Rappers have long had a reputation for being at the forefront of culture, setting trends and influencing the young. Whilst their contribution to modern culture can hardly be debated, they haven’t always received the credit they deserve. In Britain, many rappers – especially young Black men – have been stereotyped as the face of all things negative, with their music and influence being blamed for everything you can imagine and some things you can not.
Those unfair and sometimes racist stereotypes haven’t stopped the large majority of talented Black artists from setting the very best example, leaving politicians and societal ‘leaders’ playing catch up. When it comes to setting such an example, creating change and promoting the best of talent, there is no one better than Dave, a 23-year old Black boy from Streatham.
With this in mind, you can imagine our excitement when he announced the release of his second studio album, We’re All Alone in This Together. In short, it’s brilliant – but much more than that, it represents everything that’s good about Dave: raw talent, an eye for all things positive – and a burning hunger for societal change.
Much like Barack Obama (high praise, we know), Dave has a unique talent for connecting with people. For many young Black boys, his story is theirs, his experiences much like their own. For others, he represents the change that’s needed, a shining example of what a cultural icon should be.
“Dave, remember…we’re all alone in this together”
The 23-year-old, like many of us, fell victim to the slow pace and stagnant moments of lockdown, contributing to a bout of writer’s block. It was while working on the soundtrack for David Attenborough’s Planet Earth: A Celebration, with film composer Hans Zimmer, that a FaceTime conversation between the two triggered the new album title. In Dave’s struggle, Zimmer said, “Dave, remember…we’re all alone in this together.”, and WAAITT was born. An album inspired by Sir David Attenborough. Your move, Kanye.
First impressions of the album cover? The laced pinks and burnt oranges of glistening water are a vivid contrast to the haunting flames of Psychodrama. The boat is alone in a vast expanse of the ocean but the two faceless beings in it are travelling together: it is a perfect marriage to the album’s title. A bit of digging reveals that it is a re-interpretation of French painter Claude Monet’s “Impression, Soleil Levant” (“Impression, Sunrise”). The 1874 original inspired the Impressionist movement, depicting the port of Monet’s hometown Le Havre. Turns out he has an eye for the finest art in the world, too.
In true Dave-style, the album tackles a myriad of complex themes. Perhaps the most dominant is his sense of uneasiness at his newfound wealth and the dark side of its superficial materialism, beginning with “We’re All Alone” (“What’s the point of bein’ rich when your family ain’t?/It’s like flyin’ first class on a crashin’ plane”) and ending with ‘Survivor’s Guilt’ (“Let me show you behind the scene/Behind the glitz and the glamour and all the lights you see”). This is strikingly dissimilar to the record’s first drop ‘Clash’, alongside fellow South Londoner and cultural phenomenon Stormzy, in which the two brag about Rolexes, Aston Martins and Jordans. Its tiny minor notes, heavy baseline and trap production, however, ground the song.
The album offers some up-tempo hits, too, as it crescendos from echoing waltz-like piano pieces to ‘System’, featuring fellow Nigerian Afrobeat star WizKid, and BOJ in ‘Lazarus’. Both have a strong, upbeat impact and replay value, providing some lighter relief after the album’s heavy intro and are an ode to the artist’s heritage. If Psychodrama was a reflection of the first twenty years of Dave’s life, WAAITT is a canon that appreciates his pre-birth, intricately exploring history, heritage, culture, and family. Gospel fuels ‘In the Fire’, boasting an uncredited collaboration of some of the best London MCs Ghetts, Giggs, Fredo, and Manchester’s Meekz. The five spring off each other in a dynamic and animated set, sailing through their careers, wealth, gang violence, and prison: struggles that have forged them in the fire.
Impressive female voices and influences decorate and dominate: Swedish R&B artist Snoh Aalegra is present in ‘Law of Attraction’ as the two discuss their interpretations of love and how their respective former partners are handling the split. Additionally, Jorja Smith helps to write and introduces ‘Survivor’s Guilt’ as Dave acknowledges his wrongdoings against Black Women after the resurfacing of colourist Tweets from 2015 (“Black women, I just wanna say I’m sorry/ I done a lot of dumb shit, I won’t lie to you/ I wanna be a voice for you, be a light for you…Wanna be on the frontline for you/ Campaign for you, make change for you”), and Dave continuously thanks his Mum, Juliet, for sacrificing so much while raising him (I think back to my youth and I was so ungrateful/How many of our parents had dreams they abandoned/So they could put food on the table?/Intelligent, worthy and able, that’s somebody’s parent).
Precious moments include ‘Both Sides of A Smile’, where James Blake’s soulful baritone dances over Dave and newcomer ShaSimone: their voices intermingle and argumentatively give way to each other in two sides of a doomed love story. ‘Heart Attack’, a successor to 2016’s ‘Panic Attack’, was crowned a masterpiece while trending on Twitter. It impressively continues Dave’s persuasive social and political commentary at Grime’s 140 bpm, examining immigration, abuse, mental health, knife crime, and racism, especially towards young Black men. His words are humbling and eye-opening: “Night club toilet, you peed on the seat/ ‘Cause you don’t know how it feels when your mom’s gotta clean shit”. There is a poignant inflexion point two-thirds into the track in which the melody almost gives up on Dave, letting his voice carry the song through as he cuts us with his words (“I was in intensive care when I was born, mommy fell down the stairs/Whether I was gonna live or not was somethin’ uncertain/I used the word “Fell”, with the commas inverted”). The outro is his mother crying in a heartbreaking monologue of her suffering and determination to survive for her son.
In such a divisive time, Dave’s album is healing, pooling the country’s thoughts and feelings into a collective pot; he has manifested what many of us cannot put into words. We’re All Alone in This Together is a perfect, self-aware and mature body of work, reminding us of our shared struggles.
In summary, the album provides evidence of what we all already knew: at 23, Dave’s genius transcends music.
Written by Tamara El-Halawani for The Urban Journal
This article was a guest feature from our partner platform: The Urban Journal.
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