‘Big Man But I’m Shy’ points to the expectations that weigh on men like Dave, who stands at 6' 2”, and the internal struggle of expressing overt vulnerability while possessing a stature that suggests otherwise. “You get this, especially with Black men,” he explains. “You tend to compensate for that. But people are naturally scared of you.” A track that opens with the earnest, “Type out the message / Read it back / Nah, that sounds too thirsty,” he aptly captures the anxiety that comes with putting yourself out there. The fear of rejection or a bruised ego is laid bare in this track, tackling the emotions associated with making these kinds of decisions, rather than placing blame on women for negative dating outcomes.
Masculinity is a hot topic right now, with a sharp rise in young men falling prey to ill intentioned external forces, like media personality and suspected sex trafficker Andrew Tate. It’s something Dave has witnessed first-hand with men in his wider circles. “These kinds of guys that are unsure about themselves, they don't really have a sense of identity,” he argues. “My youngest brother has a lot of friends who subscribed to the Andrew Tate stuff. And some have gone too far.” On Tate himself however, while acknowledging the real-life effects of his output and shock tactics, Dave sees a simplistic message packaged up in a fake, aspirational lifestyle. “It’s Sesame Street-level self help,” he says bluntly. “You can find the actual information anywhere.”
Now in his thirties, Dave isn’t exactly part of Tate’s target demographic, but the spirit of adolescence is a prevalent theme throughout his compilation. He reminisces about his youth in a time that predates DM slides, trying to chat up girls in Stratford Mall with nothing but shrewd wordplay and his Born To Do It-era Craig David goatee. “You had thirty seconds to do your thing,” he chuckles. “It was like a job interview or The X Factor.”
Despite being mild mannered and deeming himself quite shy, there’s a certain level of confidence Dave possesses that we both recognise is, in part, due to his education. He attended the East London independent school, Bancroft’s, on a government-assisted place for low income families. It’s an Arthur Blomfield designed redbrick institution with leafy fields, rugby pitches and esteemed alumni including actor Alan Davies, writer Hari Kunzru - and me. It was an environment that wasn’t distinct from many other independent schools in fostering a belief that we live in a meritocracy and that our achievements were as impressive as those who didn’t have access to the same level of resources as us. “It was all a lie, [my peers] weren't that capable,” he says. “It was just a good level of education and it was cool to do well, and [teachers] just told you that you were the best, which I rate to an extent but it wasn’t a good environment”. Being one of few Black students and growing facial hair from an early age, Dave admits some teachers were “scared” of him, not affording him the same innocence as his white peers, ascribing “manhood” to someone who was effectively still a child.
Dave notes the white patriarchal undercurrent that flowed throughout the school, while other non-white pupils subscribed to the “model minority” trope, despite not fully assimilating. His time there is an experience he is still unpacking, all these years later, and part of the reason why he is so open and unfiltered in his music. There were some bright spots however, with a visit from writer and poet Benjamin Zephaniah still a vivid memory. “I remember speaking to him for ages afterwards about my music and he was like ‘you’ve started to find your voice’.” In finding and using that same voice on this latest project, Dave is questioning what it really means to be a man in today’s society. Whether it’s your education or the content that you’re consuming, the most radical act is to be all up in your feelings.