The Standout: Dave East Relives Years Of Police Harassment On ‘Don’t Shoot’

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Listening to albums is a full time job. Every day, new bodies of work flood iTunes and your favorite mixtape sites. I love the process of giving an album a spin from start to finish. It’s like test driving a car: wavering back and forth between committing and seeking alternatives with every turn. After a few listens, I tend to pick out favorites I religiously quote, place on playlists and recommend to friends.

The Standout is here to highlight one record from a particular album that fits the criteria above.

Album: Dave East’s Kairi Chanel

Song: “Don’t Shoot”

Dave East has all the inner makings of a future star. Not star in the Drake sense, but more along the lines of a Kendrick Lamar or J. Cole. His lyricism is refreshing for New York after countless new names lacked in that department. It’s like a nod to the ‘90s but without sticking to that style. East is his own man that not only can spit, but he can connect with his listeners with the approach he takes with the content he picks. Nothing on his latest album is more thought-provoking than “Don’t Shoot,” a tale that spans years and years, and ends on a cliffhanger.

We’re taken back in time to 1998 in the first verse. Dave Brewester Jr. was just 10 years old growing up in East Harlem. He’s doing kid things like playing basketball and enjoying Now & Laters, but he’s also observant for his age. There’s innocence that comes with being young, so while Dave is able to see what’s going on — his cousin getting pulled over, a kid being arrested, and being mistaken for a suspect — he’s not able to process why it’s happening. He doesn’t get that he’s being racially profiled for a robbery based on his skin color.

“I ask my mama what do police do?
She told me stay up out they way
Go to school and get good grades
One day I’m walking in my building and they stopped me
Told me I looked just like this kid that did a robbery
And I ain’t never stole nothing in my life
Maybe candy out the store or a bag of chips”

As he gets older and we jump ahead into the early 2000s, Dave starts to understand the police’s disdain for blacks. His father gives him sound advice with “told me never go around and avoid ’em, that’s if you can.” There’s an event shortly after high school graduation where Dave and two friends got pulled over. Instead of looking at their diplomas, the cops only see three black men in a jeep and assume they’re thugs. The situations that Dave rapped about are ones that happen more than some might think, thus this record is very effective and accurate.

In the final verse, we get Dave East as he is today. His views have become more complete. A lot of this verse is looking at how becoming a known rapper hasn’t changed police’s perception of him as person. They’re still trying to harass and arrest him after he leaves the club, hoping to find a weapon or anything illegal in an effort to send him to prison. Dave tries to spread knowledge of his actions when he was hustling, but is it going fall on deaf ears? If cops haven’t listened up to this point in his life, how do they hear him now?

The most chilling part of the song is the ending. Dave reenacts a scenario where he gets pulled over by an officer. His luck feels gone. The cop is trying to exert his power even if it’s unnecessary. The last lines “Please don’t shoot me sir, I just had a daughter,” he raps. “Look here go a *gun shot*.” There’s our cliffhanger. We can infer based on real life situations what happens next. #DaveEast becomes a trending topic with an outpouring of support online, and, unfortunately, the public doesn’t get justice for the case.

However, what if Dave’s next album begins where this one left off? His next project is said to be his major label debut album via Def Jam, executive produced by Nas, so it would be an interesting turn of events if he survived this heinous police officer’s bullet. We see the aftermath of the scenario drawn out over the course of several songs. Dave left Kairi Chanel open for these ideas to possibly take place.

Whether the tale’s continued or not with a part two, “Don’t Shoot” is a powerful story-telling song and one that will resonate in your mind long after the album’s over with.