On March 8, 2019, Dave released Psychodrama. In its first week, Psychodrama became the most-streamed first-week British rap album in the UK with a total of 23.6 million streams. In its review of the album shortly after the release, Alex Petridis of The Guardian called it the “boldest and best British rap album in a generation”; Ciaran Thapar of Pitchfork proclaimed the album as “one of the most significant bodies of British rap music in a generation.” In September 2019, Psychodrama won the illustrious Mercury Prize for the best British album of the year.
Psychodrama was phenomenal because the issues it addressed are universal, immensely private, and grossly overlooked. Through 11 songs, Dave pulled listeners into his therapy sessions; sessions where the 21-year-old from London took the lessons from his brother’s therapy in jail to address his personal demons. In one album, Dave made therapy part of his identity, instead of a means-to-end of regaining a former self.
I say all this because Dave’s performance at Washington, D.C.’s Union Stage was so much more than the physical manifestation of swagger and confidence. The performance was a therapy session for an audience who see in him a voice for something often relegated to the unspeakable. In America, suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among people aged 10-34. At the same time, private insurance companies are paying 13% to 14% less for mental health care, and nearly 6 in 10 people with mental illness get no treatment or medication. In a world where so many never get the help they need, the connection with a musician unafraid to sing “it’s a message to a woman with a toxic man/I’m begging you to get support if you’re lost or trapped/I understand that I can never understand/And I ain’t saying that it’s easy but it must be right” goes beyond music, time, or place.
There were so many highlights to this show that it’s hard to even know where to start. The ceremonial performance of “Thiago Silva” began with Dave picking a member of the audience to deliver AJ Tracey’s lines and then included the following in no specific order: Dave jumping on the guy’s back as they both spit the song’s chorus, one of the most heartfelt hugs I’ve ever seen a person give another person, another audience member throwing their Thiago Silva Brazil jersey onto the stage that Dave then took and put on the dude already on stage, and the audience cheering as hard for the lucky man on stage as they did for Dave. It was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Shortly before that, Dave brought out a piano and played a somber, acoustic version of “Black” that would have made Ray Charles smile.
Dave’s transitions between songs were masterful. It’s rare that a musician and audience are so well connected. Every step through the hour-plus set was done together in perfect harmony. For someone who is just now getting into UK rap, Dave is a revelation. For all the people who hung on every word and every display of humbleness, Dave is the narrator to the hardships and emotions so many experience in silence.