As much as I love the occasional dose of turn-up tracks and ignorant shit, there’s nothing greater in hip-hop than some good, old-fashioned storytelling.
Slick Rick’s “Children’s Story” immediately comes to mind as one of the oldest examples of vivid hip-hop storytelling. In more recent times, artists such as Kendrick Lamar and Vince Staples excel at vivid storytelling that transports the listener right in between the bars, giving them a front row seat to tales of crime and drama.
The last hip-hop anecdote I heard that completely stopped me in my tracks was Saba’s “PROM / KING,” which was easily one of 2018’s best songs; and it appears that London rapper Dave may have already laid claim to 2019 with the song “Lesley,” a cut from his excellent debut album Psychodrama (which dropped earlier this month), as well as an early Song Of The Year candidate.
In an interview with the Observer, Dave described the song as “a story about someone suffering a complete loss of character by being with someone that isn’t good for them.” Dave begins by introducing the character of Lesley, a girl who he met on the subway; since they ride the same train at the exact same time every day, they begin to spark up a conversation.
From there, details begin to divulge — Lesley, a lost soul with a sweet heart, is in an abusive relationship with a man named Jason — who eventually abandons her and leaves her in financial difficulty– but her friend Hannah, who empathizes with her abuse, looks after her. Lesley vents to Dave about her money issues and reveals that she is four-months pregnant with Jason’s child; Dave tries to reassure her that she’s been granted a valuable gift, and that her life still has value, which inspires her to try reconciling with Jason.
From there, the story unfolds into a tale of infidelity, violence and betrayal, as Dave relays Lesley’s emotional despair and physical assault at the hands of the antagonist in chilling detail. It’s hard to do the song real justice by merely describing it; one really must dive in to experience the true beauty of this song.
And beyond simply creating a masterful, vivid piece of hip-hop literature, Dave’s song was made specifically for the purpose of encouraging victims of abuse to seek help. In the last verse, he raps, “You see this time that I’m taking out to tell you the story is more than a song or track; it’s a message to a woman with a toxic man. I’m begging you to get support if you’re lost or trapped.”
Listen to “Lesley” and enjoy Dave’s album Psychodrama below.