This one is something special. In a week where social media has trended it’s binary heart out for Eminem calling out Trump, ‘Question Time’ and it’s staggeringly on point message to our government seriously needs to be heard.
For an artist not yet out of his teens, Streatham’s humbly named Dave has deservedly experienced something of a meteoric rise. Defying category by effortlessly hopping over the blurred lines between grime, hip hop and UK rap from tune to tune in a manner that’s both accessible and eloquent, the young lyricist has already gained a level of exposure and critical acclaim that’s impressive.
With big money clearly having noticed that Santan Dave is a bankable commodity (the MC’s Nike sponsorship is old news at this point), it’d be easy to imagine that the trappings of industry attention would already be well on their way to diluting the ethic in his craft and turning another talented young creative into a product. The rapper’s independent status to date has been a reassuring signal that this might not end up being the case. If this latest offering is symptomatic though, then it may be safe to rest assured Dave is unlikely to be letting anything but increasingly conscious principles define his output.
While social and political insight have been features that have frequently surfaced in the South London MC’s online bars and releases, it’s not unfair to say that vibe has been king in his work so far. This is nothing to hate on and something that has undeniably earnt the rapper the platform that he now holds. With the recent controversy over NFL players taking knees, the question of whether having a platform comes with a responsibility to use it to raise awareness and stand up to power has been a subject of renewed debate. It seems Dave has decided where he stands on that question.
Enter Question Time. The first single teasing his ‘Game Over’ EP, sees Dave adopting a world-weary mantle way beyond his meagre years. There’s nothing pseudo politically ‘fuck the system’ about this appeal to our leaders and their sleeping populace. It’d be difficult to reference a piece of UK hip hop since that legendary Akala Fire in the Booth that created such an intelligent, all-encompassing, broad picture of the relation between politics and current social injustice spanning the personal to the global.
Stringing together as many of the flashpoint issues for todays disillusioned section of society as it would be possible to fit into 7 minutes, Question Time is part rap, part dissertation. Dave’s antithesis to manifesto promises covers (to name a few) the hypocrisy of military interventionism in the Middle East, the national debt, corporate manslaughter, Brexit, privatisation of the NHS and deaths at the hands of the police. For each, Dave illustrates the heart wrenching context of the human angle to political manoeuvres. Contrasted to the inhumanity of Theresa Maybot, who much of the song is addressed to, reality on the ground paints a bitter picture.
The suffering Dave chronicles in the personal stories of Grenfell victims, workers and patients in a crumbling healthcare system and civilian casualties from Syria to Palestine is phrased with the indignation reminiscent of watching angry activists or everyday people laying into politicians on the all too rare occasions when they actually meet face to face. At the same time, the levelheadedness with which he ties the realities of social harm to the decisions of the political elite, has a persistent journalistic weight that you can sense would uncomfortably hold any party leader to account on Newsnight.
As Dave chooses finally to address Corbyn, the man who the counter culture forming much of his fanbase have fully got behind, his final message is wisely measured. While his cynicism towards the promises of politicians in general calls on Corbyn to prove he’s more than talk, his final point to the listener is anti-apathy. As someone who would have been eligible to vote for the first time at the last election, Dave’s final statement (without fully endorsing Corbyn) is pro-vote, pro-protest and pro-involvement. Historically, romanticism of new leaders (e.g Blair, Obama) by pop cultural figures has been a mixed blessing. With this in mind, maybe it’s fitting that the brand of hope espoused by Dave with Question Time is one grounded in realism that calls for a heavier level of engagement with our leaders to hold them to their word.