated album, “Survival,” out in September. It’s executively produced by Nas, he shared. He’s also acting, playing Method Man in Hulu’s upcoming mini-series, “Wu-Tang: An American Saga,” premiering Sept. 4.
“My first single comes out next Friday, Aug. 2,” said East, relighting his joint. “It’s me and Gunna, and then I got a record with Max B. I’m dropping two songs next Friday. Both are on my album.”
“It’s 100 percent New York,” he said of the sound.
In a parallel universe, East, who’s 6 feet, 5 inches, handsome and covered in tattoos, would have been a basketball star. In high school, he played in the Amateur Athletic Union alongside NBA players Ty Lawson and Greivis Vásquez and formed a friendship with Brooklyn Nets’ Kevin Durant. He proceeded to play in college, but life took a turn when he left Towson University, following continuous disputes with basketball staff. Soon, however, he found music.
“I feel like rap fit me better,” he said. “I could hoop. I could have went and did that, but this is my lifestyle, my temperament, my mentality. I’m more me with this. With that, I would have to deal with a coach. You have to get up this time, that time.”
“I can’t do that s–t,” he continued. “With this, everything is on me.”