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Track Meet: Dave East's "Karma 3" Shares Gritty Personal Stories

Updated: Sep 2, 2020

In the "Track Meet" series, we break down albums or projects track by track to show where sports and hip-hop meet.


Before Dave East was one of the hottest names bubbling in the Harlem rap scene, he was a promising basketball player. Rather than focusing on sports metaphors to relay the competitive nature of the rap game, East tends to incorporate his own personal stories hooping in his rhymes and he stays true to the formula in his latest release, "Karma 3."


While East's yet to have a radio hit or viral moment (unless you count his criticism of Lil Nas X's "Old Town Road," which he does sneak another jab at on "Stone Killer"), East has a major co-sign from the original Nas. He's signed to Esco's Mass Appeal label and has captured the attention of rap heads nationwide. He dropped the first "Karma" project in 2017 and the sequel a year later. In between, he's kept fans engaged with various projects, including "Beloved," a collaborative album with New York legend Styles P and his official debut album, "Survival."


Let's break it down:


"Handsome"

"Over the family we gotta shoot/Carolina whip powder blue"

"I really had NBA Dreams, go overseas and get a full-ride to Duke"

Dave East opens "Karma 3" with an appropriate track called "Handsome" produced by Mike & Keys and Little Island. He details his come-up from the dirt and takes a bar to detail his hoop dreams, wishing like every kid to get a full-ride scholarship to NCAA powerhouse Duke or play overseas. He played AAU basketball with Kevin Durant, Michael Beasley and others in the hotbed of PG County. Life had other plans after East got in trouble with the law and transitioned to music, but on "Handsome," he pays homage to Duke's crosstown rival, the North Carolina Tar Heels and their signature powder blue color.


"The City"

"I'm Hall of Fame, nigga, like I'm coaching me"

This one might be a bit of a stretch, but a Hall of Fame is a sports term, right? East is basically flexing here that he's at the top of the rap game and that he's coaching himself, making his own moves. "The City" is a remake of Jay Z's classic "Blueprint" track "Heart of the City (Ain't No Love)." Kanye West produced the beat with a sample of Bobby "Blue" Bland's "Ain't No Love in the Heart of the City." On the new version, Dougie on the Beat effortlessly remade the soundscape while East puts the pleasantly surprising choice of Trey Songz on the hook.

"Get the Money"

"Earned stripes before adidas fits"

"Diamonds from the district, I'm kicking/We playing soccer here"

Dave East is proud of his designer fits from Dolce and Gabbana and Fear of God among others, but on this track, he has some solid wordplay about earning stripes from the streets before being able to flaunt the latest adidas drops. He also has a bar about how diamonds are casual for him now. Kicking it cooly like a game of soccer, possibly some futsal.


"Said What I Said"

"When I'm in Cleveland, I feel like LeBron"

On "Said What I Said," with a steady beat from V DON and Motif Alumni, Dave East enjoys his celebrity and the freedom to walk with confidence. Whether it's in Cleveland where they once again love their hometown hero LeBron James ("The Decision" was 10 years ago) or Milan, Italy where he can stroll into a fashion show, the Harlem rapper is right at home.


"Menace"

"When Allen I was The Answer/Niggas was shooting, surviving bullets was like cancer"

On this reflective track, Dave East looks back on his life growing up in the hood. He remembers the glory days of Allen Iverson aka AI aka The Answer and how his community wasn't only hooping, but shooting in another way. Surviving a gunshot was more of a relevant scare than battling cancer.


"Fuck Dat"

"Rest in peace to Nipsey, Rest in peace to Kobe"

Dave East continues with the personal storytelling on this hard-hitting track with production provided by Three 6 Mafia legend DJ Paul and a feature from current Memphis royalty Young Dolph. The song has a flippant tone overall, but takes a moment to pay respect to Nipsey Hussle and Kobe Bryant. Hussle's death affected East heavily as they were brothers through street ties that brought the coasts together. Kobe Bryant died less than a year after Hussle, shaking the sports and hip-hop worlds.


"Blue Story"

"Playin ball and check it up/I do this for the brodies lost they life"

"I go to Dallas, they treat me like one of the Mavericks"

This track again shows Dave East's organic relationship with basketball and how it's a regular part of his life. He keeps moving forward in life to keep the legacy alive of loved ones he's lost. Similar to the LeBron James line in "Said What I Said," he can also go to Dallas and be treated like a Dallas Maverick. Perhaps in Denver, he's treated like a Nugget as well.


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