Twenty-year-old UK rapper Dave, also known as Santan Dave, released his debut album “Psychodrama” on March 8, 2019. Dave’s first studio album sets groundbreaking precedent in the popular UK music genre, grime. The album explores family, identity, domestic violence and mental illness through the concept lens of a therapy session. For those unfamiliar, psychodrama is a therapeutic approach that uses guided drama and role-playing to work through problems, and Dave uses the approach well. The concept of the album is Dave in a therapy session talking to his fictional therapist.
The album’s first track, “Psycho,” starts with Dave’s therapist asking him to talk about his background and issues he’s been dealing with. Over a haunting beat Dave asks “how to stop all the pain” he faced trying to make it where he’s from: South London. Dave paints pictures of toxic masculinity in his childhood, forcing him to act tough but behind closed doors he “shed so many tears on a pillow/ but nobody gets it.” The back and forth emotions in his rhymes from tough to sad can be a metaphor for mental illnesses, like bipolar disorder.
This becomes evident when, halfway through the first song, the beat changes from a haunting piano and ambient sounds to a bouncy, head-nodding rhythm. Dave’s delivery changes as well, turning into a braggadocious delivery that has become synonymous with hip-hop. Right when he reaches the peak of bragging, Dave and the beat switch back to darkness.
“I’m humble, arrogant, reckless, extravagant, probably battlin’ with manic depression,” Dave performs. “Man, I think I’m going mad again.”
As with most debut albums, listeners are looking to learn more about an artist and who they are and, luckily, tracks like “Streatham” and “Screwface Capital” do just that. Streatham is the district in South London where Dave grew up. Dave raps about what his experience was, like growing up in Streatham with polarizing cultures, “teachers givin’ man tests/ same time the mandem givin out testers.” “Testers” are small amounts of drugs given to consumers for free to get them hooked. So, while teachers were giving out tests at school, drug dealers were giving out testers in the neighborhood.
Dave grew up in London, which he nicknames the “Screwface Capital.” In this track, Dave describes what it’s like living in a busy city that can get people caught up, and neglect their duties to their families and health. On both these origin story tracks, Dave’s bars express his bouncy wordplay style vehemently throughout.
For poppier listeners, tracks “Disaster” featuring J Hus, and “Location” featuring Burna Boy will satisfy. On “Location,” Burna Boy provides a catchy, sullen hook, while Dave raps about women wanting him and the lifestyle that comes with wealth and fame.
Standout 11-minute song “Lesley” tells a story about a girl Dave meets on a train who is experiencing domestic violence. Storytelling is at the core of hip-hop and what it means to be an emcee. In this dark song Dave speaks out against domestic violence against women by recounting a morbid story to his fictional therapist. After the story Dave tells women to seek help and that it isn’t their fault.
“This song 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 that I can never understand.”
This track brings darkness to lighten the harsh reality many women face every day in the UK. The track ends with Dave’s fictional therapist thanking him for sharing about himself; Dave has played out his therapeutic psychodrama.
“Psychodrama” is a thought-provoking, intimate and creative debut album on par with artists like Kendrick Lamar. It is a breath of raw, fresh air with so many clout-chasing albums out in today’s hip-hop industry. “Psychodrama” feels less like an album and more like a therapy session, letting audiences explore the mind of an artist, as well as shed light on taboo topics in today’s society.