Santan Dave – Psychodrama: Environment, Race and Depression
“Used to sit down in a room all day and think to myself, ‘what the fuck am I doing wrong?’/Sorrow’s a bitch, I’m glad that she left, I’m moving on…Made so many wrong decisions/’Til I fell in love with optimism”.
“If you’re thinking ‘bout doing it/Suicide doesn’t stop the pain, you’re only moving it/Lives that you’re ruining/Thoughts of a world without you in it.”
Where’s the Meaning?
A form of psychotherapy in which patients act out events from their past.
A play, film, novel, [or album] in which psychological elements are the main interest
The introspection found on Dave’s 2019 album Psychodrama may come as a surprise to those who are most familiar of him from his hit singles “No Words” and “Funky Friday”, the latter of which peaked at number 1 on the UK charts. Those more familiar with Dave will know that his release history is steeped in self-analysis and honest autobiographical content, showcased on his EP’s Six Paths and Game Over, as well as his SBTV Warm Up Session that he performed at just 17 years old. Whether you are new to Dave or have followed his journey from humble beginnings, Psychodrama draws the listener in to learn something new, both about Dave and the environment that created him.
The opening track “Psycho” introduces Dave’s therapist to the listener, through which the albums themes are presented, “I’m here with David/This is our first session/We’re just gonna talk about your background/Where you’re from, any issues you’ve been dealing with/So, where should we start?” A question that begets another question, “Stop all the pain/How do you stop all the pain, huh?” The tone is agonizing and genuine as the drums clap and rumble like thunder, a roaring sound that Dave delivers personal truths over, “My teacher used to say I need counseling/Couldn’t stop asking me, ‘what do you feel?’/There’s so many old scars that they wanna reveal”. The inner self-inspection continues until the beat switches tone in the second half of the song where Dave begins to think on the importance of outward validation and ego through his music, “But what’s the point in me being the best if no one knows it?”
Dave then switches the beat again bringing us back from the ego to the darker self in an easy transition that any who have suffered manic episodes or rapid mood swings will recognize well, “Brother I’m a careful, humble, reckless, arrogant, extravagant/Nigga probably battlin’ with manic depression/Man, I think I’m going mad again/It’s like I’m happy for a second then I’m sad again”, it is here that the gentle piano reveals itself as it will do so throughout the album, we begin to understand the soft undertone that needs to heal.
Dave’s questioning of himself is steeped in attempts to understand his upbringing and environment, as well as how much of ‘Dave’ is his surroundings. The lead single “Streatham” casually guides the listener into the normalization of crime and drugs that for many puts school on the backburner, “I grew up in Streatham/Teachers was givin’ man tests/Same time the mandem were givin’ out testers”, the experiences of growing up in South London are at times essential to Dave’s identity, stating his credentials on “Screwface Capital”, “I shed tears when my niggas got sentenced/I spent years with my niggas in Streatham”.
Black spaces are explored in the aptly titled tracks “Black” and “Environment”. In “Environment” Dave explores similar ideas to that found in the hook of “Streatham” - that the city borough environment leads people into trouble “Black is growin’ up around the barbershop/Mummy sayin’, ‘Stay away from trouble you’re in yard a lot’”.
Whilst situated at opposing ends of the album, “Black” and “Environment” compliment one another well. Intentional or not, it suggests a complex entwining of identity and conditioning.
“Environment” also contains matter-of-fact reminders that the past still runs deep in sense of self, “Black is namin’ your countries on what they trade most/Coast of Ivory, Gold Coast, and the Grain Coast, But most importantly to show how deep all this pain goes/West Africa, Benin, they called it slave coast”, as well as the sense of connection to present injustice, “Black is watchin’ child soldiers gettin’ killed by other children/Feelin’ sick, like, ‘Oh shit, this could have happened to me’”. In the latter Dave tackles the mask of masculinity, “You see our gold chains and our flashy cars/I see a lack of self-worth and I see battle scars/He has to be with twenty man when he wears jewelry/And you see it as gangster, I see it as insecurity”. There is a clear effort to deconstruct the reasons behind the posturing, as well as to reveal the realities of the lifestyle, “Champagne bottles and all the screaming girls/It’s ironic how you’ll never hear a scream for help/Fuckin’ hell, why do you think we’re going through the same thing?/Depression when you make it, the pressure and the hatred”.
The closing track “Drama” is Dave’s attempt to remedy his past and understand his mental state. Repeatedly mentioning his brother’s life sentence and his absent father helps him comprehend his past inner turmoil, “I learn over time, separation issues I describe/Are probably the reasons I struggle feeling anything”. Whilst bars such as “I tell my circle, the future’s ours, we’re shaping it/The past is just the reason I had came to this”, and “I was living on the edge like a house on a cliff/But now I’m living in the present like my house was a gift”, present a matured Dave that is ready to put his past behind, as is the goal for many when they enter therapy. Ultimately, Psychodrama’s message is one of overcoming environment, trauma and negativity.
The albums melodic break “Voices” that sits between the bar heavy “Lesley” and “Drama” reveals Dave’s inner voices of heartbreak, suffering, pain and envy. The central message there being that they aren’t the voices to listen to, rather it is suggested that one looks for hope: “Used to sit down in a room all day and think to myself, ‘what the fuck am I doing wrong?’/Sorrow’s a bitch, I’m glad that she left, I’m moving on…Made so many wrong decisions/’Til I fell in love with optimism”. And for those for whom optimism is difficult to find in the face of heavy depression, it is a return to the opening track of the album where Dave’s message to fight is the strongest, “If you’re thinking ‘bout doing it/Suicide doesn’t stop the pain, you’re only moving it/Lives that you’re ruining/Thoughts of a world without you in it”, following with the understanding that troubled surroundings need not create a troubled individual, “I aint psycho but my life is”.
How does our environment and upbringing affect our mental health? How can we overcome the trauma of the past?
How does music act as a means of catharsis for both the artist and listener? Can we learn and heal through others art?
How much of our ‘self’ is created by our upbringing? How is class and race interlinked to mental health and how can we appreciate the struggles of those with different experiences to ourselves?
MentalHealth.org is a “one-stop access to mental health”, they offer a variety of educational tools across the site. Learn more here about how different ethnic groups undergo different rates and experiences of mental health problems, reflected through the “different cultural and socio-economic contexts and culturally appropriate treatments.”
Mind is a UK based organization that offers help through self-referral for those suffering mental health issues, they “provide advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem [and] campaign to improve services, raise awareness and promote understanding”.