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Brit Award winner Dave: Seven things you need to know

By Mark Savage
BBC music reporter

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  • Mercury Prize
image copyrightJohn Marshall
image captionBillie Eilish and Finneas O'Connell presented Dave with the album of the year Brit Award

After winning album of the year and stealing the show with his performance at the Brit Awards on Tuesday, south London rapper Dave has announced himself as a star.

His win at the ceremony, for his intimate and revealing album Psychodrama, came moments after he had called Prime Minister Boris Johnson "a real racist" during his live performance of the single Black.

Psychodrama has become only the second album to win both the Mercury Prize and the Brit Award for album of the year (the other being the Arctic Monkeys' debut).

Although it is Dave's first album, the classically-trained musician has had a long road to Brits and Mercury success.

Here are seven things you might not know about British rap's biggest new talent.

1) He's been at this for ages

image copyrightBL@CKBOX/YouTube

Dave, real name David Omoregie, made his debut in May 2015 with an attention-grabbing freestyle on the YouTube channel Bl@ckbox.

Hard-hitting, honest and vulnerable, it had all the hallmarks of his future hits. But he bided his time before committing to an album - releasing 11 singles and two EPs over the subsequent four years.

Along the way he caught the attention of rap superstar Drake, who jumped on the remix for Wanna Know. Dave later featured on Drake's More Life mixtape, and the two collaborated on the Netflix drama Top Boy, in which Dave plays drug dealer Modie.

Drake later revealed he'd discovered the Streatham-born MC by absentmindedly browsing YouTube and stumbling across a playlist called "best new songs from London".

2) He listens to a lot of film soundtracks

image copyrightSantan Dave / YouTube

British rap can be myopic - focusing on the same minor-key aesthetics, clipped beats and self-aggrandising lyrics. Dave, a classically-trained pianist (he passed his grade seven exam years ago), looks further afield.

"I've always had a different ear for music. I really enjoy Lana Del Rey, and Pink Floyd are amazing," he told Vice in 2016.

"I like soundtracks. I love Hans Zimmer, the score for The Dark Knight Rises is one of my favourites. I also like Man of Steel, Inception, Interstellar, Braveheart, Transformers - Steve Jablonsky with Arrival to Earth. Schindler's List too, that's beautiful.

"I've always listened to different styles of music to make sure I'm balanced. I feel like if you only listen to your type of music you can never go outside of it."

3) His Glastonbury set went viral

image copyrightBBC Music

In the middle of an already legendary Glastonbury set in 2019, Dave asked for some help from the audience.

"I got this track Thiago Silva," he declared. "Who is sober enough to sing these lyrics along with me?"

When Dave singled out a reveller wearing a Paris Saint-Germain football strip with Silva's name on the back to join him on stage, he had no idea what was coming.

It turned out 15-year-old Alex Mann did know all the lyrics to Thiago Silva. He knew them like Elton John knows the number of his florist. And instead of freezing like a rabbit in the headlights, he breezed through the song like he'd written it himself.

It was a wonderful moment - a rare occasion when a bit of throwaway crowd interaction becomes a you-won't-believe-what-happened highlight - and it duly went viral.

Mann later scored a record deal and released a debut single, What Ya Kno Bout That Bro?

4) He dedicated the Mercury Prize to his incarcerated brother

image copyrightGetty Images

Dave's older brother Christopher is currently serving a life sentence for his part in a fatal stabbing in London's Victoria Station in 2010.

On his album, Dave describes Christopher as "the only person I ever idolised" and reveals how appalled and let down he felt, rapping: "Never had a father and I needed you to be a figure."

Dave told the BBC the record had been inspired by the therapy his brother is receiving in prison - also known as Psychodrama - in which offenders role-play events from their past to help with rehabilitation.

"This is all his story. His Psychodrama inspired this," he explained. "This album's always been dedicated to him, so to see it translate is something I can't put into words."

But the victim's mother told Sky News it was "disgusting" that Dave had received an award for an album including a song featuring the voice of one of her son's killers. "In this sad society now, killers are seen as heroes," she said.

5) Dave's mum didn't approve of his career choices

media captionDave brought his mum on stage as he won the 2019 Mercury prize

Dave was still a student when his first tracks exploded on YouTube - so his mum didn't appreciate him cancelling a degree in law to pursue music.

"I was due to start last September - my mum really wanted me to do it," he told The Fader in 2017.

"When it gets to that time to tell your mum that you're not going to university, which has been her grand plan for you for the last 18 years, all of a sudden 700,000 YouTube views mean absolutely nothing.

"That's not a currency she recognises."

But she was won around eventually, joining her youngest son on stage at the Hammersmith Apollo as he picked up his Mercury Prize last September.

"She's given me my life. I literally owe everything to her and God," he told the BBC backstage. "So to have her here, and to have her experience this, is surreal."

Mind you, they hadn't spoken about the prize at all...

"She's just been screaming. She's gone crazy," he said, beaming with pride. "It's not easy to make your mum feel like she's got something to scream and shout about."

6) His track Black has caused controversy

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionCo-writer and producer Fraser T Smith joined Dave on a double piano to perform Black at the Brits

The lead single off the album focuses on the perception of black people in Britain.

"Black is pain, black is joy, black is evident," he raps. "It's working twice as hard as the people you know you're better than."

When it was played on BBC Radio 1, the song provoked complaints from a small minority of listeners who said it was "racist against white people".

DJ Annie Mac spoke in defence of the song, saying: "If you are genuinely offended by the idea of a man talking about the colour of his skin and how it has shaped his identity, then that is a problem for you."

For his mesmerising performance at Tuesday's Brits, he added a new verse describing Mr Johnson as racist, criticising the government response to the Grenfell Tower fire, calling for support for the Windrush generation, and attacking tabloid coverage of Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex.

"That performance has been on my mind for months now," he told Radio 1's Newsbeat after coming off stage. "I've been rehearsing it for about six weeks, but I said what I needed to say and I'm happy."

But Home Secretary Priti Patel told BBC Breakfast: "I don't know how much [Dave] knows about the prime minister and whether he actually has met the prime minister or knows the prime minister. I know Boris Johnson very well. No way is he a racist."

7) It wasn't his first award-winning political statement

image copyrightPA Media
image captionDave and Smith won best contemporary song at the 2018 Ivor Novello Awards

Before recording and releasing his number one debut, Dave's earlier political anthem, Question Time, won a top prize at the highly-respected Ivor Novello songwriting awards in 2018.

The seven-minute track, which raged about everything from Grenfell Tower to Syria and the NHS, was named best contemporary song at the ceremony.

In it he vented his anger and frustration at why the government spends so much on defence instead of wages for nurses like his mum, and about how "terrified" former prime minister Theresa May dealt with Grenfell.

Billy Bragg, picking up the outstanding contribution award, said: "It's a great privilege to win in the same year as Dave for something so political and powerful. It really fired up my spirit somewhat."

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