South London has long had a thriving music scene and is famed for hosting a plethora of talented rappers. Mercury Prize-winner Santan Dave is not only one of them but also one of the biggest and most exciting rappers who has come out of the UK in recent times. New album We’re All Alone In This Together follows his critically acclaimed debut album Psychodrama, and it too scores highly on all aspects expected of a great rap album, from the wordplay and vocabulary to the flow and the rhythm, as well as boasting an array of impressive beats, styles, and big and smaller featured artists.
However, there are many times during the album when a more acute evocation of emotion is elicited, rather than a general appreciation of Dave’s copious talent. The first example of this is heard in the very first line of the album: ‘I remember when I used to be innocent’ in opening track We’re All Alone. This thought-provoking and challenging lyric represents a confessional theme that is often revisited throughout the album. This self-contemplation endears the listener to the artist and makes him relatable as the listener hears their own flaws in Dave’s performances. Perhaps the most challenging of all is heard later on in the first song: ‘I got a message from a kid on Sunday morning said … he’s thinking of killing himself. Me and him got more in common than he thinks but I tell him to see a shrink so I can go on and live with myself’. There’s so much explored in those short couple of lines that the listener will be left pondering long after the track is finished.
The autobiographical aspect of the album is most directly explored on Both Sides Of A Smile, the ambiguous title of which becomes clear and more powerful once Dave starts describing, through anguished rapping, the splitting with his first love, with up-and-coming London-based rapper ShaSimone playing the female role and featured artist James Blake providing exquisite ambience. Law of Attraction is a more general assessment on modern relationships made addictive by the silky-smooth vocals of Swedish singer Snoh Aalegra which go really well against the heavy beat, although Dave’s more straight-edged rapping is less palatable with this track.
Dave’s introspection does not displace the cultural discussion he has become famous for through Black and other songs, but rather adds another powerful layer to it. Three Rivers pictures the dystopian side of immigration and modern-day dictatorship, but this feeling of oppression is matched by the all-too-familiar idea of ‘when you look into the mirror, you’re reminded again, you’ve become the dictator you’ve been fighting against’. Heart Attack also involves this clash of anger of social injustices with remorseful self-awareness. This song commentating on knife crime describes a truly conscience-wrenching scenario: ‘I never really thought about taking a life til I found out my ex girl’s Dad is abusive, I felt how can I be a man and not do shit, I’m on my way there and I don’t want to lose it but fighting her battles only hurts the girl, how can I protect her from the world when I couldn’t even protect her from myself’. Again, there are so many issues and ideas alluded to here, the delivery of the lyrics is a potent one.
As much as this album carries emotional weight, the list of other artists heard on this album also carries substantial weight. Fredo, Meekz, Ghetts and Giggs all appear on In The Fire while the song currently being heard on the radio entitled Clash is a boastful rap track featuring none other than fellow South London artist Stormzy himself.
Dave’s second album with its brilliant title We’re All Alone In This Together has something for every rap fan, stretching across the spectrum of overarching facets including solid beats, exciting collaborations, and cultural and personal discussions, to the more micro aspect of provocative individual lyrics and stories, ensuring more than one listen is needed to fully appreciate it.