Mercury prize 2019: rapper Dave wins for 'exceptional' Psychodrama

The south London artist wins the £25,000 prize for an album the Guardian hailed as ‘fearless and incisive’

Dave has won the 2019 Hyundai Mercury prize for his debut album, Psychodrama. Announcing the winner, judge Annie Mac said the album “showed remarkable levels of musicianship, true artistry, courage, honesty. And it is simply exceptional.”

Dave hugged his mother before walking on stage to collect the award. Wearing a neon tracksuit, he covered his mouth with his hand and looked shocked. He told the room that he was lost for words and invited his mother up to stand next to him. He thanked the “exceptional musicians” who performed alongside him tonight, namechecking fellow nominees Little Simz, Slowthai and Nao.

He continued by paying tribute to his brother Christopher, who is serving a life sentence for his involvement in the killing of Sofyen Belamouadden: “This is your story, and even though you can’t be here, I know you’re watching this bro, and I’m so grateful, thank you so much.”

Speaking after the ceremony, he added: “This is surreal. It is a massive honour and I am glad that I’ve been able to repay the faith that a lot of people have put in me … I have good days and bad days, but you see the team around me, my friends, my family, they kept me strong through this process.”

Dave was presented with the £25,000 prize at the Eventim Apollo in Hammersmith, London. His album Psychodrama is framed as a therapy session, and covers his brother’s incarceration, prison reform and the diversity of the black experience.

Psychodrama was one of a number of nominated albums that commented on life as a young black Briton today, alongside Slowthai’s Nothing Great About Britain and Little Simz’s Grey Area. Speaking before the ceremony, Little Simz said she thought there was still “a ways to go” before their messages reached the mainstream. “But I think we’re getting there,” she said. “Even outside of music, like [TV series] Top Boy, that represents something that is bigger than ourselves and that will hopefully ignite change and make people really aware of and understand issues in gang culture and London. I feel like everyone’s on the same mission.”

Slowthai on the red carpet at the awards.
Slowthai on the red carpet at the awards. Photograph: Jo Hale/Redferns

Slowthai was the bookmakers’ favourite to win the prize, with odds of 9/4 in the hours leading up to the ceremony. He was followed by Idles and Dave (both at 4/1).

The 28th edition of the award was hailed by critics as its most political in years. “It’s never seemed quite so engaged with and informed by current events,” wrote Guardian music critic Alexis Petridis when the shortlist was announced in July.

Slowthai performed wearing a T-shirt that read “Fuck Boris”, spelled out in letters made up of illustrations of the prime minister’s naked body. He repeated the phrase throughout his performance, which ended with him pulling a rubber model of Johnson’s decapitated head out of a rucksack and shouting: “Fuck Boris Johnson, fuck everything, and there’s nothing great about Britain.” By the end of his performance, the T-shirt design was available to buy through his website.

Raising issues … Foals make a statement.
Raising issues … Foals make a statement. Photograph: Jo Hale/Redferns

Nominee Yannis Philippakis, of Oxford band Foals, told the Guardian on the red carpet: “There’s a genuine thrust of more political music as a response to the current climate, whether it’s to do with British social issues or more of a general feeling that we’re entering into more of a dystopia.”

Cassie Kinoshi, of 10-piece jazz group Seed Ensemble, said that she hoped the group’s debut album, Driftglass, highlighted the British political issues that she felt “needs to be continually discussed and highlighted. The track Wake is there to make sure that we continue to keep Grenfell at the forefront of people’s minds. And the first track on there, The Darkies, is about what it means to exist as a black British person in society where you’re treated as an other.”

“I think there are lots of different types of politics in the shortlist,” Jeff Smith told the Guardian earlier this week. The head of music for BBC Radio 2 and 6 Music has judged the awards for nine years. “There’s the politics of austerity, climate change, urban decay, the politics of the heart and the mind. It’s interesting to see how they reflect life for modern British people and the conditions they’ve found themselves in over this last year.”

Dave performing at the ceremony.
‘Courage and honesty’ … Dave performing at the ceremony. Photograph: Ian West/PA

The prize is decided on the night by a panel of judges, which this year consisted of musicians Stormzy, Gaz Coombes of Supergrass, Jamie Cullum and Jorja Smith, broadcasters Annie Mac, Clara Amfo and Danielle Perry, radio directors Jeff Smith and Mike Walsh, and journalists Phil Alexander, Tshepo Mokoena and Will Hodgkinson.

Music Week reported that the Mercury shortlist had resulted in the traditional sales spike for the nominated artists: Seed Ensemble saw the biggest increase in sales, with 85%, although their total number of albums sold is still under 1,000 copies. Black Midi saw 49% sales growth; Slowthai 31%, Cate Le Bon 28.7%, Little Simz and Fontaines DC 21%, Dave 14.5%, Foals 8.7%, Nao 8.2% and Idles 7.6%. The 1975’s A Brief History Into Online Relationships is the list’s biggest seller, at 148,000 to date.

This year’s full list of nominees was: Anna Calvi (for her album Hunter); Black Midi (Schlagenheim); Cate Le Bon (Reward); Dave (Psychodrama); Foals (Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Pt1); Fontaines DC (Dogrel); Idles (Joy As an Act of Resistance); Little Simz (Grey Area); Nao (Saturn); SEED Ensemble (Driftglass); Slowthai (Nothing Great About Britain); the 1975 (A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships).


Laura Snapes

The GuardianTramp

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