The track, Screwface Capital, is available via:
The album, PSYCHODRAMA, is available via:
8th March, 2019
I do like my Saturday review...
because I get to head into mainstream territory – or artists with a bit more clout – and, on this occasion, review a style of music that I do not get to focus on a lot: Rap. I will talk about the main man Dave in a bit but, before I arrive at his feet, I want to look at British Rap and how it compares to the American style; how, in these fraught times, the most powerful albums of the moment are laying it all out there; London right now and why I am genuinely worried (and what music can do to help); whether there is true equality when it comes to race in the music industry – I will look ahead and see where Dave might head. I am stunned by the sheer quality and passion of 2019’s best music so far. We are only just in March but have already seen albums that could be crowned as the year’s best by the time we get to Christmas. Not only has there been this incredible output by female artists such as Julia Jacklin and Sharon Van Etten but there are these artists shaping up that, well, are taking Rap and Hip-Hop in new directions. Perhaps our two leading names right now, Little Simz and Dave, have both released potential 2019-defining records. I covered Little Simz recently and was blown away by her album, GREY Area. It is an amazing album filled with some of the finest lyrics and most powerful songs you will hear in a very long time! When we talk about women in music and their place, it is flabbergasts me there is not equality and better understand when you consider we have artists such as Little Simz. I have always been a little ho-hum regarding British Rap because, when it comes to power and substance, I remember when artists like The Street came out; when Dizzie Rascal ruled Grime and the invention in their music. Such young artists were producing, on their debut outings, music so rich and full of life they were leagues ahead of the competition.
I like Grime artists like Stormzy but I feel like the genre is not quite as arresting as it once was – at a time like now, we need some sort of response and rise. I feel, right now, British Hip-Hop and Rap are making a charge. I do not think we will ever have the same capacity and strength as the U.S. when it comes to Rap. Look at how they have ruled through the years and we often struggle to come up to their standards. I think Dave represents a new breed of Rap artists who are mixing sonic diversity and ambition with lyrics that cut to the core. Alexis Petridis, in his review of Dave’s album, PSYCHODRAMA, felt it was a bold and landmark accomplishment. I have listened to the album – and cannot do it full justice with a brief bit about each song – and I can get behind that assumption. What amazes me about rappers like Dave – and Little Simz for that matter – is how they can talk about such important and controversial subjects like race and have to shout against it. There is a more complex and eye-opening sound coming from these artists – I think British Rap has struggled a bit the past few years. Dave looks at racial identity and he, on his record, examines why people have a problem with black artists talking about their race; why there is institutionalised racism and what problems we need to address. He also tackles issue in his community and is aware that there is not only a problem with ignorance and race – we are seeing such hatred and division in estates and communities that we cannot control the surge of violence and offence. I think our sound is a little different to the U.S. when it comes to theme and composition. It is hard to identity but I think our Rap music cuts deeper and has greater nuance. Maybe I am bias but I amazed by how hard-grafting Rap artists in the U.K. are. Many self-release singles and put collaborators in the mix; they pound the promotional circuit and work endlessly to get their music to the masses. I guess many artists do that but I think Rap artists have to work harder to get their voices heard in a scene that is still dominated by generic Pop.
There are many reasons why Dave’s album is turning heads and seen as this revelatory thing. I think our nation, right now, is more tense that it has been in living memory. In terms of the political mess we find ourselves in, many wonder whether this country will ever be the same and what our place in the world is. Where is the U.K. going to be in a few weeks and months? What will become of the Brexit horror and how will this affect us in the long-term? There are some big questions to be answered and, alongside that, we are seeing a rise in knife-related deaths – I shall come to that later. I think the reason why 2019 is already shining brought is because there is an honesty and real sense of ambition. Whether it is the openhearted and emotionally-raw albums we have already heard from Julia Jacklin and the eclectic brilliance of Self Esteem; the best and brightest albums of this year have laid so much out there and not flinched away from being pretty raw. That might sound like something that would cause one to run and look elsewhere but I feel it is a reaction to the fast-forward, skip-a-track culture of modern society. We have all these amazing artists out there but so many people are handpicking tracks and not investing in records. Little Simz and Dave, as spokespeople for Britain and the biggest voices we have, are making sure people focus and are gripped. Dave can throw together quite bleak tracks and longer numbers and you do not want to turn away. Maybe, on paper, it sounds like a recipe for commercial disaster but his songs, like his best peers, do not shirk responsibility and are self-aware and hugely eye-opening. I mentioned, when reviewing Post-Punk bands like IDLES, how it is great bands can stray away from commercial and cliché themes to actually take the country to task.
There is still a risk and hesitancy in Pop when it comes to being brave and speaking about what life, beyond love, is actually like. The news presents, for the most part, the facts but it can be pretty grim watching. I look to music for escapism but I also want to see artists who are bold enough to talk about this country and what matters to us – and not hide like politicians do, mired in lies and subterfuge. Dave is one of these artists who can turn the spotlight on himself and be honest about his shortcomings but also is keen to purely and openly document a lot of things we hear about on the news; he does it in a way that is much more luminous, cinematic and hugely memorable. I have mentioned race and how Rap artists like Dave are tackling it. The racial spectrum is broader than ‘black’ and ‘white’ and many people are pretty uncomfortable when they hear a black artist discuss their identity and what it is to be black. How often do we hear such songs that take this approach and keep a cool head? Dave and his peers have faced discrimination and ignorance all their lives and, through music, they are challenging racial prejudice and a lack of understanding. The music that will inspire, last through the ages and stay in the heart is that which grabs your mind and gets into the soul. On PSYCHODRAMA, Dave gets under the skin because of how honesty and fearless he is. One of the other pleasing aspects of the album is how he manages to balance the serious and weighty songs with spoken passages and this sense of concept. Whether you see the concept as being about race and violence in the nation or something more personal, it is not a normal album: ten tracks, a few big hits and nothing much past that. PSYCHODRAMA is an album for modern times; for a Britain that needs to open it eyes and take action – leaders like Dave are challenging those who turn a blind eye and those who do too little.
There is a lot of soul-searching on the album and some less serious moments – Dave, on Screwface Capital (which is the track I will review soon) starts by boasting about his sexual prowess. The reason, actually, why I want to address that track and not something more political and potent is because it shows another side to an album: PSYCHODRAMA can mix traditional Rap and Hip-Hop codas (a sense of boast and sexual confidence) with its awareness of things like race, violence and society’s ills. One other reason why I think British Rap is at its peak right now is because it is reacting to the spate of knife deaths we are seeing right now. Every genre can talk about it but there is something about Rap that makes the words sound purer and more urgent. Think about this year and how many knife-related deaths we have seen. This report shows how knife crime has risen and why we need to take action. It seems like every day brings news of a young person being stabbed to death. What is the reason for these crimes? Is it gang-related and a sense of dislocation in communities? Are these deaths related to random violence and a sense of displacement or are they are a reaction to the way the country is divided and how many are not listened to. It is a complex brew and I cannot claim to have the answer. In many cases, I get the sense many of these attackers are struggling to find education and work and they are isolated. That is no excuse but our Government are not aware of the realities in poorer communities; areas where violence is a staple. The statistics make for grim reading and I fear there is no end in sight when it comes to these deaths. Knife crime is, of course, not just a black problem – many get the impression it is and do not read the facts. The after-effect of this assumption is a lot of stop-and-searches being carried out on black youths. It is a real mess right now and banning knives – or offering tough sentences for those carrying them – is not an easy thing to achieve.
I am worried about the country as a whole at the moment but I am especially concerned about London and what is happening in the capital. One can say there is more inter-gang rivalry and hatred but I do not think one can blame gangs and disenfranchised youngsters entirely. As we have seen recently, there are random attacks that take innocent lives – look at Jodie Chesney’s case and how, as she was relaxing with a friend in a park, she was stabbed in the back for no reason whatsoever. It is a bad time for the nation and, like gun crime in the U.S., it is hard to police and rationalise. This takes me back to artists in Rap and how, in a way, they are providing a bigger voice that many politicians. Dave does address knife crime in PSYSHODRAMA and, on the final track, Drama, he has this phone conversation lauding his success but the person we hear speaking is the rapper’s brother – he is calling from prison where he is serving a life sentence for his involvement in the murder of Sofyen Belamouadden in 2010. On tracks like this, the pain of losing a sibling in such a manner has caused emotional torment. Dave has been directly hit by knife violence and the personal aspect gives that track such weight and conviction. It is worrying times right now but I do feel that music is playing its part. Maybe it will not help reduce knife-related deaths but I think a lot of these youngsters who carry out such heinous attacks listen to artists like Dave and respect what they say. In many ways, the message put out on albums like PSYCHODRAMA act as a stark remind what knife crime can do to a family and how they can tear people apart. It is a horrible time but I am pleased we are seeing such immense and staggering albums from the likes of Dave. It is remarkable to see someone so young sound so assured and accomplished this early in his career.
PHOTO CREDIT: Phil Fisk for The Observer
I will conclude in a bit but I have talked about race and misconceptions in society. Many people think as ‘black’ as being singular and narrow. There is, as I said, a racial spectrum and the nature of being black is complex. Artists need to address this and strike against those who judge them and overlook them. I think there is still a problem in music where black artists are not given as much attention as they should. We cannot ignore what artists here such as Dave and Little Simz are putting out; what Solange and Cardi B are doing in the U.S. Look at big festivals and it is only now where we are starting to see evolution regarding black artists being booked. I feel there is a way to go but many assume that the best music from black artists is restricted to certain genres. There is a lot of stereotyping and ignorance and it is important we have conversations and change perceptions. Dave tackles race and judgement but it should not be solely down to artists to do this: everyone has their part and I think we need to all be more responsible and aware. I wonder whether the big reviews PSYCHODRAMA is courting right now will translate to headline slots in the future and more focus. It might be too late for Dave to get a big Glastonbury slot but, as Stormzy is one of the headliners this year, surely Dave’s name must be in the hat for 2020?! I look around at festivals and still see too many white faces; there is this gender imbalance and I do feel that black artists are not getting their voices heard. These are changing times and, to me, the best and most important music being made right now is coming from British Rap. Artists like Dave and Little Simz are releasing albums so powerful and important. We cannot ignore their voices and, in a larger sense, we need to look at the way black artists are perceived and whether there is true parity – I do not think there is.
I wanted to highlight Screwface Capital because it seems like a bit of a departure to the rest of PSYCHODRAMA’s songs – in terms of themes and composition. The song opens with some gentle piano work and some background voices. I am not usually a fan of processed, machine-fed vocal effects but they work here. Dave comes to the microphone and, if he were backed by beats and heat after the tender beginning then it might sound a bit jarring and misguided. Instead, the vocal is definitely top of the mix and there is very little intrusion. It gives us the chance to concentrate on the lyrics and the brilliant delivery. Dave talks about wealth and a certain lifestyle that he has enjoyed. Maybe there is a lot of fact in the words but I sense there is a bit of fantasy mixed into the pot. We hear about eating out and having this great life. I feel a lot of the worst Rap can be quite lazy when it comes to language and wordplay but Dave’s penmanship and style is incredible. He does not need to aggressively deliver the words: you are captured by intelligence and originality of his thoughts. Dave’s location changes quicker than the gears on a Porsche Cayman – see what I mean about his wordplay?! – and I get the sense of this bold and confident young man revelling. The song switches between a sense of anxiety and a definite confidence. On other songs, Dave talks about crime and hatred; a need to find some common voice and stop the madness. Here, he is aware of sharks and dangers at the door; the way fear is never too far away but we get an insight into his personal boasts. Maybe it is a trope one more commonly attached to Rap: sexual prowess and a sense of braggadocio. Dave is never puerile and offensive when he talks of conquests. There is a naturalness to his words and, although wonders why the girl – his latest conquest – is still in his flat, I feel the slightly urgent and aggressive tone is less about coldness and more about nerves and fear.
In many ways, Dave is trying to live a normal life and have fun but he knows that there is a dark beat and pulse that threatens to derail things. Whether that is violence outside his door or a sense of never being safe, Screwface Capital is more complex than one might assume. There is, as I say, little accompaniment and anger from the composition. A lot of Rap relies on beefy beats and drive but Dave lets his voice guide the song and, when talking about him and his friends being hassled and not feeling safe, it instantly switches from the bedroom to the streets. Because of the violence in the ends, there is debate and confrontation at the gates; his mates are fearful of going to the shops or hopping the bus because of what could await them. Dave sees a lot of violence and waste around him but he is turning these curses and losses into lessons and blessings. There is this cold realisation that things are bad but he is not walking down that path. Composition dips in and out. At one moment, you just hear Dave’s voice – which gives the song a stark focus and sobering tone – and then it swoops in. There is a real physical sense and tangible scent that transports you into the song. Dave is not resting and, more and more, his focus is on sex and conquest. Maybe this is to distract him from the horror around him but there is this signal we have a bold young man who is aware of his assets and is not exactly modest. It is good to see this against the starker and more frightening words. Dave has starved himself to make ends meet; he has kept his siblings safe and lived in Streatham – somewhere that features on other moments on PSYCHODRAMA. Many people do not know the realities of his life and have not gone through the same things.
Dave talks about his childhood and losing his dad young; his mum not being able to take the stress – there is this personal revelation against the sexual side. Words sombre and stark weave around boasts and this sense of confidence; almost without a signal of warning and pause for breath. Screwface Capital is an amazing track that sort of tails out in terms of lyrics and ends with a beautiful, calming refrain. It is almost like exhaustion and violence has got the better of him and he has no more words to say. The pace and flow of the song packs in a lot of words and you get this really vivid and packed story in a short time. I listen back to the song and new aspects come to life. Many might think of Screwface Capital as a track about sexual success and sowing seeds; others might look at it as a very raw and personal song. There is a bit of both in the song but it so much richer and deep than that. You almost get the life story of Dave and how he has seen family crumble and had to face violence in the streets – as well as pleasure between the sheets. It is a wonderfully diverse song that packs a punch and delivers potent messages. Other tracks on PSYCHODRAMA are more ambitious and big but this is a fantastic track that attracted my eye. I love the fact we get this ending coda that leaves the lyrics behind. Few can deny, after one listen of Screwface Capital, that Dave is one of the best rappers and lyricists we have right now. He never wastes a word and his language is incredible. You need to listen to his songs a few times through before everyone reveals itself but, when it does, the effect is profound indeed. If you have not discovered Dave or given his music a go then you really need to. In a sea of manufactured artists and meaningless words, here is an artist with a lot to say – and he makes sure every word strikes and hits its mark!
Dave is taking PSYCHODRAMA on the road and some dates are already sold-out. Check out his social media channels and, if you can, go and see him live. The album might sound incredible through your headphones but it steps up a whole new level when delivered from the stage. I concentrated on a single track because I do not feel it right to give a few words about each track without focusing in. PSYCHODRAMA has collected some incredible reviews so far and I would not be shocked if it was named the best album of 2019 later in the year. The eleven tracks are all essential and there are some truly ambitious and long numbers – Lesley (ft. Ruelle) is over eleven minutes. There are a few collaborations (including J Hus) but it is Dave’s vision and voice that shines hardest. This album is a true revelation and sign that Dave is on a golden path. I know many will catch him tour and it makes me wonder where he will head next. Dave has put out singles and E.P.s previous to PSYCHODRAMA but this is his debut album. There has been a lot of anticipation and build and Dave has exceeded expectations! There is a lot of pressure to top a successful album and deliver a quick turnaround but Dave will be busy touring and will not want to rush a sophomore record. He is one of the most important voices in British music right now and I cannot wait to see where he heads next. It is a big time for him and he has delivered an album that will stop many in their tracks. It is very much an album for modern Britain when it comes to its declarations, confessions and questions but, in many ways, it is a personal record that comes from Dave’s heart. I cannot do it mere justice with the words I have written so I would urge people to listen to it as soon as they can. It is a remarkable achievement from a singular talent. Many might be new to Dave – his rather Google-unfriendly and ordinary name does not do him justice! – but that will all change. It might be reckless to declare an album like PSYCHODRAMA as a possible album-of-the-year frontrunner but, like Little Simz’s GREY Area, you cannot deny the genius. In any case, London’s Dave is releasing the sort of music that will be...
TALKED about for years.
PHOTO CREDIT: Elliot Kennedy for CRACK
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