Mercury Prize-winner Dave: Five things you need to know

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Jo Hale

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The star dedicated his Mercury Prize to his family

Streatham-born rapper Dave has won the 2019 Mercury Prize for his intimate and revealing debut album Psychodrama.

The 21-year-old hugged his mother before walking on stage to collect the award, saying he was “lost for words”.

Later, after gathering his thoughts, he paid tribute to the “exceptional musicians” he’d been nominated alongside.

Although Psychodrama is his debut album, it’s been a long road to the Mercury Prize for the classically-trained musician.

Here are five things you might not know about rap’s biggest new star.

1) He’s been at this for ages

Dave 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 next 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, where Dave plays drug dealer Modie.

Drake later revealed he’d discovered the South London MC by absent-mindedly browsing YouTube and stumbling across a playlist called “best new songs from London”.

2) He listens to a lot of film soundtracks

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 Ray and Pink Floyd are amazing,” he told Vice in 2016.

“I like soundtracks. I love Hanz Zimmer, the score for the Dark Knight Rises is one of my favourites. I also like Man Of Steel, Inception, Interstellar, Braveheart, Transformers; Steve Jablovski 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

In the middle of an already-legendary Glastonbury set, 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?”

But when Dave singled out a reveller who was wearing a Paris-Saint Germain football strip with Silva on the back, to perform with him on the 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 where 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

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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.”

At the time of writing, he hadn’t been able to inform his brother about the Mercury Prize, but said it was only a matter of time.

“One visit, one phone call. That’s all it takes to share the emotions.”

5) His mum didn’t approve of his career choices… until now

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Media captionThe star brought his mum on stage as he won the 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 on Thursday as he picked up his Mercury Prize.

“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.”

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