The hype surrounding Dave, aka Santan Dave, has been bubbling away under the mainstream surface for some time now. Alongside UK grime stalwart AJ Tracey, he has released a steady stream of high-quality singles over the past year, each slightly different from his 2016 breakout EP Six Paths. A co-sign from Drake, adverts with Foot Locker and appearances on Later with Jools Holland all set the foundation for his assault on the mainstream UK rap throne. This makes his latest EP, Game Over, the final critical piece of the puzzle. It is a triumphant body of work that showcases Dave’s enviable rap talent and sharp song-writing, which now clearly illuminate his inevitable ascension to the very top.
Dave has expanded his sound beyond the grime stylings that characterised his earlier work, and these seven tracks encompass a variety of musical stylings, lyrical themes and vocal delivery. The EP starts with the two more aggressive songs in the collection, ‘Game Over’ and ‘Question Time’, that serve as a ten-minute reminder of Dave’s unrivalled lyrical talents. The latter track, released in October to an online furore, is an incendiary political anthem. Dave questions politicians’ attitudes to the struggling NHS, the PM’s “ridiculous” reaction to the Grenfell Tower disaster and David Cameron’s abrupt departure after the Brexit referendum. This politically-charged anthem seems completely appropriate coming from 18-year old Dave, acting as a voice for his ignored generation. His talents and maturity reach beyond his years, and are showcased with such authenticity and individuality that the message left is even more pertinent.
This aggressive, accusatory mood is gradually replaced by something more grandiose and celebratory; ‘Calling Me Out’, and the radio-ready single ‘No Words’ with UK afrobeat artist Mostack, present Dave with dancehall-inspired rhythms to muse over. The results are, while in the same assured tone of the earlier tracks, brilliant. The quality put into every aspect of these songs, whether the production, lyrics or flow of words across each skittered beat, alludes to Dave’s search for perfection. No body of work, from an artist this young in their life and musical career, feels so well-produced and considered. The punchlines that brought Dave older fans are still here in abundance, and their intricate wordplay will leave the listener listening for references they had missed in earlier listens. These further accentuate the quality and craft found across all of the tracks.
Dave is not only a jack of all trades, but a master of them
Not only is Dave an accomplished rapper and producer, but also a talented piano player. He wrote and produced the entirety of ‘How I Met My Ex’, the EP’s standout track. Arpeggio piano chords float delicately behind Dave in full story-telling persona, revealing the insecurities even the most confident-looking men wrestle with when starting out a relationship. The lyricism resembles the narrative flow of fellow Londoner George the Poet, and is captivating. Perhaps this is the best example of Dave’s versatility; he can swap from sombre confessionals, to dancehall party anthems, to skittering grime tracks, without sounding remotely out of his depth. This confidence, outright skill and attention to detail throughout this EP seems to point the Streatham rapper in only one direction: upward. For Dave is not only a jack of all trades, but a master of them.