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Dave Black

Dave’s ‘Black’ is the race history lesson the UK needs

Hun, if you feel uncomfortable with the song, then you’re why the song was made

Everybody in Britain knows a Dave, but are any of them as magnificent as the artist simultaneously known as Santan Dave and by the mononym, Dave?

The Brixton-born rapper shared “Black” just a few days ago, but once the anthemic track and its accompanying video dropped, it quickly picked up a lot of momentum online, as listeners connected with its pertinent themes. The visual has cameos from big UK names like Stormzy, the frequently Daily Mail-maligned footballer Raheem Sterling, and designer Ozwald Boateng. In the song, Dave shouts out to the diversity of experience within the word ‘black’ when he raps: “black ain’t just a single fuckin’ colour, man there’s shades to it”.

Despite the affirming nature of the song, Radio 1 DJs like Annie Mac have said that they’ve received a lot of negative comments from listeners after playing it. She defended Dave on Twitter yesterday, February 26, saying the song was “crucial”. “Let me get this straight, if you are genuinely offended by a man talking about the colour of his skin and how it has shaped his identity then that is a problem for you,” she wrote. 

It’s no wonder there has been such a visceral reaction to the track in a country hell-bent on sweeping race under the carpet. The lyrics are essentially the history lesson your school never bothered to give you – the UK education system encourages us to grow up not seeing race at all, nor seeing how instrumental Britain was in how the current state of black oppression even came to be.

In “Black”, Dave highlights that even the current names of the African countries hint at colonial trade routes and what the areas were once exploited for: Ivory Coast, Gold Coast, Grain Coast. He raps: “But most importantly to show how deep all this pain goes/ West Africa, Benin, they called it slave coast.” At other points, he talks about African Americans’ severed heritage and family trees, and the news cycle’s unhealthy appetite for black villains (“the blacker the berry the sweeter the juice / A kid dies, the blacker the killer, the sweeter the news”).

Several factors in the current climate in the UK make this ode to the African diaspora vital (and an antidote to unhelpful diaspora wars). The UK’s Home Office continues to catapult black people out of the country with alarming ease on charter flights bound for Africa and the Caribbean. Meanwhile, the Metropolitan Police have unleashed a war on black rap by sentencing artists Skengdo and AM for simply performing their music. Even the incarceration of Dave’s frequent collaborator J Hus is a damning indictment of our system. Britain has its own issues with the mass incarceration of black people. Proportionally, black people are more likely to end up in our jail system than African Americans are in the US, according to a recent David Lammy report. We needed someone in the burgeoning UK rap scene to connect the dots, and lay these experiences bare for its growing audience.

While some are quick to dismiss the backlash to Dave’s song as out of touch middle-Englanders, it’s truly indicative of the nation’s deeply ingrained attitudes to blackness, which Dave highlights precisely in the song itself: “Loud in our laughter, silent in our sufferin’”.

Watch the thought-provoking and beautifully directed video below.