Dave is going to be the king of this rap shit one day. Since he emerged online at the tail end of 2015, the Streatham born MC has been making headlines with his unique perspective on British rap and undeniable musical talent. At just nineteen he’s one of the most mature MCs working in London today and is blessed with a nuance many artists, be they in rap or otherwise, take their entire careers to figure out.
One of the most engaging ways he’s employed that nuance over the two(ish) years he’s been making music in the public eye is through politics. Whether it’s on early cuts like ‘Picture Me’, a street-level commentary on the opportunities available for young people in the UK, or his most recent single ‘Question Time’, Dave has always had a stirring, delicately phrased command of politics in his work.
On ‘Picture Me’ he lays out all the paths his future could take. MC, finance worker, committed partner… Dave runs through a litany of options for his twenty three year old self, conjuring up the rap equivalent of Plath’s fig tree before rewinding it all and asking the listener to “Picture me at seventeen/ in an all black suit, laying still in a coffin, surrounded by my crew/ giving half heart apologies for watching while they bottled me or running when they shot at me.” It’s a bar that flips the song on its head, Dave reimaging his future on the road, trapped in a cycle that’s become all too familiar for working class people in the UK. While the overall bent of the song is positive, with lyrics meant to inspire listeners to consider their options and more than a few uplifting piano riffs, Dave can’t help but question the paths available to him asking “what about the kids that aren’t athletes or rappers?”
Dave continues this line of questioning on his new single ‘Question Time’ which landed last night. Over the course of seven minutes Dave puts a series of questions to an imagined audience of Theresa May, David Cameron and Jeremy Corbyn, taking the former to task over their time in government, and asking for a sign from Corbyn that he won’t betray the hopes and policies that have afforded him success so far if (when) he gets into office.
With this insight, Dave is taking the conversation in British rap one step further. While plenty of MCs, from Skepta to Stormzy to Novelist have called out the conservatives on record, few have taken it beyond the anger most young people feel towards the government. On ‘Street Politician’, Novelist flipped a David Cameron sample into a monotonous siren, the former-PM’s voice acting as a robotic foil to Novelist’s bristling verses. Similarly on ‘First Things First’ Stormzy states “there’s riots in the city, just tell me where I sign up.” It’s an anger that’s justified in the face of government enforced austerity and a general lack of compassion from those in office, however to some degree it also only serves to echo what the listener already feels. On ‘Question Time’ Dave isn’t posing his questions expecting answers from May, Cameron and Corbyn, he’s doing it to plant those same questions in the mind of the listener, highlighting not just the anger but the causes behind it.
Of course, Dave isn’t the only MC in the UK getting into the specifics. There’s a rich history of politically informed rap music in Britain, from our current Notion 77 cover star Kojey Radical to originators like Roots Manuva and Akala, however, what’s distinct about Dave is the context in which he’s doing it. Where artists like Akala, Dean Blunt and even Kojey Radical have found success in ‘leftfield’ rap circles, Dave is doing all this waist-deep in the mainstream. He is friends and a collaborator with the like J Hus and AJ Tracy, he’s had his songs remixed by Drake and still puts out sun-drenched singles like this summer’s ‘Tequila.’
In short, like Skepta and Stormzy before him, Dave is remaking Britain’s rap mainstream in his image. His music videos regularly clock over two or three million views, ‘Question Time’, which was released yesterday evening, has nearly 250,000 at the time of writing, and it won’t be a surprise if his new EP Game Over charts upon its release in November. Theresa May might not be answering his questions just yet, but she of all people should know how much of a threat an informed view of politics and mainstream appeal can be when wielded by the right person.