Psychodrama By Dave – Unpack the Drama

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Lauded for his political consciousness on “Question Time” yet his knack for making hits like recent chart topper “Funky Friday”, Dave is undoubtedly a gem in the crown of UK music. It’s been EPs and singles up until this point, but now he presents his debut full length effort, Psychodrama.

It’s a journey of an album – tracks succinctly interwoven by the words of a therapist who guides Dave, and the listener through the drama in a series of parts.  We enter into Dave’s world with “Psycho”.

A hesitant and tense Dave is divulging everything that is on his mind. Pressures and pleasures – like verbal diarrhoea before reaching breaking point. Production-wise, it follows the rollercoaster of his thoughts and emotions – hard-hitting snares and bass ring through the haunted atmosphere, right before the piano breakdown as he admits he might be battling depression.

DaveThe first chapter to the story we have Dave offloading. “Psycho” is a general unpacking of trauma while the following three tracks are a more thorough examination of his pains. “Streatham” shines a light on the inner city. Named after his hometown, the tales of drugs, violence and deceit are not alien topics, whether immersed in that world or not. It shares links with “Purple Heart”, with both addressing his experiences with women.

Black”, however, stands separate as an honest account of his socio-ethnic disposition. While discussing themes of racial and social inequality and also triumph, Fraser T Smith’s harrowing piano-led production provides the perfect canvas to really drive home a message. It’s cognitive dissonance – as much as being ‘black’ can sometimes be painful, you wouldn’t desire to be anything different. That relatable truth makes “Black” so powerful.

And thus the second chapter begins. In some ways, it’s Dave on the defensive. Having become incredibly vulnerable to a near stranger not too long ago, he attempts to gloss over his seemingly bleak reality. For example, with “Location”. It takes a different approach to the themes of “Purple Heart”, with Dave glamorising the lifestyle that he has acquired, in particular in regards to women. He has become elevated from the hardships spoken about in the former songs. “Disaster”, sinister through its use of intricate melody and in its content, almost glamorises the very same things Dave was weary about in “Streatham”.

But as much as “Environment” could be viewed as an expose on the industry, it should Dave-683x1024actually serve to highlight that very little separates artists and fans. Entertainers can also be vulnerable, and it’s important to pay attention to their wellbeing irrespective of their lifestyle. It’s an easy segue to the final chapter.

The final chapter is a real turning point in the tale. At this point, with much time dedicated to therapy, Dave is processing his emotions better and has become better equipped to deal with his drama, displayed eloquently through “Lesley”. Prompted by the therapist, he recounts the vivid story of a woman he knew and her painful affair with domestic abuse and dishonesty. He puts himself in her shoes, and now both Dave and the listener develop a deep sense of empathy. Pianos serve as the canvas of the saga, layered by a moving orchestral ensemble right until her point of her passing – suggestive by the sudden end of the orchestra to then the haunting voice of Ruelle.

With “Voices”, the narrative seems to conclude – a positive acknowledgement of progress and mental maturity. Dave conceptualises and personifies the realness of his emotions as if they are versions of him, or even real people. Visualising negative emotions departing from his life, cast upon the upbeat instrumentation of the track, is in essence the “happily ever after” that we seek.

dave-hp-gq-26nov18_bBut “Drama” is a powerful addition…for a few reasons. In many ways, “Drama” is the second half of “Psycho” – with all the growth that he has undergone, he comes around full circle. We have a mature Dave being able to really process his thoughts and his ‘drama’. He does so while in conversation with his older brother, a figure missing in his life due to incarceration and possibly a cause of his ‘drama’.

We see how his experiences have formed him into the man he is today. “Drama” is his retrospective look over the ten tracks that come before it. As it concludes with his brother speaking to him on the phone and reciting the Biblical story of King David, the message seems to be that just like David in the Bible, Dave was chosen.

If we, for a second, examine the definition of psychodrama…

“a form of psychotherapy in which patients act out events from their past.”

Then this album is exactly that. But its beauty in particular is that it’s very personal, yet there is a universality in his story. Dave was chosen to tell his story. To tell his brother’s story. And all those that came before him.

With Psychodrama, in many ways, Dave is allowing himself to be vulnerable in place of black men who don’t feel able to, in the hope that we can learn to get to that place. Addressing the issues of mental health, we get to understand the complexities of men in his position, in the hope that they can gain the humanity that was harshly stripped away back again.

The Coldest Winter Ever by Ms Banks – Strength in Versatility

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Women in Hip-Hop has always been seen to be such a taboo topic and one has never really understood why, it’s not as if they don’t exist. Not only has rap been made to be a competitive sport but also a male sport. Within the UK sphere, the more successful female artists create songs that at most merely graze the ‘urban’ surface.

But now we’re experiencing a resurgence and one of the front runners leading the movement is none other than Ms Banks. From humble beginnings and near obscurity, Ms Banks has propelled herself into the Rap spotlight. Not keeping us waiting for too long, she finally releases a full length project to sink our teeth into The Coldest Winter Ever.

Taking the name from the famous 1999 novel by the American rapper and author Sister Souljah, both projects share similarities. Like the book, Banks’ latest release centres on the trials and tribulations of the female protagonist. A nuanced body of work, it’s a story of love, friendships, career highs and lows and ultimately making it on top.

So it all kicks off with the “Intro” which is more like a riveting monologue backed to the sounds of hushed lullaby pianos and orchestral violins. In true poetic fashion, she gives us a foretaste of what is to come.

Judging from the singles that came before it, The Coldest Winter Ever was always going to be about showing off her versatility. We start proceedings by having two of the finest 5691ab6db1fc657a3592dffee21a6c9fupcoming artists from South London join forces for a heater. Ms Banks enlists the help of Drill ‘Cool Kid’ Loski from the Harlem Spartans for “R.I.P“, stepping into his world as she embodies the drill sound. As Loski comes through, both artists lay down their bars as they address all of the talk from the haters. She definitely doesn’t disappoint on the Drill vibe, as she also goes straight dark hood mode with the slow creeper that is third track “Bangs”.

One of my standouts has to be “Over (Your Shit)” for the very fact that it’s a side of Ms Banks we’re generally less accustomed to. It’s a smooth R&B cut which sees her trade bars and flow for vocals and intonation and changes the vibe completely. Ms Banks evokes a softer side as she looks back over a past relationship and professes it all as a form of release to get over the heartbreak.

We know she can be tough and gritty, we see that she can be soft and vulnerable. But with the Toddla T-produced riddim “Chat 2 Mi Gyal”, Ms Banks gets the space to be incredibly playful and free with her bars, upon bars. Another one of my standouts, it has the bounce of dancehall but the freestyle nature of real Hip-Hop with such an infectious rhythm that you just can’t help but bounce with.

The mixtape doesn’t harbour many features, which gives a listening experience that is quintessentially Ms Banks. For the most part, the lack of features doesn’t fare a big issue as she provides enough style diversity to suffice. Besides Loski, there are some other notable mentions.

Mulla” is about ‘exactly what it says on the tin’ in layman’s terms and is a hustler’s anthem for all the go-getters listening. Somewhere between singing and rapping Ms Banks finds the pockets within the Trap-esque beat where she seamlessly rides and she is contrasted by the raw grit of UK’s under-the-radar rappers Dutch. Two different vibes but the context is still the same captured sweetly by the catchy chorus.

Made It” is another retrospective cut featuring singer Montana who plays a bit part role on the hook and it’s straight up alternative R&B. While she reflects on the anguish that a past relationship caused from feeling undervalued, she shares her story in poetic form not for you to show sympathy but empathy as she lets go and overcomes.

msbanksfeaturedThe mixtape wouldn’t be complete without two of her biggest singles to date. “Come Thru” is simply another banger that should be on your UK Rap list, male or female. It holds a hard Hip-Hop sound encapsulated by the heavy bassline as oozes Black Girl Magic in such a boastful way. Now if you compare that with the upbeat urban pop sounds of “Day Ones” where she dedicates the track to the ones who have been supporting her from early yet she still manages to keep her authentic street self; it just goes to show that Ms Banks has a lot in her repertoire.

Ms Banks signs out paying homage with “Pen Game 2”.  After the viral success of Margs’ #PenGameChallenge on Twitter, it only made sense to have him feature on the track. It’s bold, boastful from the pair as they freestyle over one of the most hype beats you’ll hear in a while. It’s a real South London to East London connection.

As stated much earlier, The Coldest Winter Ever is a clear demonstration of the scope of artist that Ms Banks. While there were no major pleasant surprises to shout about, she did what many know and expect from her, just better. Her mixtape summarises the period of life she is in now; A young woman who acknowledges and appreciates the lessons of her past but is over it all and is ready to take off career-wise. Her proven ability to make a plethora of radio-ready cuts is just the first step on the road to being considered one of the best that the UK has.

Favourite Albums of 2017 part 1

This is nothing new here, and an evolution rather of something I did previously. This year, I’ve just been immersing myself in what I feel is quality music. Rather that just writing a review on every single project, why not see the year off in style and do a top album compilation. Divided into two parts, this is my “Favourite Albums of 2017”. Enjoy.

At What Cost – GoldLink

The DC rapper’s stock has been rising since he dropped The God Complex in 2014. A Complex feature, Rick Rubin collabs and a spot on the XXL Freshman Class in 2015 later and he finally dropped his debut album since his RCA record deal.
At What Cost is a salute to GoldLink’s hometown, the birthplace of go-go music, Washington D.C. There are groovy go-go feels running through majority of the tracks and generally in the theme of the album from the skits to the artwork which are married 1200x630bbwith his ‘future bounce’ vibe (Hip-Hop/House). He further salutes with having prominent D.C. legends Mýa and Wale as guest features. Couple trap-like songs towards the end of the album as granted with the times do make the album fizzle out so track listing could be better but it doesn’t take away majorly from the strength of this album. “Meditation” with Jazmine Sullivan has its groovy baseline and party-like beat and synths; “Roll Call”  with Mya is disco sweetly mixed with base guitars and violins. Definitely my favourite songs on the album along with “Summatime” with Wale. Seeing him perform live last month definitely brought the album to life and reaffirmed what I believed all along, he is undoubtedly a showman. “Crew” almost serves as the patriarch of the album. It has performed very well chart-wise and garnered GoldLink his first Grammy nomination so I wish him good luck on that front. If you need funk and groove in your life, I present to you the album to do that.

 

ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$ – Joey Bada$$

Joey Bada$$ is another guy on the come-up. A young man who is navigating the Hip-Hop journey in some style. He has grafted considerably to the place that he stands at now and all his experiences have birthed an album that far exceeded my expectations. Suggestive from the name, an overt reference to Ice Cube’s first solo album AmeriKKKa’s Most Alll Amerikkkan Badass.pngWanted, his latest project ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$ is a very politically fuelled body of work, addressing issues like social mobility, racial tensions and the whole political sphere in general through Joey’s storytelling rhymes. It is an album that encapsulates the ideas and feelings of being a young black man in America and I feel like he captured that especially sublimely with the visuals for “TEMPTATION” and “LAND OF THE FREE” Sonically, it leans towards Hip-Hop in a classic sort of way; “RING THE ALARM has a sort of dark feel to it, with raw, gritty rap style synonymous with the likes of Wu-Tang Clan or Ruff Ryders. He also does so on my favourite of the album “LEGENDARY” featuring Rap phenom J. Cole. The re-work of Andile Yenana’s “Thembisa (The People)” had me from the drop. Shout out the GOAT Statik Selektah. Not only does Joey tell his narrative but also the narrative of others and that’s why the album is so powerful. There is a clear vision and message being sent here. An expert job in bringing a new lease of life into ‘Conscious Rap’.

 

Everybody – Logic

Who knew an album so simply titled could be so complex. On one front, a lot of it did come across as apologetic. He’s ‘sad and sorry’ to ‘be white’ and is resentful of his MIXED heritage, especially when taking into consideration the current state of racial politics in America.  One may feel like he over-compensates with his approach to Black empowerment at times even though his intentions are pure with it.1a2c364a06d2844fd9e294ee0ea798ff.1000x1000x1
But in spite of all that, it a nod to the Human Condition, which runs parallel with the most intimate parts of his biography. It is an album of consciousness and edification.  There are some real gems on this album like the beautifully orchestrated, Grammy nominated “1-800-273-8255” featuring Alessia Cara and Khalid which touches on the sensitive matter of suicide, “Killing Spree” featuring Ansel Elgort which touches on the negative aspects of social media & new age technology, and the soul-uplifting & quirky “Black SpiderMan” with Damian Lemar Hudson which is a celebration of diversity and acceptance. The skits/storyline running through the album weaves in with the overarching theme and all ties together by the end of the final track; reminding the listeners to live, love and enjoy, because no matter who you are – everybody is born equal – eloquently put across by the incomparable Neil Degrasse Tyson and symbolised once again by the title to the album, Everybody.

 

Common Sense – J Hus

J Hus Is The Sound Of Diaspora’s Boomerang.

His debut serves as a unique coming-of-age story, one that should resonate with young people domestically and beyond. The nuances in this project, whether small or large, play key parts. The title track “Common Sense” doubles as the intro track. The way the song fades in like a crescendo is such a brilliant way to start the album. The live J_HUS_COMMON_SENSE_HUE_1_1__ja9y9i.pnginstrumentation also adds to making this a powerful into – The Compozers are to thank for that. The drums, the keys, the bass, the keytar, the trumpet… with every instrument you can feel the passion oozing through.
He pays his homage in this album as he blends the different sounds of his vibrant London hometown and upbringing – UK Rap, Afro-Bashment, Garage etc. There may not be skits or a inherent and obvious storyline running through the album but the theme of the project is still obvious to me. J Hus is back and this is his ego-filled statement of intent to let you know and feel that he is THE MAN. Lyrics matched with bold production; understand his level of bravado. The elastic bounce of “Bouff Daddy”, the grime menacing “Clartin” or maybe you’d prefer the reflective yet unmatched party vibe “Spirit“.
Take your pick, J Hus makes GOOD music. With him and his trusted producer and brother JAE5, there is a bond that is deeper than rap. The understanding they have is real and has cultivated one of the best urban offerings of the year. It’s not by chance. If a Mercury Prize nomination doesn’t turn your head and make you pay attention then I honestly don’t know what will.

 

The Other Side – The Walls Group

I am a stickler for good singing (which you’d be surprised doesn’t exist too much these days and The Walls Group truly personify that to the nth degree.
The greatest thing take away from the Gospel quartet’s junior album is that it is mature yet youthful. While that seems to be a juxtaposition, the essence is that this latest project is a much more mature take from their 2014 effort Fast Forward where they were younger, less experimental and took heed more to the wisdom and musical direction of mentor Kirk Franklin yet still has their signature ‘Walls Sauce‘. They have come a long way since then and the album is a now reflection of who they are as artists and as lovers of music.The-Walls-Group-The-Other-Side-album-cover_sized-1024x1024
What I love about this album is that it has genuinely has something for everyone. It navigates through classic and modern without it feeling like a ‘mash up’. It goes from Country, Pop Rock to Contemporary Worship and others but as varied as it is, they make it work. My favourites are the New Jack Swing anthem “Don’t Cha Know” and R&B/Rap vibe “Mercy” which I had on repeat for the longest time. Plus their upbeat leading single “My Life” has been a staple in my Gym Playlist and carries the age old message that people seem to forget – just let me be me, let me be great. Thanks be primarily to Eric Dawkins and Warryn Campbell who were key to the project. It is a tight body of work that allows the group to fully flex their God given vocal talent while be unique, faith-filled and expressive.

 

Part 2 to follow….