Friday, March 15th, 2019

Dave – Black

It’s pronounced six-lack.


Nortey Dowuona: A deep plush row of piano chords swirl around a rumbling, thunderous set of drums as Dave patiently, carefully and craftily pulls the vivid shades of black that color his life, his music and his family.

Vikram Joseph: It is, frankly, extraordinary that BBC Radio 1 DJs had to defend their decision to play this song, because none of this should be remotely controversial. It’s gripping, raw and quietly furious, certainly, but whether diving deep into black history or examining his day-to-day experience as a black person, everything that Dave raps on “Black” feels thoughtful, considered and contextualised. It’s sombre and restrained musically, just an unfolding piano figure and a shuffling, dignified beat, which has the effect of foregrounding Dave’s poetry — if this was a Kendrick Lemar song it’d be sonically more adventurous, more abrasive, but you get the feeling Dave’s not interested in that, or at least not here. Some observations stick with me particularly; “Black is so confusing, ‘cos our culture? They in love with it; they take our features when they want and have their fun with it,” refers to the fetishisation and appropriation of black people for profit, sex and humour. Remember the white “liberals” who got upset about the idea that perhaps they don’t have the inalienable right to use gifs and memes with black people in for comedy value? Presumably, they’re the ones phoning the BBC saying that “Black” is — wait for it — racist against white people. What makes “Black” special is Dave’s ability to trace prejudice and inequality (“working twice as hard as the people you know you’re better than”) back through time, to broken nations, disrupted history and severed family trees, while grounding it in the present and in a message that is, despite everything, positive. The response to it, of course, completely validates the need for its existence.

Joshua Minsoo Kim: The lyrics are potent and ever-relevant on their own, and Dave commands attention as if he’s speaking to everyone and specifically you at the same time. Because of this, the decision to have these melodramatic strings and piano melodies drive his message home is upsetting — there is absolutely no need for heavy lifting from extralyrical elements.

Maxwell Cavaseno: UK Rap regressing to the Swiss/Klashnekoff/Black Twang era isn’t exactly a promising direction. Musically, “Black” might be one of the most bleak and pragmatic singles that’ll emerge over the year, relying on the most rudimentarily placating approach. Content-wise however, there’s no denying Dave’s done well at making something poignant and powerful to convey a positive and complex message. Perhaps not every offering should have to push boundaries or challenge expectations in the sonic realm, but sometimes it’s sad to think that impressing upon society is the only way to feel you can make an impression these days.

Thomas Inskeep: Backed by a snapping snare, a mournful string section, and a simple piano melody, Dave raps a treatise on being black on “Black,” and it’s heavy and beautiful. His lyrics are meant to be the star here, and they are; fortunately, he’s an ace rapper and delivers these lines in just the right cadence to get them across. This isn’t a fun record, but it’s a fine one, and an important one.

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: The table-setting for “Black,” all pianos and strings and vaguely martial drumbeats, gave me the wrong indication on first listen. Instrumental tropes like these, especially when employed on a song about deeper socio-political issues, tend to hint at a deep corniness — I was half expecting a soaring R&B chorus to come in whenever Dave took a pause between verses. But the reason why “Black” works is that he refrains from that obvious sentimentality. His affect is almost businesslike as his walks through the realities of his identity as a Black Brit, unpacking complex dynamics with neither an oversimplifying touch nor the self-righteousness of many a conscious MC.

Alfred Soto: A monologue with a half-interesting backup, as half-interesting as many of Solange’s similar expressions of self-worth. 

Iris Xie: This sounds like “Black Gold”‘s younger, more moody brother. The plaintive piano notes, the violin strings, and the heartfelt sincerity make me feel like I’m all the way back in the early 2000s sound-wise, and the flow is dogged to prove all of its points. The lyrics also have ace references and the lived experience permeates all throughout it. I don’t really have much else to say other than I nod in agreement, and appreciate Dave’s unapologetic statements.

Ryo Miyauchi: “Black” reminds me of Meek Mill’s post-prison run when his releases were driven intensely by something inside telling him he had to make it, not at all concerned whether it had hooks or whatever else that would make it a proper song. Not that Dave can’t rap here: he handles his chosen topic delicately, and his verses maintain depth in content without having to resort to filler lines as buffer to keep the complexity of the rhyme schemes. It is a glum listen by design, though, and the maudlin piano beat makes that intended glumness a little too clear.

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