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'Psychodrama' and the rise of Dave

CRITICAL ACCLAIM: Dave's debut album 'Psychodrama'

FROM HIS 2016 Semtex freestyle, one could easily assume Santan Dave is a grime artist. But when you listen to his music, you can instantly tell he is something completely different.

His early releases included the Six Paths EP, the Game Over EP and a handful of singles including the surprise - ‘Wanna Know’ remix featuring Drake.

After the huge collaboration with Drake dropped, we got a chance to hear the young Streatham native speak at length.

You’ll notice he’s a very calm, measured and intelligent young man. It is easy to forget that he was only 18 when he worked with one of the biggest stars in the world and was arguably on the biggest hip-hop radio show in the world - Ebro in the Morning on New York’s Hot 97.

Appearing wise beyond his years, Dave spoke on the difference between being a rapper and a grime artist - he sees himself as the former.

Before his new album, the south Londoner had worked with some of the best rap artists from the UK including Giggs, Avelino, AJ Tracey, Capo Lee and J Hus. He won the MoBo for Best Newcomer in 2017 and he achieved commercial success with a number 1 UK Chart single (Funky Friday ft. Fredo) in 2018. All this and he hadn’t even released an album.

REVIEW

Dave’s debut album Psychodrama was released on March 8 2019 and with 11 tracks is the rapper’s longest body of work to date. The first thing you hear on the album is what appears to be Dave’s counsellor giving him the floor to speak his mind.

Here, we hear the first sign of Dave in a typical retrospective mood, delivering some controlled aggression over a haunting atmospheric backdrop on ‘Psycho’.

Oozing confidence, the rapper gets braggadocious on the minimal but bass driven single ‘Streatham’. Dave puffs out his chest and talks about his hometown over this punchy head-nodding track.

Next up is the lead single ‘Black’. An incredibly moving song about the many struggles that black people face. Dave makes a point to let people know that this struggle isn’t just in London, or America, but around the world.

It literally sounds like Dave is rapping in front of an Orchestra as his raps tap into the same brazen energy he gave us on ‘Question Time’.

‘Purple Heart’ has an acoustic feel to it as Dave bears his soul and professes his love for his significant other. The mood lifts for ‘Location’ and it feels like it is officially time to party now! Burna Boy gives us a stand out feature as he lends his soulful vocals to this infectious bouncy beat complimented by chord progressions, vocal samples and saxophones.

‘Disaster’ is the kind of track old skool boom bap hip-hop heads will feel. J Hus adds a little star quality with a combination of gritty raps and baritone vocals that has made him a star in his own right.

This one isn’t too serious and just sounds like boys being boys. But on the very next track, Dave gets serious again and gives us a glimpse into his character on ‘Screwface Capital’. Starting with a piano riff, the song combines catchy vocal sampling with Dave’s trademark wobbly basslines and even surprises us with what sounds like a Xylophone synth solo at the end.

Dave alludes to his focus when he tells us about getting 99/100 on his English exam. An example of his understanding of sacrifice comes our way when dropping the standout line “so many days that I starved myself just to make sure that my whole family eats”. By now we start to feel the emphasis on musical composition and lyrical content throughout this rap album.

Halfway through the album, the Counsellor returns and this time prompting Dave to think about how he is perceived on the somber ‘Environment’. The ‘Question Time’ rapper takes the opportunity to reflect on what is going on around him, even critiquing the music industry.

Dave blesses us with thought-provoking lines such as “Champagne bottles and all the screaming girls/It’s ironic how you never hear a scream for help”. Moments like this feel like the whole album serves as a nod to mental health awareness.

Directly following ‘Environment’ is ‘Lesley’ - a song that I can only describe as a rap ballad. ‘Environment’ features a stripped down backing track with barely any percussion, but ‘Lesley’ doesn’t have any percussion at all.

A track with no drums provides the perfect backdrop for you to listen to this tragic love story. that ‘Lesley’ provides and it’s the most Orchestral production so far. The composition crescendo leads to an emotional climax that perfectly mirrors the drama depicted in the lyrics.

Luckily after that emotional rollercoaster we’re treated to the up-tempo feel good vibe of ‘Voices’. This is a nice little throwback to the UK Garage sound and easily has the most catchy sing-along chorus.

The album concludes with ‘Drama’, a song with a dark, twisted and reversed sounding melody. Again there’s an absence of percussion, which is consistent with the album sound and Dave conveys some pain in his voice as he recites this heartfelt rhyme about losing the brother he idolised to the penal system.

The track features a phone call towards the end of the song, and it’s Dave’s brother reading him Bible scriptures. You get the sense that this was a spiritual phone call from an elder who is in jail.

With beats from Steel Banglez, Fraser T Smith, Kyle Evans, Nana Rogues, JAE5, TobiShyBoi & IO, 1Mind and Dave’s long time production partner -169, Psychodrama is expertly crafted. The production team did well to create a unique sound that is consistent across the whole project.

The MOBO awarding-winning artist must’ve done a great job himself, as he plays the piano and has production credits on many of the songs.

Overall I’d say Psychodrama is a solid body of work from a very focussed and talented young artist who can only get better. The raps were intelligent, the production was varied and the featured artists added something special to each song.

There’s a real maturity in the material here and if you didn’t know how young Dave was you’d never know he was a teenager. In years to come when we look back, we might just be saying that Psychodrama is a classic.

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