Dave, Brixton Academy, review: a brief and simple show that proved everything Dave needed to prove

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Dave
Bright new thing: Dave Credit: SH5

Last January, for the first time in history, rap overtook rock as the world’s most popular musical genre. For anyone plugged into the charts, this came as no surprise – rappers now frequently share space in the top ten with mainstream pop artists such as Ariana Grande and Beyoncé.

With rap’s dominance, however, has come criticism: these millennial rappers sound the same, they mumble; their senseless lyrics are nothing like the smart, socially conscious yarns spun by Nineties hip-hop pioneers Biggie and Tupac. With the exception of respected veterans such as JAY Z and Kendrick Lamar, are any rising rappers telling stories that matter anymore?

Actually, yes. Twenty-year-old David Orobosa Omoregie, who goes by the stage-name Santan Dave, is a South London rapper who made his name in 2017 after releasing Question Time, a searingly eloquent, seven-minute condemnation of the British political system, addressing everything from Syria and Brexit to the NHS. It went on to win a prestigious Ivor Novello award.

Dave, an accomplished pianist who played five hours a night from the age of 11 after his mother worried about him leaving the house (one of his brothers is serving life in prison for involvement in a murder), was hailed as one of rap’s most compelling storytellers, and a voice for London’s disenfranchised. In interviews, he enchanted critics with thoughtful references to Plato and Shakespeare, his admiration for Hans Zimmer (who returned the compliment) and his sweetly shy manner.

Proving that Question Time was no one-hit wonder, Dave followed up with his critically acclaimed debut album Psychodrama last month – a deeply personal work about race and inner-city struggle, told through a framing device of therapy sessions and backed by cinematic chords from Fraser T Smith, the Grammy-winning wizard behind Adele’s Set Fire to the Rain. The album went straight to number one.

Performing Psychodrama for the first time on home turf at Brixton Academy last Thursday night, it was clear that Dave – who still lives with his mum in Streatham – hasn’t let fame go to his head. After finishing Black, a heartbreaking monologue with lyrics including “a kid dies, the blacker the killer, the sweeter the news”, he stood speechless on stage, alone but for a large (and slightly pointless) skull prop behind him, as roars of applause refused to fade. Eventually, in shock, he sat down on the floor.

It was a brief and simple show that proved everything Dave needed to prove to a local audience that’s been championing him for years. That said, he’s clearly thinking of the bigger picture. “I just done my first psychodrama/ And I hope the world hears my craft,” he rapped deftly from his favourite song, Drama. With London in his palm, it’s only a matter of time.