White Dave Isn’t Who You Think He Is

The Richmond-bred rapper is dropping a 4/20 album for the fourth year in a row.

White Dave is serious about not taking himself too seriously. Look no further than the Richmond rapper’s tendency to zig toward the weighty before zagging back toward more lighthearted fare. “Appraise,” his recent single for the Oscar-nominated Judas and the Black Messiah soundtrack takes on police brutality and calls for true Black equity. His forthcoming Porch Sessions EP — set to drop on 4/20 — is flush with upbeat weed anthems.

The perfect chill-out companion for the smoker’s holiday, lit up by Dave’s dexterous flow and comedic flair, Porch Sessions chronicles the simple joys of getting high, hanging with friends, and getting jiggy with the opposite sex.

“For the past few years, I’ve been putting out an EP on 4/20,” Dave says. “I enjoy my pharmaceuticals, so anytime I get a chance to get some fresh music to my weed-smoking fans so they can decompress, I go for it.” 

The 30-year-old hip-hop artist, born Noah David Coogler, is something of a renegade on the Richmond scene, eschewing the tendency to lean into hyphy — a sound and tradition that served to elevate local hip-hop for a time but has since become something of an albatross for emcees trying gain traction beyond the borders of the Bay.

“That’s usually the first thing that I hear from people,” Dave says. “‘Hey, your music doesn’t sound like we’d expect.’”

One of Dave’s earliest influences, Master P, may shed some light on why he didn’t feel the need to borrow too heavily from the spastic and elastic flows pionieered by 707 icons Mac Dre and E-40. Though he was born in New Orleans, P spent several formative years in the East Bay — attending Merritt College in Oakland and founding his legendary No Limit Records in Richmond — before returning to the South. Dave also had the benefit of growing up with a tastemaking older brother: Ryan Coogler, the award-winning filmmaker behind Fruitvale Station, Creed, and Black Panther

Watching his “big bro” making a rap album with friends when the future director was just a high school freshman, helped Dave realize that he, too, could lay down the beats and rhymes that were already floating through his mind without expensive studio equipment. 

At age 12, he began experimenting with a Casio keyboard with a 4-track recorder. Eventually, he set up a small studio in a corner of his home and began producing and uploading tracks and playlists to MySpace.

Ryan Coogler wouldn’t just influence the way White Dave recorded his four albums, five EPs, and track contributions to Creed and Black Panther. He would also inspire his younger brother’s rap name. 

It all traces back to adolescence, when his classmates — from four different high schools — would chide the younger Coogler for not being “Black enough.” He remembers being called an “Oreo,” a derogatory term for those deemed “Black on the outside and white on the inside,” and a “Carlton Banks,” a reference to the bougie, upper-middle-class character played by Alfonso Ribeiro on the ’90s sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.  

“When you’re going through those formative years, they say that things are so important to you,” Dave says. “It never bothered me, but it was something that I took note of.”  

So when he was cycling through stage names, his brother encouraged him to reclaim the “white” label that had been hurled at him years earlier and transform it into something valuable — a conversation starter that would generate interest but still represent him. He grounded it by adding his middle name.  

Being perceived as “too white” got Dave thinking about how people often place undeserved expectations on others based on their own biases. On the flip side, living as a Black man for 30 years, he’s also had to reckon with what it means to not be “white enough.”

While he refuses to call himself a “target” or “victim,” he can rattle off one experience after another where he felt oppressed, harassed, and profiled by the police.

He’s been questioned in Albany while eating a sandwich in his car, approached by two cops after dropping off a friend at her Berkeley Hills home, and held at gunpoint, handcuffed, and detained in the back of a squad “for no reason.”

These are the experiences that informed his “Appraise” single. After watching Judas and the Black Messiah, a biopic about a Black Panther leader — Fred Hampton — who was betrayed by a FBI informant, Dave was so moved that he knew it was time to get his own story out. 

“I’m usually one for making casual, easygoing music,” Dave says. “But in that song, I get loud and strongminded. That song is my rage, passion, and frustration with the police. I just can’t see myself supporting a system like that any longer without using my voice.”

For his next album, due out in August, White Dave says fans can expect a collection of songs that are more personal than political, but no less hearty. There will be tracks about love, like the melodic “Stuck,” which is about a romantic interest in need of comforting, as well as meditations about those he’s left behind.

“When I sit down to make a record, I ask myself whether I have a message or am I just making some noise?” Dave says. “For the EPs I put out on 4/20, it’s usually more about making some shit that slaps. For an album, it’s me making claims and proving them by the end of the record.” 

White Dave looks forward to the day when he can perform again for fans, he also wants to gain recognition in other areas.

To this end, he is working with his younger brother and head merchandise designer, Keenan, on a clothing line and a podcast, where the two self-described “nerds” will discuss everything from scary novels to sports to video games. He’s also planning on writing his first screenplay. 

“As much as I’m passionate about creating music, I have passions outside [that] as well,” Dave says. “I want to expand the brand. I want to be seen as a visionary. I am very excited about the position that music has put me in and I want to make sure I don’t drop the ball — that I remain focused and ready for whatever comes.”

Porch Sessions EP
Streaming April 20
White Dave | Burg Park

Joshua Rotter is a contributing writer. news@sfweekly.com

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