The sophomore album for any artist can be a make or break moment. Especially following on from a debut album which received such widespread critical acclaim, this is certainly what has been at stake for Santan Dave. Psychodrama, the South London rapper’s first full length release, saw Dave take home the Mercury Prize as well as achieve international recognition, as he opened up to tell deeply touching and personal stories from his own life, and others through the concept of a form of psychotherapy. The album was ambitious, daring, but excellent, and saw the kid from Streatham announce his presence as one of the most talented rappers in the world, let alone the UK.
No pressure then, for We’re All Alone In This Together, a title given to Dave through a conversation with legendary musician Hans Zimmer. What Dave has managed to create on his second release is nothing short of spectacular, taking the listener on a sonic journey through his heritage with impeccable storytelling and varied production. There really shouldn’t have been any doubt about the levels that this 23 year old could reach.
The album kicks off with “We’re All Alone”, where Dave unleashes a barrage of smart bars and flows over a swooning backing vocal, before a signature piano beat change switches the mood of the track, adding an essence of melancholia while the rapper explores ideas of mortality and anti-government sentiments. This is followed by “Verdansk”, a track which has been highly anticipated ever since a video snippet was posted last year. Using a minimalist instrumental, Santan demonstrates the upper echelons of his lyrical prowess, as he raps, ‘on the right day man’ll just frisk him, on the wrong day I’m getting man air lifted’, as well as, ‘I ain’t on beating or misogyny, it’s mahogany I got boujee wood’.
These two songs which open the record act as a statement of intent from the South Londoner, exemplifying his lyrical ability as well as showing off a selection of different flows. What is impressive about these tracks, as well as many on the album, is how Dave is able to combine boasy bars with social and political messages in the same track, adding depth and gravity to the songs that tie the album together as a whole. This can be seen on “Verdansk”, which would have been an exceptional song regardless, where he raps, ‘AirBnB with the guys, it’s a white man’s face that I use to book’, thus creating a thought-provoking moment on what would otherwise have been a banger, and therefore demonstrating a consciousness and sensibility that some of his peers in UK rap can lack.
There are also moments across the record where Dave leads with this emotion and introspectiveness, particularly towards the back end of the track list. On Three Rivers”, the artist is able to rap from three different perspectives as he touches on the horrific treatment of the Windrush generation, as well as the hardships of both Eastern European and Middle Eastern immigrants and asylum seekers. The tail end of the record however is where Santan really comes into his own, showing wisdom beyond his years on the ten minute epic, “Heart Attack”, a rework of a track from his previous release from the Six Paths EP, “Panic Attack”. The song touches on several heavy topics, such as knife crime and domestic violence, while Dave also shows a gratitude to his mother for the sacrifices she made in order to provide for him in his upbringing. The song closes with an emotionally charged, minute long acapella, before a heartbreaking outro of what one can only assume to be the artist’s mother, who sobs as she explains her hardship. This song feels like the peak of Dave’s career so far, and is a stand alone masterpiece on an album littered with excellence.
The final track, “Survivor’s Guilt”, sees the rapper tackle his own anxiety and struggles with mental health, as he speaks of crying on the motorway and feeling lost. This song also features an insightful gem of a lyric, where Dave raps, ‘it’s a shame it takes falling to your death for a person to appreciate fully the gravity of the situation’. There are only a handful of artists in the world right now who could portray these topics and subject matters with such eloquence and conviction, and it is staggering to think that this is something we have come to expect of the rapper.
Furthermore, we can see the artist’s use of features enhancing these emotionally charged topics towards the end of the record. Snoh Alegra’s spacey, yearning vocals flow beautifully into James Blake’s tender cries on the tracks “Law of Attraction” and ‘Both Sides of A Smile’. as Dave tackles and opens up about struggles in his love life and relationships. He is also helped out by ShaSimone on the former track, who takes the role of the rapper’s girlfriend in a clever back and forth that sees the artist reconsider his actions in the relationship. This is not to say however that all the features on the album play into this theme of introspective melancholy, as Santan is able to call on some heavy hitters to bring some serious heat across the tape.
Stormzy’s inclusion on “Clash”, accompanied by the glitzy video at the Aston Martin headquarters, sees both rappers figuratively crown themselves as the leading forces in UK rap, whilst also fuelling the flames of a cold war between Stormzy and Chip. We can also see Dave connecting with his Nigerian roots by utilising features from Wizkid and Boj, further emphasising that this album is a kind of journey spanning across the rapper’s life and even looking back towards his ancestry in terms of influence and genre. These tracks, “System”, and “Lazarus”, also create a change in tempo and a stylistic relief from the heavier topics touched on across the record.
Perhaps the most exciting and surprising features from the record however come from the track, “In The Fire”, where Dave calls upon a ‘Galacticos’ level supporting cast in order to deliver a song that will be etched forever in the canons of UK rap. Fredo, Meekz Manny, Ghetts, and Giggs all deliver stellar verses on a gospel sampled beat that wouldn’t feel out of place on the new Kanye West album. This track brings together the old and new school in a way which feels organic and sees everyone on it elevate themselves to the very pinnacle of their game, and Dave himself more than holds his own on the closing verse.
The cover art for this album is a rework of Impressionist painter Claude Monet’s work, Impression, Soleil Levant, which features a boat at sea. This ties together the themes of migration and heritage which run through the record, while the Impressionist movement itself sought to move away from the traditional canons of art in order to gain their influence from less recognised locations, as well as portraying their own thoughts and emotions within the canvas. In essence, this is what Dave has managed to do on We’re All Alone In This Together, combining a wide array of influences and genres whilst also putting his own feelings and emotions at the forefront of the album.
The rapper now has two classic albums at the age of 23, something that even the greats of UK rap never managed to achieve at that stage of their careers. Dave has surpassed the conversations of top 10 lists and who takes the seat at the throne, which I think we are all guilty of arguing about when it comes to rappers in this country. With two seminal albums at such a young age, Dave has the world at his feet, and it really does feel as if his star is going to shine even brighter in the years to come. Stream the album below, and be sure to check out our list of his most essential tracks to date right here.