Dave’s ‘Psychodrama’ arrived in a cloud of anticipation and controversy after the album’s lead single ‘Black’ was added to Radio 1’s A List. Some listeners kicked back against Dave’s razor-sharp take on black identity and deemed the track ‘racist against white people’. The very fact that these people took issue with such a startling portrait flagged a clear disconnect, a lack of understanding and an urgent need for somebody to educate them about the truths of black culture on a mainstream level. In those 3 minutes and 48 seconds, Dave proved he was the man to do it.
Whilst ‘Black’ was an accomplished piece in its own right, the release of ‘Psychodrama’ proved the track was just a singular part of a much broader, more complex puzzle. The LP’s 11 tracks are framed around a therapy session giving the 20-year old rapper license to explore his upbringing in Streatham, his battles with mental health and the characters who have populated his life in a neat, compelling manner. This sequencing trick is credit to Dave’s flair as a writer - dazzling wordplay greets the listener at every turn, each song is so densely layered with lyrical ideas, yet the message still hits on the first spin.
Dave’s lyrical prowess shines most brightly on ‘Lesley’ which documents a toxic relationship in freefall. Its epic instrumental spirals alongside the unravelling complications the rapper examines over its 11-minute running time which doesn’t once let your attention wriggle from its grasp - “I don’t know myself no more” goes the forlorn refrain.
Like life itself, both light and darkness dance in and out of frame throughout. ‘Black’ is simultaneously a critique and a celebration of black culture. On ‘Location’ Dave takes a moment to indulge in the successes his career has brought him, later he returns to these symbols to place them under deeper scrutiny on ‘Environment’ - “You see our gold chains and our flashy cars/I see a lack of self worth and I see battle scars”, he raps.
With reviews raving and streaming records smashing in its wake, ‘Psychodrama’ hit the number 1 spot in the UK album charts. Seldom has such a seminal piece of work graced the top spot and seldom has a talent such as Dave been around to package up the complexities of our times in such a compelling fashion. ‘Psychodrama’ embodied Dave’s transition from promising upstart to a bonafide voice of a generation.
For more information on this year’s Hyundai Mercury Prize, head to mercuryprize.hyundai.co.uk.
The 2019 Hyundai Mercury Prize Awards Show is on Thursday 19th September at the Eventim Apollo, Hammersmith. It will feature live performances from many of the shortlisted artists.
Watch live on BBC Four at 9pm on 19th September.
Brought to you as part of our media partnership with Hyundai.
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His album ‘Psychodrama’ is out today.