Dave: Streatham Vale to the World

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A psychodrama is a course of therapy that sees patients dig into past events and memories, bringing the forming moments and traumas of their lives into light, and by doing so, hoping to heal and make sense of them. Dave’s brother Chris underwent a course in prison. The course shaped the making of Dave’s debut album, a concept piece titled after the therapy course. Healing and trauma were the template for his first real offering.

Psychodrama the album is autobiographical, taking his new listeners back to his beginnings. It is deeply local, deeply South London, deeply Streatham. There are sly references to the 118 bus that cuts down the high road from Brixton, and to Mitcham Lane that connects Streatham and Tooting. After, he takes listeners behind the frontline, into a place where teenagers are on stolen peds, where teenagers are growing up in poverty, where teenagers are selling cannabis and then cocaine, teenagers with an urge to kill other teenagers, teenagers who, among it all, still have to be indoors by curfew. Deep in his diaries he hints at how life in South London scarred him, depressive episodes that bordered on suicidal thoughts. They were broke growing up, but went to school with the rich, he tells us, and how among these polar extremes a tension was fostered, unhinging them, daring young boys to gamble their freedoms for a wealth they could see waiting on the other side of the fence.

On release, Psychodrama debuted at number 1 on the UK Albums Chart in March 2019, and a new prince of the genre was crowned. It was labelled as the defining British rap album of its time, political and personal, bringing the wider country closer to the social issues and environments some Black and working-class kids were springing from. A nationwide tour accompanied its release, and he stopped in Dublin and Glasgow and Nottingham and Leeds and Liverpool and Sheffield and Manchester and Birmingham and Leicester and Norwich and Bristol and Bournemouth, before ending with two nights in Brixton, just two months after he had appeared at the same venue to celebrate the life of Cadet.

After came a North American and a European and an Australian tour as the world opened up to his and their sound. He took South London on the road, to Germany, Copenhagen, New York, Toronto, Chicago and Sydney, touching venues in far continents.

By early 2020, he was back on home soil, South London, for the fortieth BRIT Awards. The O2 Arena was sold out, and over three million people were tuning in from home. Dave had been nominated for four awards: Best New Artist, British Male Solo Artist, Song of the Year for Location and Album of the Year.

American vocalist Billie Eilish was presenting the award for Album of the Year. Among the nominees were Stormzy, from nearby Norbury, soul singer Michael Kiwanuka and pop artists Harry Styles and Lewis Capaldi. When Eilish held the microphone in one palm and looked down at her placard, the arena fell silent, tense.

And the winner is,” she said, before pausing again, Dave, Psychodrama.”

The dam on the silence broke and the O2 filled with cheers and screams. Streatham began to play out from the big speakers, honouring the winner. On the floor, Dave’s managers and his friends shook him with excitement as a dazed smile crossed his face. Then his mum stood from her seat and wrapped her arms around her son, hugging him with a deep joy.

He walked to the stage in a blue tracksuit and white trainers, looking almost shaky on his legs, trying to take in what had happened. The bass of Streatham crowned his arrival. He gripped the microphone in one hand. He thanked God and his mum and his family and his team, then stuttered slightly, trying to gather himself, the moment almost overwhelming him. After a few moments, he steadied, and spoke clearly. He gave a nod to the incarcerated: I want to say everyone that I know that’s inside doing their time, hold it down, I love you guys.”

And he had a message, too, for everyone coming from where he comes from, for young kings and queens” growing up in South and North London, West and East London, Birmingham and Manchester, trying to chase their dreams. His life was a testimony. He was just like them he said, a boy born of the ends. And like him, they could do anything with their lives.

As his speech closed, he raised the award to the sky.

Thank you so much,” he said, Streatham Vale to the world.”

Where We Come From: Rap, Home and Hope in Modern Britain is out now. Click here to buy

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