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Album Review: Dave - Psychodrama


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There are few MCs that command the respect of peers and fans alike like Dave, and for damn good reason.

Dave - Psychodrama

Dave built the respect of pretty much everyone in the UK rap scene from his two EPs - Six Paths (2016) and Game Over (2017). Six Paths held particular weight due to the depth in content that Dave displayed on a debut EP - not just bars, but introspective substance. That sense of authenticity that comes from being heavy on personable language and first-person story-telling, coupled with clear diction, tight flows, witty wordplay and a strong sense for song structure, are all necessary components for relaying your message as a rapper to your listeners. It makes a strong MC, and Dave has been strong since the get-go. For a debut EP, Six Paths was impressive and caught the attention of everyone even tangentially involved with UK rap.

Since then, Dave has gone about showing the world his range. Linking up with J Hus, Mostack and Fredo to produce chart hits, whilst staying true to his introspective, self-exploratory self on tracks like ‘How I Met My Ex’ and ‘My 19th Birthday’ to entering into a political speech on ‘Question Time’. Add all that together: hit-making ability, punchlines for days, story-telling, introspection and authenticity. All five of these aspects reveal themselves on Psychodrama, culminating in one of the best ever UK rap albums.

Psychodrama sets off with the track ‘Psycho’, which introduces the concept: therapy. The album loosely follows as a string of therapy sessions with audio excerpts from a therapist narrator. ‘Pyscho’ is sonically intense, almost haunting with chilling background vocals, sparse and creepy piano tones and a driving drum pattern acting as the accompaniment to Dave tackling the sobering question of: “How do you stop all the pain?” The most impactful part of this song and the driving leitmotif of the album comes after the intense first verse, after the beat switches into something more bouncy and lively: “Brother I’m a careful, humble, reckless, arrogant / Extravagant, n**** probably battling with manic depression / Man, I think I’m going mad again / It’s like I’m happy for a second, then I’m sad again”. That is the tone set for this album: the sadness behind the splendour, the struggle seemingly intrinsic with the skin tone, striving for success in Streatham.

‘Streatham’ is the perfect distillation of Dave’s sound: mournful trap beat, self-reflective lyrics, punchlines for days (“Do it like Jordin, run up and spark him”) with words of wisdom laced throughout. Classic, excellent Dave. The moving, melancholic beats continue onto ‘Black’, Dave’s musical treatise of what it means to be black. The beauty of the manner in which Dave tackles ideas like blackness is its simplicity. His multi-faceted ideas surrounding blackness are conveyed in coherent, precise and understandable verses.

‘Purple Heart’ is a quicker tempo, sample-based, lusty track which ends with our narrative therapist saying: “I think it's a really good trait that you're able to find positives / Despite some of the challenges that you face” teeing up one of the few real fun ‘singles’ of the album: ‘Location’. A vibey afrobeat-flavoured instrumental with some sax sprinklings and a mellow hook from featured artist Burna Boy. The way Dave incorporates this track is clever: using the therapist narrator to introduce the idea of finding positives amidst the bleakness of reality, providing the perfect segue to drop the positive banger.

Dave touches on young people making it ut from their tough backgrounds on ‘Environment’. The song discusses the selfishness of the music industry. Not just the labels who lose faith in artists when their songs stop charting, but fans too, who stop caring about an artist because they are not as hot as they once were, and fellow artists who show love when you are making moves, but will turn away when you need their help.

‘Voices’ is a track similar in concept to Denzel Curry’s ‘BLACK BALLOONS’ from his 2018 release TABOO where the instrumental is fun and lively, the hook is infectious in sound, but in substance is dark and twisted. “Oh my love, I hear voices when I sleep…And the voices / They say you’re everything that I need”. A strange listening experience for sure, but a bold artistic choice from Dave, coupling the mania of depression with the bliss of acceptance to create this conflicting tune.

Meanwhile, album closer ‘Drama’ delves into the meta. Predicated around voice notes from Dave’s older brother, the rapper goes deep into his familial relationships. The song carries a moody sound throughout; a barebones instrumental really highlighting Dave’s words of contemplation. The album ends with a voice note from Dave’s elder brother, speaking of the Biblical story of Jesse and his seven sons, whereby the discarded youngest, David, was chosen to be the king amongst all his elder brothers.

I can't speak too much on Dave’s family, but I can say one thing is for sure: this is comfortably one of the best UK rap albums to come out since Dizzee Rascal’s Boy in da Corner in 2004. Dave is the King of UK rap.

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