Tupac Shakur may have been one of the first rappers to seamlessly juggle his two creative loves—rapping and acting. Over the past few years, Dave East has been following in those same footsteps. Coming off the release of his latest project, HDIGH (How Did I Get Here), while also portraying Method Man in Hulu's Wu-Tang: An American Saga, the East Harlem, N.Y. rapper is peeling back the layers of his talent. He's showing the world how multifaceted he is. In a new interview with XXL, East tells how he makes it all happen.

After being introduced to Los Angeles-based production duo Mike and Keys through the late Nipsey Hussle, he teamed up with the pair for his 2020 single, "Handsome," from his Karma 3 album. Dave East knew their undeniable synergy would make for a soulful-produced project paired with his signature New York City flow.

"Mike and Keys, that's my sound, 100 percent," Dave East shares with XXL on March 11, the same day HDIGH arrived. "They are like, one of the few producers in the game that really just got my sound down pat without really trying."

The nine-song labor of love consists of production solely handled by Mike and Keys as well as features from R&B greats Musiq Soulchild and Anthony Hamilton, in addition to rising crooner Kalan.FrFr, Benny The Butcher, Trae Tha Truth and more.

"But I been was talking to them," East reveals on how he enlisted the West Coast beatmakers for the effort. "I was like, 'Yo, we gotta do an album, bro. Just me rapping on y'all beats. Nobody else.' So we finally put it in play."

But before releasing HDIGH last month, Dave East delivered the Harry Fraud-produced HOFFA last year and Karma 3 two years ago, all while playing a pivotal role in retelling the story of one of his hometown's greatest and most impactful rap ensembles: the Wu-Tang Clan.

"I had to be on set four, five in the morning ’cause I had mad tattoos and shit, they had to do the makeup," he explains. "So, my two years of doing that was hectic ’cause I never wanted to stop the rapping shit. And that...when you really lock into an acting role, that be your life for that moment. That's all you can really do. I didn't really get a chance to kick it with my kids. Every time I was going home, it was to shower and get out of there.

"It made me want to do the rap even more because I was like, 'Damn, I ain't really been recording like I usually record.' So, it just kept a fire burning inside of me for the music. I love the music before everything. I feel like the acting is just and extension of me with the music. It's just something I always wanted to do and the music put me in the position do it."

And of course, one of the benefits of being on TV screens in varying households is that it expands an artist's reach and allows them to acquire new fans. This is something that East was taken aback, but also humbled by.

"I gained a lot of new fans off of that [Wu-Tang: An American Saga] that probably wouldn't check my music based on that show or found out who I was on that show," he states. "Then went back and was like, 'Oh, this nigga been rapping or he was signed to Nas.' This, that and the third, so I feel like, it opened up a whole new door for me. I was telling somebody the other day, I get stopped by older White ladies, older Asian ladies.

"People that never used to stop me before, they be, 'Oh, you Method Man, Wu-Tang.' I be like, 'Oh, that's fire.' So just a whole different demographic of people tuned into me and I just think it was dope for my own brand to show that I do more than rap. I can act, too. I can just dib and dabble in different shit."

Dave East's portrayal of Method Man also forced East to tap into traumas he experienced with the loss of some of his close friends as well as his best friend, Shooter. In one particular scene, East says he utilized an acting coach, who told him to channel those specific tragedy-centered emotions.

"Season one, there was this scene where somebody that was real close to Meth growing up, the police choked him out and killed him," East divulges. "And the camera was basically showing Meth. I was the fire escape. That's when I had the crutches and all that. I had to run to the fire escape, and I'm screaming at the cop, 'Let my man go.' And the cop kills him. So basically, I had to show the emotion in my face of me watching my best friend die. And that was tough, but what helped me was I actually have very, very close friends that died. They wasn't killed by police, but they was killed in the street and shit like that."

He adds, "When that scene comes up, she made me say their names and shit like that. And it helped me. It definitely brought me to a space where I might've not been that into that...I might not have been as emotionally into it because it was acting. That's the hard part about acting, really selling the emotion of real life shit."

Dave East is also in his entrepreneurial bag. He recently opened a former bodega-turned-one stop shop located in Harlem. The store has health products, clothes, artwork from local artists and all things that East is interested in. He's also looking to branch out and open different locations in an effort for the community to have a place to identify with, and that caters to their wants and needs—an idea he says he took from Nipsey Hussle, who launched his Marathon Clothing store in 2017 prior to his passing in 2019.

Watch Dave East speak with XXL on his latest project, How Did I Get Here, his acting role in Wu-Tang: An American Saga, launching a storefront in his hometown and more above.

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