As a result of doing work experience in the city, I’ve had the fortune of indulging in my music playlist during the long train journeys. My go-to streaming service right now is Spotify due to its reasonable cost and music range, so you can imagine how ecstatic I was when I realised “Picture Me” – the first song on Dave’s new EP “Six Paths” – was available to stream on the app.
I’ve been watching Dave for a while, since I heard his Warm Up Sessions on SBTV in January to be exact. The socially conscious and raw message that embedded itself in his lyrics did not escape me. His self-admitted exposure to the ills of London life combined with his ruthless criticism of it makes the rap all the more potent.
Them niggas think they’re putting on for you by buying chains, try and send that gold to a mum that has to buy a grave, try and send that silver to a prisoner that’s riding 8, a prisoner that’s riding 10…
A real ode to the “Ghetto Gospel” of the existence of black boys in the streets struggling along the fine line between criminality and success and the blurring of the lines. What is success? The material gains of the fast life won’t follow you to your grave and will not heal the hurt of bereavement. Yet still, its craved and lusted over. It was safe to say that from this moment I was convinced Dave was an upcoming star, both his content and delivery meant he was one to watch. He set the bar high for himself and I wondered if he could meet it on the next rap he produced.
Thankfully he did.
I heard his Fire In The Booth not too long later and was amazed once again by the personality he demonstrated through his lyrics. The bilateral approach he took to rapping was truly eminent. The first beat he attacked was expected – hard-hitting, furious and honest. Then there was an unlikely transition into a rap over the unlikely hit single “Hotel California” by The Eagles – famously sampled by Frank Ocean on his song “American Wedding” on his debut mixtape Nostalgia Ultra. Yet despite the mellow, guitar-rich tune of the backing track, Dave adjusts immaculately. His rap becomes softer yet effective still. His hybridised identity comes through not only in his choice of tracks but his lyrics. He speaks about his family, politics and the diaspora in a mellow tone before finishing with the simple line: I’m trynna show you man a life.
He personifies Jekyll and Hyde, thus it was the most brilliant coincidence that the next song I heard from him was actually called JKYL + HYD. It was at that moment that I realised that Dave was no ordinary rapper. He had an unparalleled level of wit – a wisdom that superseded his age exceptionlly. His understanding of self, command of words and awareness of the world around him is humbling to say the least – not only because of his young age, but also the honest, educated approach he takes to describing the life he lives and is aware of.
The refreshing departure from the gluttonous glorification of the “gang life” breaks the archetype of Grime and the “dangerous life” it supposedly glamorises. Money. Girls. Drugs. Violence. He talks about it all, but it’s his approach that is different and sets him apart from the rest. It’s honest and critical: an objective observation of why so many black boys feel condemned to a life on the road, drawing upon his own subjective experiences to inform his content, he slips into the rhetoric of the rappers that colour the world he lives in:
I’m waiting with a pistol like try me, try me, try me, try me, and watch what the outcome is, I’m a mixture between Heath Ledger and Malcolm X, outspoken but I don’t make sense
He makes a whipping motion with his wrist as he raps this: an evidential display of how his own association with this life has impacted his person. Nonetheless, he is an unapologetic product of his environment to a certain degree. The remaining degrees are open to speculation. And that’s where the title of Six Paths – Dave’s first EP comes into play.
The first thing that caught me was the artwork. 6 Daves in 6 destinations. A mirror to the content of the single that inspired me to write this blog “Picture Me.” 6 hypothetical situations, illustrated in a manner that is akin to the manga style I’ve seen on many Japanese anime shows. After a quick Google search, I read that the phrase “Six Paths” comes from Naruto and is said to have multiple meanings depending on context.
Similarly in Dave’s rap, Dave ventures through the multiple routes he could take as a black boy from London and the different outcomes they may lead him to. Doing dead end desk jobs, becoming a sportsman, becoming a successful musician; or living the road life, dying or ending up behind bars as a result. It’s a beautiful rendition of the many fates faced by us all, males and females, so it’s familiarity is overarching.
Nonetheless it remains personal to Dave.
The different systems he grapples with in his content are subjective to say the least:
Racism. Classism. Patriarchy.
Prison. Education. Family.
He speaks maturely on each topic: brazenly, unabashedly and in a manner that exceeds his adolescent years. His eloquence reinvigorates the often-neglected element of Grime and rap in general: the mastery of words. True showmanship in one’s lyrics – something he demonstrates with ease through his multiple metaphors, homonyms and double entendre he spits, not overcome by a flashy video or overzealous beat.
And the buzz is there. Dave is far from unknown – his JKYL + HYD video is a testament to that. Not too long after its upload, it quickly exceeded a million views and his personal account on YouTube quickly accumulated 15000 subscribers.
It is not only me who is enamoured with Dave as I’ve seen the response his music gets on a very wide scale. Boys, girls, men, women, Londoners, non-Londoners and alike love Dave also. It is for this reason that I am astounded that he has not been nominated for a single MOBO – particularly in the Best Newcomer category. He is undoubtedly one of the most exciting artists in Grime right now and I believe he deserves recognition.
Admittedly, this has been a fantastic year for Grime – with Skepta winning a Mercury Prize for Konnichiwa just a few weeks ago, Section Boyz making spreading ripples across the Atlantic with their trap music sound and Stormzy’s extraordinary breakthrough into mainstream academia, film and sponsorship. Coupled with great album releases from the likes of Wretch 32, Cadet and Kano, it’s difficult not to be overlooked in what is undoubtedly a superb era for British music.
But “Picture Me” is not to be lost in the sauce. Like many of Dave’s raps is littered with punchlines and rhymes, so much so it takes a while to resonate and unpack. Luckily with long train journeys comes great thinking time which is perfect for when you’re listening to artists like Dave. Thus, after a few replays and more attentive listening to the lyrics, I soon was able to unravel Dave’s clever wordplay.
All the while I thought, how has this boy not blown yet?
True to his understated nature, Dave is not the most active figure on social media, and purposefully so. In his FITB, he makes a distinction between himself and his compatriots.
You’re on Snapchat, I’m on Radio One, what don’t you get about this?
It’s as if he knows his destiny is far greater than anything his age-mates could conceptualise. He thinks far ahead. He knows his destiny is fruitful and his future is bright, regardless of the accolades. It is for these reasons and more that Dave is undoubtedly my favourite Grime rapper on the scene right now.
So for a dose of self-conscious, knowledgeable rap – take some time and have a listen to Dave.
He has accounts on the following social media platforms
Youtube: Santan Dave
To have a listen to his new EP “Six Paths” – check out Apple Music where it is already available. If you don’t have Apple Music – keep your eyes peeled on the 30th September as that is the date it will be available on all other streaming services.
So when you have time, maybe when you’re on the bus or train or some other long journey, make sure you have a listen to his music. It will be time well spent.