'Pyschodrama' by Dave
‘Stop all the pain,
How do you stop all the pain?’
These are the first words spoken by Dave on his debut album, Psychodrama. This is an undoubtedly brave start to an album which was hotly anticipated in a UK rap scene which in 2019 is littered with puffed out chests and boastiness. While grime is not dead, it has returned back to the underground after its resurgence a few years ago, and the rise of drill and afro swing is homogenising mainstream rap music in the UK. This change is demonstrated perfectly by Manchester’s current favourite son, Aitch. Just two years ago he can be found spitting on a Risky Roadz cypher on the streets of the 0161, and has now recently released an extremely polished, radio friendly EP with afro beat influences and polite production. Grime is no longer marketable to a mainstream audience, even with cities like Manchester, Birmingham and London having the personnel to continue its growth. While Aitch’s Talent is evident, and success can definitely be found in acrobats and drill, there is a lack of variation in terms of beats and subject matter in the bars across the whole scene that is causing a lack of variety in mainstream rap.
Dave instead has created his own lane, not conforming to a sub genre and demonstrating lyrical ability and versatility. At 20 years of age, even before his debut album dropped he was already one of the UK’s biggest, demonstrating his lyrical ability on his legendary Blackbox freestyle as a teenager, as well as on his earlier projects, Six Paths, and Game Over. He even secured a number one single in 2018 with Funky Friday, and has benefitted from the exposure of an inevitable Drake cosign early in his career, as well as increasing his global marketability with his fantastic performance in Top Boy. His undeniable talent and mainstream marketability could have led him to make a safe, box-ticking debut record with heavy features on tracks attempting to capture the current UK sound. Instead, Dave starts his album with these bars, in a therapist’s room, opening up about manic depression. For Dave’s fans, this might not have come as a surprise. Across his previous releases he has scattered thoughtful songs with content ranging from politics (Question Time), heartbreak (How I Met My Ex), and knife crime (Hangman).
Psychodrama went to number one, with many of the songs making top 40 appearances. It is for me, a seminal album within the UK scene, with only Made In The Manor by Kano and Ghetts’ Ghetto Gospel 2 rivalling it in terms of lyric driven bodies of work. This is an astounding achievement for a young artist with a debut album, not least due to the fact that there is no sense of compromise in style or a dumbing down of subject matter in order to achieve this mainstream exposure. Dave has proved that success does not need to come from chasing a hit.
Across the years in UK rap, even the most talented in the scene have chased mainstream attention. The late 00’s to early 10’s era saw artists scrap grittier English sounds for something more American influenced and radio friendly. Even some of the and most talented MC’s the country has to offer in Stormzy and Ghetts have done features for Little Mix and Cher Lloyd respectively.
It would be a shame for Dave to chase hits now he has tasted nationwide success, and I personally can’t see it happening. Even if Dave has surpassed him in career success, another Manchester artist, Bugzy Malone, should serve as a blueprint as to how a successful and sustainable career can be achieved without compromising the sound which got you there. There are enough past examples to act as a warning and Dave’s brand of bars with substance will not dissipate. He has demonstrated a maturity beyond his years in terms of what he raps about and the perspectives that he takes. Dave has carved his own lane, and it is up to him now to keep sculpting it.