When you sell out your first headline show in under 24 hours, drop one of the tunes of the year with one of your best friends, and have Drake drop some vocals on your song—you know the stars are aligning for you. This is exactly what has happened to South London rapper Dave, who is coming off the back of a tremendous 2016. The 18-year-old from Streatham is the UK rap scene’s latest hope, dropping deeply intense, personal and introspective lyricism to project a life that has seen its fair share of adversity. In a realm where trap and turn-up rap is the norm, Dave goes against the grain and brings musicality and heart to his every move.
Last September’s brilliant Six Paths EP was honestly a breath of fresh air, with Dave providing a steady balance between melodic rap and live instrumentation (he played piano throughout the project). Prior to that release, Dave and AJ Tracey offered up a grime masterclass in “Thiago Silva”, bridging the gap between the scene’s old, gritty style and the abundance of talent within the new generation and showcasing a versatility to his artistry. The icing on the cake came in November, though, when Drake took it upon himself to lace Dave’s “Wanna Know” with a couple of verses of his own. In what is most definitely a rookie year, he’s notched up a number of achievements that most rappers and musicians aspire to.
Dave has a wisdom beyond his 18 years, which shows in his music and personality. And while he's super grateful for the journey so far, he understands that it’s only the beginning and that he’s just a few steps away from levelling up even more. Complex caught up with the rising star recently, at Foot Locker's #ItStartsHere event in Shoreditch, London, where he chronicled his musical journey, detailed which of his songs he is most proud of, and which pair of trainers he hates the most.
“in every step, I’m just trying to become a better person, a better musician, learn from other musicians—which is crucial—and make the best music possible.”
You’re one of the most hyped and talked-about artists out right now, but what do you think you bring to the music scene?
I don’t know. It would be a bit weird to speak about myself in the third person, but I think I try to bring my own intensity and seriousness about music to the scene. I think, at times, it gets a bit light and trivial and there’s no real depth, but I like to come with a darker, more serious vibe. At the same time though, I like to flip it to things that are completely different. Certain times, it’s just about the vibe, like on “Thiago Silva” and “Wanna Know”, or the concept, like on “Picture Me” and “Panic Attack”.
Would you say you do that differently to any other artist?
I would say my sound is different; like, the type of instrumentation that we use, we’ve made a conscious effort to try and separate ourselves. We do a lot of stuff live, so sonically, we don’t sound like everyone else. For the most part, it’s that, but also lyrics and intensity, and with all that I try to separate myself from everybody else.
How have adjusted to your newfound fame?
I wouldn’t say I’ve adjusted to any kind of fame. It’s just pretty normal support and I appreciate it from everyone. There are certain situations that can be a little bit of a headache, but you have to deal with everything that comes in life. Music makes a slight change and you have to run with it.
When you did your Bl@ckbox freestyle, did you imagine it would take you to where you are today?
I had absolutely no idea! I’ve just got to thank God, really. It’s been a huge achievement to get to where we are, but there's still so much to do. The music scene is ever changing—everyone’s here for a second, and then they’re gone 20 seconds later—so we’re just trying to build a solid foundation and stay here for as long as possible.
What do you think keeps you so grounded as an artist?
Certain people are like that and certain people aren’t. But you just have to stay level-headed, have good friends around you, a good team, and good managers.
How would you describe your musical journey so far?
It’s been exciting; a lot of ups and mids. I wouldn’t say I’ve had crazy downs, though. The downs are only down in comparison to how high the ups are, but it’s funny because it’s been a fun journey, and that’s what it’s about. It’s all about the pressure, the not knowing what’s next, and it's crazy interesting. There were once things you couldn’t do and, all of a sudden, now you can do them—or things that people think you can’t do and then you do them. And then there are things people think you can’t do, and then you just can’t do them. But in every step, I’m just trying to become a better person, a better musician, learn from other musicians—which is crucial—and make the best music possible.
To me, my music always has to reflect my mood and what matters to me. If I’m ever sitting down and trying to make a song for the song’s purpose, then it becomes a job. But when I just sit down and try to narrate what’s going on around me, it just flows naturally and it doesn’t even feel like I’m writing lyrics. I just feel like I’m thinking on a piece of paper and putting it into rhyme and flashy lines in between. If I was to sit down and say, “Argh! You know what? Let me make a song for a party or something that’s emotional”, that’s when it starts to become tiring and you lose inspiration and things start to feel synthetic. So, it's just keeping that balance and making sure that, at all times, I’m aware that this is more than just a hobby and that I’m taking it as seriously as I can, but also that I can find my genuine interest in what I’m talking about.
And it has to be, and feel, organic.
Yeah, definitely organic.
How did you get into music?
Just by listening to it, really, and trying to replicate it. Music is a funny thing, because anyone can do it. It’s like sport but different to it at the same time, because you don’t really have to put in a crazy amount of work to get on the same platform that everyone is on. With sport, if you want to be anywhere near a football academy or scouts or the top teams, you have to put in crazy amounts of work and have the right people in your corner. But with music, you can just wake up one day and take a beat off YouTube, which is exactly what I did, and go down to a freestyle platform like a Bl@ckbox—shout out to Bl@ckbox—pay for a freestyle, upload and promote it, and if people like it they can take to you instantly and things can change just like that. That’s what’s so good about it but that’s also what’s so bad about it, because, on the flip side of seeing everybody do well, there's a crazy over-saturation and headache in music where it’s just super repetitive. So, there’s a good and a bad to it, but that’s how I personally started.
What does being from South London mean to you and how does it shape your artistry?
It’s alright. I wouldn’t say it does anything crazy; it’s just where I’m from and what’s influenced a lot of topics that I talk about. For me as a person, though, it’s just about me. The way I was brought up and the home that I was brought up in, that’s a lot more important to how someone develops as a character. The area is only a little bit of it.
Which artists would you love to collaborate with that you haven’t locked down as yet?
J Hus is really sick, Nines is really sick, Bugzy Malone, Mist—these are four people I rate really highly, because there’s something different to all of them. Those are people I want to collaborate with and may have been speaking to and haven’t mentioned, probably because they're closer to home. When I hear questions like that, it’s all about people you might not necessarily have direct contact with, and that’s why they seem more elusive. But, you know when you know someone and you can just be in the studio, it's less exciting to collaborate with them but more accessible, so you’re not thinking in the same way that you need to collaborate with my man. If you know him, you just do it. I guess it goes back to the idea of being organic. It definitely has to be organic. I’m a person who believes in being in the right place, at the right time. So if I’m meant to be around you, it will happen. If people feel your music, they’re going to talk about it, usually. Sometimes they don’t, but you’ll always run into someone if it’s meant to be.
Which of your songs would you say you're most proud of?
I’ve got a few unreleased songs that I’m really, really happy with. Funnily enough, I have a song called “Samantha" which will probably be the next one I drop. I may have tackled one of the collabs that I’ve been speaking about—I won’t say which one—but it should be interesting to see how it plays out. Hopefully it’s going to be a big song for me. When I sit down and think what song I’m crazy proud of, it would probably be that one... I’m crazy proud of “Thiago Silva” too, though, because it’s an uplifting type of grime song. You know the kind of stuff you can’t really do again? Well, you can, but you can’t get in the same mode or capture the same vibe, that's “Thiago Silva”. I created “Wanna Know” when I was 15, so seeing that come so far has been great as well. And “Panic Attack”—it’s a super in-depth, descriptive, raw and different take on knife crime, and something that is close to home.
I think it was good for me to speak on that type of subject in a way that’s not glorifying it, but is not making it seem distant. A lot of people speak about topics like that and talk down to it and preach to people but, in reality, they’re not in the scenario to be able to give an accurate description of what it’s like to live in that. To have people that are like your friends and enemies turning on you, or to have pride issues, because they’re so removed it doesn’t have the same authenticity. On the flip side, you have people just glorifying it and make it look like that’s what it’s all about. So, I have the kind of neutral standpoint and the ability to float in between the left and the right, the good and the bad, and give the darker side of reality. When I release the music video, it will become more apparent to how important that song is to me, and I think it will be a big moment for me that will capture what we’ve been working so hard on.
“my music always has to reflect my mood and what matters to me.”
On a slightly lighter note, are you a sneakerhead?
Yeah, of course.
Do you remember the first pair of trainers you bought?
I think the first I ever bought were these blue and white, high-top Air Force 1s about four or five years ago. They were like a Size 7 or 8, so they’re gone now.
What are the best pair of trainers you currently own?
I think I love all my trainers equally, but for a while, my favourite pair were the all grey flyknit Air Max 1s—they were reflective and they work with anything. The white flyknit Air Max 1s are a serious pair as well. I’ve got some blue flyknit Air Max 90s as well, and the khaki mid Air Max 90s, and the all black mid Air Max 90s. All very serious pairs. The white and red Air Max flyknits, the khaki Air Max 1 flyknits, the all black Air Max 1 flyknits, the low black Jordan 6’s.
Wow! How many pairs do you actually have?
I wouldn’t say I own that many, you know. It’s all about quality over quantity, so I own around 19-20 pairs of trainers that I can wear any day and feel confident in. I don’t have a shaky pair of trainers; if you’ve got a pair of trainers in your house that you don’t wear, they’re wasted. I’ve got no time for anything in my wardrobe that I’m not wearing or is taking up space.
What are the worst creps you’ve ever seen?
I think AJ [Tracey] had a pair. They were brown and had some kind of Scottish checker thing on them, with blue on the inside, and he called them “the outrageous creps.” [Laughs] I know who gave them to him but they were SHAM-bolic! Dear God.
Things look like they're heating up for you, but what else do you have planned for 2017?
Just to make more music, more videos, to fly to more places, perform, make new links. We’ve made a whole load of good friends in a lot of good places, so hopefully we can make many more in 2017 and have another year where we can sit back and think, “Wow! This has happened and its skyrocketing.” For me, it’s just about the experiences because they're what really matter.