Dave’s ‘Psychodrama’ Is An Immense Tale Of Pain, Anger & Resolution From One Of Our Very Best

Words: Yemi Abiade

Of all the album releases so far this year, Dave’s was one of the most anticipated. The South London rapper made a mission statement in the lead up to his opus, following up his number one single “Funky Friday” with the racially-charged, celebratory “Black”—an anthem designed to empower our community but spun a different way by parts of a white populace with their racist knickers in a twist.

However, “Black” was only the opening salvo; across 11 tracks and 51 minutes, Psychodrama is an intense, moving and ultimately tenacious insight into loss, abuse and identity. Santan Dave has long carried the label of a conscious, intelligent and thoughtful storyteller, but throughout this set, he outdoes even himself, transforming sprawling anecdotes into concise soliloquies that don’t impede on the overarching message of each track. Employing the thematic motif of a psychotherapist, the album is a prolonged therapy session for the young MC, with opening track “Psycho” an ominous introduction. Dave sounds conflicted, yo-yoing between happiness and sadness in an environment that breeds physical and emotional violence—“I don’t wanna be saved,” he repeats—but his low-barrel drawl is almost a soothing tonic to the pain he feels as he leads a life he describes as ‘psychotic’.

Production across the board by the likes of Fraser T. Smith, JAE5, Nana Rogues and Dave himself create the harsh and, at times, minimal wall of sound off which the album’s varied stories bounce. The conflict continues in “Streatham”, an ode to his South London sides, in which kids are shown completely opposite sides of the tracks on a daily basis. Education is twofold, through school and life on road—“Teachers was givin’ man tests, same time the mandem were givin’ out testers”—and Dave’s storytelling gives an honest portrayal applicable to every ends in inner-city London.

Psychodrama is varied, levelling the dense subject matter with upbeat, clubbier bangers. “Voices” and the Burna Boy-assisted “Location” are almost necessarily light-hearted given the album’s content but continue to prove Dave’s seamless skills at accessibility—if “Funky Friday” and “No Words” hadn’t demonstrated that already. The long-awaited (semi) return of the Bouff Daddy, J Hus, was well worth his absence also, because on “Disaster”, Hus and Dave get the very best out of each other in a certified album highlight.

But it is the album’s centrepiece, the 11-minute epic “Lesley” featuring Ruelle, that is the most heart-wrenching. Telling the story of a good girl ruined by an abusive relationship and betrayal by her best friend, Dave is fearless in the harrowing, tear-jerking detail he exhibits. Levelling the track with a final statement that there are plenty of Lesleys in plain sight on an everyday basis, he places a name and face to a global hardship for women, letting them know that they are not alone in their struggle. Album closer “Drama”, containing phone calls from Dave’s imprisoned older brother, is angry, as he lays into his blood, his role model, for leaving him to fend for himself and the psychological battle that emerged from it. Despite this, Dave is resolute, ultimately thanking God for his life’s pain, because he wouldn’t be who he is without it—an incredible admission of self-awareness that leaves the door wide open for what is yet to occur in his life.

In a year’s time or so, we will remember Psychodrama as a classic album, as the moment when one of the best British MCs of a generation rightfully took his place amongst the UK elite. Psychodrama is raw, emotional, exhausting and unashamed, much like Dave himself, but it taps into his endearing talent to convey all manner of emotion from himself and his listeners, to take them on a journey through to the other side. The destination might not be a happy one, but we’re ultimately grateful for the journey because, in Dave, we are witnessing greatness in real time.

Posted on March 11, 2019