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The Lead Review

First Class On A Crashing Plane: Dave's We're All Alone In This Together
Denzil Bell , July 29th, 2021 08:06

Santan Dave releases his second album We’re All Alone In This Together with guest spots from Stormzy, Giggs, Ghetts, Fredo, and more, cementing his place at the top of the scene

Photo by Andrew Timms

There are two types of rappers. There’s those who hit you straight upside the head with braggadocious lyrics, like Skepta or Giggs; and then there’s the ones who are more technical, using complex wordplay and witty metaphors to grab your attention, like Ghetts or Wretch 32. Streatham’s own, Dave, started off as the latter, but he’s developed the ability to become the former. As his lifestyle became more extravagant, so did his style of rap.

Dave doesn’t only have a unique place in the rap scene: being a millionaire at the tender age of twenty-three puts him in the one per cent. To many, this would be a dream come true. But as he discussed on his debut album, Psychodrama – and gets deeper into on this exceptional follow-up – he battles with the contradictions he appears to feel with being the breadwinner in his family while so many around him are far worse off.

But when it comes to rapping ability, or to questions about his writing skills, there is no struggle whatsoever. When we compare Dave even to other members of rap’s upper echelons, he stands out like a GOAT amongst sheep. He can sell songs with the best of them while still being super wordy with his delivery – a feat that many hip-hop artists have tried to emulate but failed at.

‘In the Fire’ is a shining example of this. Hearing Dave have it up with the cream of the crop is like playing the final level of the game: all the bosses – Fredo, Meekz, Ghetts, and Giggs – appear in majestic opulence, backed by an angelic choir, all rapping about getting to the top while being “under fire” from the haters, struggling with street beefs and dealing with unwanted attention from police.

‘Survivors Guilt’ forces us to feel more of Dave’s pain. He laments the fact that he is now the cash cow amongst his herd, and lays bare the anxiety that the financial pressure to provide brings for one still so young. In cyclical fashion, he encapsulates this feeling in the project opener, ‘We’re All Alone’, where he asks: “what’s the point of being rich when your family ain’t? It’s like flying first class on a crashing plane”.

Family is another area Dave opens up about. He takes us back to his Nigerian roots in Benin City, gifting us a trio of hip shaking Afrobeat tracks featuring Nigerian superstar Wizkid, upcoming African maverick Boj, and the soulful Swedish songstress, Snoh Aalegra, along with producer, JAE5, utilising funky drums on each track. And on ‘Heart Attack’, we meet his mum – super vulnerable and honest, she delves into her life story, speaking on coming from Nigeria to London with nothing and shining some light on the immense struggles she faced while bringing up her son.

Somewhere in there, these themes begin to come together. The album intro speaks to the last year we all had under isolation because of COVID: we were literally all alone in this together. The irony is that it was under these very same conditions that Dave’s musical talents were forged: when he was younger, both of his older brothers were sent to prison and because of this, his mum sheltered him at home during his teens. In this time alone, he took solace in training himself in classical piano, forging the skills and dedication that would end up turning him into the star we are currently seeing in super nova.

We’re All Alone In This Together marks the moment Dave truly sets himself as the scene’s crown prince. He is one of the few top-notch lyricists who can also make an anthem – you’re reminded of how Jay-Z started off as a double-time rapper but eventually realised if he simplified his lyrics and got the best production, he would be much more likely to come up with a hit. We hear this on ‘Clash’ featuring Stormzy, where the two go back and forth with quotable lines that will stay in your mind rent free. The track is especially juicy, because Stormzy disses fellow rapper, Chip (for his part, Chip replied to it on the same day with his own diss, ‘Clash?’). It may seem like an odd fit on an album with such a predominantly serious tone, but it serves as a welcome break from the heavy topics, like half an hour in a service station during a lengthy car journey.

With every project, Dave gets better at achieving a balance between making music for the “streets” and the “critiques”. For this second outing, he’s something like an Obama of the rap scene: he’s found a way to please the Black community while more than capably catering to the masses. That he does this with whimsical wisdom way beyond his years and way above his projected trajectory is something to wonder at. The UK has already been dominated by this young prodigy: next up, world domination.