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The lessons we learned from Dave’s scintillating debut Psychodrama

A month on from its release on March 8th, Dave’s Psychodrama remains one of the most compelling bodies of work out of the UK this generation. Given its nature, leaving some time for the album to breathe has only hallowed it further.

Psychodrama captures the psyche of South London through the eyes of a black teenager much like Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly captured notions of race and discrimination in contemporary America. Both albums landed upon the world like a ton of bricks, and I wouldn’t be surprised if in a few years Psychodrama is revered right beside Lamar’s opus.

dave psychodrama

Essential in its message and urgent in its delivery, Dave’s debut album Psychodrama will be remembered for decades to come.

Conceptually, Psychodrama takes place during a therapy session attended by Dave and an unnamed counsellor. The title of the record refers to a method of psychotherapy in which patients act out critical and often distressing situations so they might gain insight into the depths of their own minds. The tracklist even stands within one concise, billable hour.

In Dave’s world, his music is the stage for him to act out his psychodrama. He is the patient, but the therapist? Dave answers that in opening track Psycho.

“To my fans… you’re my drug, the instrument and my therapist.”

The album, and by extension Dave’s subconscious, is an open book for the world to read. This book’s pages are lined with words that are profound, clear and at times, devastatingly sharp. In Screwface Capital you’ll read a tale of family life hamstrung by fear and poverty, Dave conjuring visceral images of his mother screaming “son, I can’t take it” or close friends turned to monsters by dirty drugs.

Psychodrama is an art piece that teeters on its edges, from the boundaries of Dave’s own sanity to the knife-like qualities of his social commentary (surprise surprise, this was in the spotlight as soon as lead single Black premiered on BBC Radio). It’s worth remembering these are words coming from the mouth of a fatherless Brixton boy turned rap sovereign – he may be just 20 years old, but his stories come from experience rather than appropriation.

Even the state of hip hop industry itself comes into focus in Environment; “He has to be with 20 men when he wears jewellery/You see it as gangster, I see it as insecurity”. Working against the hyper-masculine grain (which admittedly, does rear its head for brief moments in Psychodrama) usually wrapped tightly around hip hop and grime’s most wanted, Dave attempts to make transparent the throes of musical stardom.

Dave’s deepest insecurities are at the fore of his writing, but as he examines them with a magnifying glass, the anxieties of his context at large are drawn out like poison from a wound. His struggles with mental health become a vehicle for the message that even those on top of the world can feel like they’re worthless, his passages on misogyny a reminder of how much some men have changed their behaviour in the last decade.

And that’s the great trick Psychodrama plays; Dave’s therapy session is a lesson for himself, but more so for everyone who listens to it. His vulnerability becomes a teacher for everyone who hasn’t lived a life in his shoes, his neighbourhood, his family, and his scene.

“I ain’t psycho but my life is.”

Upon its release, Psychodrama became the most-streamed first-week British rap album in the UK, ever. The subject matter may have been tough, but it was undoubtedly a missive the UK and the world needed to hear. If you haven’t listened in, it’s time you should.

 

Psychodrama is out now.

 

Dave will be touring Australia this July, performing in Melbourne, Sydney and as part of Splendour In The Grass. Catch him live at the dates below:

Thurs 18 July – Metro Theatre, Sydney
Fri 19 July – Splendour In The Grass, Byron Bay
Sat 20 July – Croxton Bandroom, Melbourne

Tickets available here.

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April 12, 2019