I was already a fan of Santan Dave long before he released his debut album. Although the love I had for him was surface-level, I had recognized something distinct in his style of rap. At the time I didn’t know what it was. Then in 2019, when Psychodrama dropped, it was a necessity I had no idea I needed. My life was somehow stable and I was earning good money. Yet every waking day was for a new battle. With my insecurities, with my unwillingness to do meaningful work. A battle with the wrong decisions I made in the past. A battle with figuring out what to do next. A battle of uncertainty, wondering where the murky rivers would take me.
I would like to say that I consider Dave’s music to be therapy. And this is because even at my lowest of lows, I listen to Dave and immediately gain new perspective. Either about my mercurial emotional state or generally about life as a struggling young man. It’s almost as if we’re seated in the same room, sipping from our individual glass of Hennessy with a sprinkle of life’s unending problems, and we’re having a casual conversation. I even dare say that it’s better than therapy (even though I’ve never been to therapy before). Music is healing. Dave’s music is rejuvenating. His debut album, Psychodrama, was the glue that held me together during my spell in 2019.
Psychodrama starts with a mellow conversation between Dave and his therapist. It was the first thing that caught my attention, the intro, Psycho. I became more interested in the album when after a series of questions from the therapist, Dave responded right away with heavy bars, “Stuck with the pain. How do you stop all the pain? I used to hear a voice when I was praying. But now I don’t even wanna be saved.” It was all the conviction I needed that the album carried a powerful message. And that the message came from the depth of Dave’s heart. That’s exactly why the album racked up several awards including the Brit Award for Album of the Year.
That fateful morning, I had an article to submit but I didn’t hesitate to push it aside to focus on the album. Dave had successfully hijacked my attention with the intro. Psycho saw Dave rap over a slow-tempo instrumental which later switched to a faster tempo. He flowed unobstructed all through until the drums were taken off, leaving just the soulful piano chords — which Dave himself played. On Psycho, Dave was very introspective, going back and forth about his past, the environment he grew up in, his childhood, his mental health challenges. That introspection bled through the album, till the outro, which is rightfully titled Drama — where the rapper expressed how he felt about losing his elder brother, who Dave wished played the role of a father in his life, to the system.
David Orobosa Omoregie released Psychodrama when he was just 20 years old. Before then, he had managed to garner a cult fan base in the UK Grime scene after gaining popularity through freestyle videos. He released his debut EP, Six Paths, in 2016, which served as the scaffolding for his meteoric rise. One of the songs on the EP, Wanna Know, got on Drake’s radar and the Canadian rapper featured on the remix, premiering it on OVO radio. Dave won the Ivor Novello Award in 2018 for Best Contemporary Song for his song, Question Time, which heavily criticized the British Government. Since he broke out, he has maintained his position as one of the socially-conscious voices of his generation.
However, when his debut album dropped, Dave took listeners on a journey through his pain, insecurities, and battles he has (had) to fight as a young black man in the UK. He glossed over racism, over mental health challenges. According to a Pitchfork review of the album, “Over 11 songs and much hypnotic piano playing, Dave sets his conceptual limits, and then fills them with an urban opera that blends his desire to exorcise demons with old-soul musical wisdom and youthful performativity.” He sets up his wordplay so magnificently, punching lines with many emotions packed into them, while telling stories about himself or other people who have been victims to different situations in life. He binds all of these elements together with soul-nourishing piano, playing chords at specific moments to help drive his stories home.
Lesley is one of the standout songs that evokes deep emotions in its listener, especially if the listener has experienced traumatic events. The song is 11-minutes long but when you listen, it’s like a flash. Probably because you’re unable to comprehend how Dave compressed such a profound story into schemes, metaphors, not using more than a few words to paint troubling and upsetting scenarios. Ruelle seasoned the outro of the song with her inimitable vocals. Every time I listen to this song, I end up with an avalanche of goosebumps. The story is touching and Dave’s cadence makes it even more touching.
The album finds balance in Afrobeats, a Nigerian genre that is now finding its way into the heart of the global music industry. Dave is from Benin, Nigeria, and Afrobeats is the way of the life in that part of the world. Also, the UK music scene has long accepted the genre with open arms. Dave seeks the expertise of Burna Boy on Location as well as production maestro Jae5 on Disaster where he and J Hus trade bars like rap merchants. The album returns to its original theme as Dave mounts the chariot, riding into his world of illegal doings and dangerous living. He employs a masterful use of metaphors on Screwface Capital before opening up his heart on Environment. Sometimes, Dave’s lyrics are so powerful that they conjure the images of what he’s rapping about in your mind.
The message the album carried was clear. It was a therapy session turned into a music project, revealing what a famous black rapper with mental health issues goes through. As a rapper, Dave prioritizes vulnerability over braggadocio or empty rap lines. He admitted to suffering manic depression, spitting the lines “Man I think I’m going mad again. It’s like I’m happy for a second then I’m sad again,” on the album’s intro. Growing up without a father in London is something a lot of young black boys have (had) to deal with. In Dave’s case, not only did he not grow up without his father but his eldest brother. Christopher, has been incarcerated and is serving a life sentence in prison. He also uses the album to shed light on the perilous lifestyle young men like him live: peddling drugs and engaging in gang wars.
Two years after the release of his debut album, Dave released a single featuring Stormzy, titled Clash. Clash was released as the official lead single to his sophomore album, We’re All Alone in This Together. The 12-track album was released on July 9th 2021. Anyone who has followed Dave’s career from the days of Psychodrama can immediately tell that Dave has become a much better rapper on the new album. From the intro, We’re All Alone, Dave doesn’t hold back, laying a foundation with his idiosyncratic wordplay on a hip-hop instrumental. He raps, “I can’t fabricate the truth. It’s just the way I write it.” He is more confident in his style, rapping with sage-like insight about his past, subtly bragging about his lifestyle as a successful rapper. And then in an instant, like is typical of Dave, the drums recede and Dave takes the front seat, arming himself with introspection. He draws a similarity between himself and a fan who told him he was planning on killing himself. It is classic Dave: a rapper who recognizes the importance of vulnerability and doesn’t hesitate to show it to his fans.
By the second song, titled Verdansk (a fictional city in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare), Dave had returned to his grime roots. He is like superman and Clark Kent. One moment, he is the hero that needs to hold down the fort. The next moment, he is helplessly human, sometimes baring his flaws unabashedly. Unlike Psychodrama, the theme of Dave’s second album was simpler and more relatable. He leaves the floor open for other UK MCs like Fredo, Giggs, and Meekz to display their respective abilities on the fourth track, In the Fire. Then he dashed to the past quickly to unearth stories about generations of immigrants, PTSD, domestic violence on Three Rivers.
Just like in his previous album, We’re All Alone in This Together finds solace in Afrobeats. Dave taps Afrobeats superstar Wizkid for a stunning hook on System, then he brings Boj on board to do his magic on Lazarus. He has an affinity for his roots and never misses an opportunity to strengthen that connection with music. Again, the album switches back to its original theme as Dave shares a podium with Snoh Aalegra on Law of Attraction. The instrumental of the song was produced by Jae5.
The song that really drew me in on the album is Heart Attack. The song is nearly 12 minutes long and Dave raps all through, sucking me into his world with naked emotions and staggering self-awareness. His music serves as a vehicle to travel deep into one’s self, to take you through the various experiences that have left you broken, to reconnect with the person on the inside that you have neglected for years. On Heart Attack, the South London rapper gives us a peak into his life of crime, into his struggles with himself, rapping “you know when you’re so damn tired in your house. But you can’t sleep cah you got pending cases.”
I don’t think words can do justice in describing how special Dave is, how special his music is. He is a natural storyteller. He is a wordsmith. A genius among geniuses. He is as fragile as he’s menacing and this is usually the backdrop on which he paints the numerous scenes of his life. He appears to possess too much wisdom for his age. And regardless of what he’s been through, Dave doesn’t seem like he would stop making music that is representative of his true self, which is exactly what people like me need.