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A STREATHAM STORY

Kayo Chingonyi Decodes ‘Black’ from Dave’s Brit Award-Winning Album ‘PSYCHODRAMA’

May 11, 2021

For the past several years, Spotify Original podcast DISSECT has delved deep into impactful albums, including Frank Ocean’s Blonde, Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, Beyoncé’s Lemonade, and more. The show crossed the pond this April and premiered in the U.K. as Decode. The new podcast features the same track-by-track analysis and insightful commentary, but with notable albums coming out of the U.K.—starting with rapper Dave’s Brit and Mercury Award-winning 2019 album PSYCHODRAMA

Tune in as Zambian-British author Kayo Chingonyi dives into an in-depth exploration of the lyrical metaphors embedded throughout Dave’s breathtaking debut album. With each song, he unpacks the modern British Black experience as Dave relates it to criminal justice, race, poverty, sexuality, toxic masculinity, and mental health stigma. 

Kayo devotes one episode to “Black” and, in particular, Dave’s performance of the track at the Brit Awards in February 2020. Dave’s live rendition included new, politically charged verses that took the audience by surprise, ignited a conversation about racism in the U.K., and resonated with fans: The track saw an 1,889% increase in streams on Spotify after the performance. 

For the Record asked Kayo to reflect on what makes Decode unique to the UK, as well as the impact of Dave’s salient and raw rendition of “Black.”

Decode is a new podcast, but takes its shape after Spotify’s successful DISSECT show in the U.S. What parts of the podcast are you keeping close to the original model?

DISSECT really honours musical creativity, meeting each album with curiosity and passion. With Decode, we’ve kept that sense of reverence and also that passion, that connection to music as a universal language that can travel to all corners of the world, lodging itself in the hearts and minds of listeners. Both shows ask questions about that magical process of communion between artist, song, and listener.

How are you making it your own? How does your own background as a poet, lyricist, and vocalist shape this?

As a writer all that I ever try to do is bring out the latent music in language, in words. As an emcee of Dave’s stripe, that’s a central concern, too. He’s interested not just in what words mean but how that meaning is enacted by their sound. As far as making it my own, I think it’s important to make the connection to Dave’s work as a writer. There’s maybe an inside perspective I can give as someone who has been writing and spitting lyrics since my early teens. I recognise the world Dave describes.

Why is it important for the U.K. to have a version of this show for itself?

The U.K. is a centre of global musical culture. There are many, of course, but I think the U.K.’s role has been downplayed in recent history. Things are starting to shift, and as they do, it’s important to look at musical culture from a global perspective. Black music especially is a global sound. It has always been, because our music travels with us.

What makes PSYCHODRAMA by Dave worthy of “decoding” first?

PSYCHODRAMA is a balance of compositional and lyrical excellence. It’s not just music as entertainment, although you can shock out to it. The album honours the arcane roots of music as a technology, a kind of spiritual communication across distances of culture and space. It’s an album that I think will go on to define our times.

Last week you discussed the track “Black,” which had a moment that stood alone during the Brits last year—it even has its own Genius lyrics page. What did that rendition, at that event, signify?

Adding that verse really showed Dave’s ability to respond to the times and also the way a track like “Black” will, I’m sad to say, always be resonant in a society like ours, built on what it is built on. That was a state of the nation moment at the Brits, an opportunity to step from behind the veil of entertainment that Dave took and ran with. It was the throwing down of a gauntlet—to government, to listeners, to fellow artists.

What conversation are you hoping to spark or continue from the 2020 Brits performance to this podcast episode?

I want to engage people in the layers of history that come together to shape our present moment. There is so much we could be asking questions about and, above all, I think PSYCHODRAMA invites its listeners to keep asking these questions. That’s what I would like people to take from the podcast—this desire to ask.

What album are you looking forward to decoding next?

So many! I’m keen to look at older albums. Look How Long by Loose Ends, Blue Lines by Massive Attack, Timeless by Goldie, or Dummy by Portishead, maybe. In terms of recent albums, Burial’s Untrue made me shed tears the first time I listened to it so it’s high on my list.

Ahead of the 2021 Brits, tune in to the “Black” episode of Decode below.