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We all know a Dave, right? He’s the plumber driving the white van, the accountant in the local council office or the IT worker lost in a forest of wires in an airless room. He’s your ordinary, everyday, run-of-the-mill guy, average in every way imaginable. So why would you want to listen to an album by someone with such an anonymous name?
Sporting such an inauspicious moniker might make you overlook Dave’s debut album Psychodrama—I nearly did—but you would be missing an album of incredible impact for the sake of the most shortsighted of reasons. Here hip-hop’s most famous tropes of braggadocio and self-aggrandizement are eviscerated by an impossibly wise 20-year-old man from South London, who revels in revealing his innermost vulnerabilities to the accompaniment of stellar beats and his solemn, contemplative piano playing.
Not only does David Orobosa Omoregie (to give him his full name) have the wisdom to see through the facades that hip-hop throws up, he also has a set of life experiences that make him fully equipped to tell the tales contained within with conviction. Strangely absent from this debut are any of his previous singles, including the UK number one single from 2018, “Funky Friday.” Instead the album takes the shape of an account of therapy sessions that peel away the layers of Dave’s personality.
There are so many occasions on which Dave shines throughout the record that it seems ridiculous to start pinpointing them but the beginning (as always) is the best place to start. “Psycho” initially bristles with hubris—the scene is set for a seemingly familiar journey on rap’s most travelled road. Amongst the usual, if brilliantly put posturing (“Easy as the alphabet / Three Gs in the ring, call me Alvarez”), there lurks a dry wit (“Ninety-nine problems, money, is not one / My currency’s Kenyan, that’s in it for the long run”). But as the song progresses, the hard outer shell cracks and he reveals the manic depression that lurks within and the struggles and pressures that weigh on his mind (“I wish we could be together but that ain’t how life works / I used to cry about my dad until my fucking eyes burnt”).
Single “Black” is a startling, elegiac piece that stops the listener in their tracks. The simple beat, mournful piano and cello and hints of grand gothic backing vocals make it staggering but the lyrics propel it to even greater heights (“The blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice / A kid dies, the blacker the killer, the sweeter the news / And if he’s white you give him a chance, he’s ill and confused / If he’s black he’s probably armed, you see him and shoot”). Verse after verse speaks uncomfortable truths about what it means to be black, while at the same time bemoaning the ignorance that labels all black people as a homogenous group. It is a punch to the solar plexus.
“Purple Heart” floats by on a wave of blossoming love and “Location” featuring Burna Boy 2 steps smoothly by until the remaining five songs make it impossible to skip. “Screwface Capital” is a dreamy, woozy slice of boastful lyrics for its first half until he begins to break the veneer (“What have you done for your siblings? / I made sure that the family’s sweet / So many days that I starved myself just to make sure the whole family eats”).
“Environment” would be the best song on 99% of other people’s albums with its ruminative beat and piano runs. It jabs at the soft, rotten underbelly of the environment Dave finds himself in , as he pulls back the curtain to reveal that the glamour and glitz projected is nothing more than bullshit (“You see all the groupie girls and think they’re heaven sent / I see twenty-five minutes of empty sex . . . Depression when you make it, the pressure and the hatred.”)
That it isn’t the best song is testament to the jaw-dropping 11-minute epic that is “Lesley.” With sparse but beautiful backing (harp, strings, keys and the odd flourish of bass drum), it weaves a heart-breaking tale of a woman trapped in an abusive relationship with a man whose toxicity infects her life in the worst ways. It is not exploitative but a gut-wrenching, intimately told story that reverberates for days after first listen. The lyrics never let up in their simple power until he concludes with a plea (“You see this time that I’m taking out to tell you the story is more than a song or track / It’s a message to a woman with a toxic man / I’m begging you to get support if you’re lost or trapped / I understand I can never understand and I ain’t saying that it’s easy but it must be right”). It has been a long time since a song affected me as deeply as this and it will stay with me forever.
“Voices” is a welcome change of tempo after the previous, shattering 11 minutes. Its two-step garage beat is irrepressible and closer “Drama” is a slice of openhearted introspection that comes close to matching “Lesley.” A creeping, claustrophobic, clockwork beat and ghostly backing vocals floating in and out of reach backs a lyric that borders on transcendent (“Do you believe in what an angel is? / Furthermore do you believe in what the Devil is? / Do you believe that I can illustrate what Streatham is, then break the fourth wall and base Lesley on my relatives?”).
As the album draws to a close with a bible text read by the artist’s incarcerated brother, the listener is reminded of the notion that the closest we ever feel to god, is when we are confronted with a great piece of art. This is a magnificent album that is sure to be studied, remembered and written about in years to come – it is great art.
Notable Tracks: "Black" | “Drama” | "Environment" | “Lesley”