Dave’s masterpiece is one to be looked at as a classic for years to come. We take a deep dive into the track and dissect it verse by verse.
Dave has had an incredible start to his career, beginning with the release of “Thiago Silva” featuring AJ Tracey, another up-and-coming rapper. Currently, the song sits at around 157 million streams on Spotify, making it one of his highest-streamed songs. Only four months later, Dave would release his first EP, Six Paths which started Dave’s long song trend, the longest being “71 / End Credits” at 6 minutes and 35 seconds. He would continue to rise in popularity, even featuring rap icon Drake in a remix of his original song, “Wanna Know”.
But he was not done there. He continued releasing EPs in 2017, singles in 2018, and then, in early 2019, he released his debut album, PSYCHODRAMA. At 11 minutes and 7 seconds, B-side gem “Lesley”, establishes his spot as one of the best “long-song rappers” out there.
Following the release of PSYCHODRAMA, Dave continued releasing singles until his second album, We’re All Alone in This Together, which of course, continued the streak with “In the Fire”, “Both Sides of a Smile”, and “Heart Attack”. He has continued to gain relevancy in the UK and in the US, with multiple songs making the UK Charts and Billboard Global 200 charts. But not once has “Lesley” hit the charts despite the lyrical prowess the song holds.
The song begins with Dave meeting “Lesley” for the first time. Dave strikes a conversation with Lesley, asking what her weekend plans are, to which she responds “I don’t know myself”. The line is the recurring chorus that makes multiple appearances with different meanings. In the next verse, Dave learns of Lesley’s abusive boyfriend, Jason, noting the “Turtleneck jumpers, makeup around the eye spots”. Dave wonders what she sees in Jason, a “bad boy with no reasoning”, the only person Lesley seems willing to discuss. Lesley’s so-called bad boy eventually goes missing one day, along with her job and any hope she has for paying the rent. All Lesley had after that was Hannah, her close friend who knew what it was like having an abusive boyfriend, so she knew how to help.
In the following verse, Dave is witnessing Lesley saying she has “nothing to live for” and that “There’s no income, my boyfriend left me / So how the fuck am I going to survive when this kid’s born?”. The news of pregnancy shocks Dave, as she is trying to find an ex to get things back on track because Jason is out of the picture. But something that helps Lesley get some more confidence, is Dave telling her “living in this gift called life / There’s no better gift than the gift of life”, then asking her if she can “handle it?”. This leads into the chorus and her response, “I don’t know myself / I don’t know myself no more”.
From there the song switches to Lesley’s perspective, and in the next verse, she starts talking to Hannah, telling her about her pregnancy. But because of how close they are, Hannah tells her she thinks it is “an error”. But “she doesn’t know that her and Jason are going out again” with Lesley having “daydreams of settling down with Jason, better ‘cause now they’re together”.
Lesley, with all these new opinions, is getting more confused, but wants to talk it all out with Hannah, so Lesley sends her a voicemail. In the next verse, Lesley was planning to get a scan but decided to change her mind and goes home early to talk to Jason about the kid. When Lesley gets into the house, she sees shoes, that she says “must be the neighbours” trying to keep her mind away from the worst outcome. Running up the stairs she bursts into the bedroom finding Jason, naked, which leads to Lesley saying “What kind of person would cheat on his pregnant girlfriend?”
Jason, completely shocked, starts to flip it on Lesley saying she “ain’t in love” and just “wanna love”. Jason from there starts to get physical, starting to hit her, “White flashes, eye gashes”. She escapes briefly and gets herself barricaded in a room as the police arrive. Jason and the woman have already escaped at this point, with the cops looking for clues. They look around, and find a phone in the wardrobe, and looking through, they find a voicemail. Playing it leads to the same voicemail Lesley sent Hannah in the verse before.
The next verse shows the breakdown of Lesley as she pieces everything together. Lesley’s breakdown goes beyond the figurative as she is described in the hospital in a coma, with her nose gone, “her jaw line shattered and rocked”. Dave then ends her story there, leading into the final part of the song.
The final verse from Dave ends with him saying that the song is “a message to a woman with a toxic man”, continuing by saying, “I’m begging you to get support if you’re lost or trapped / I understand that I can never understand and I ain’t saying that it’s easy but it must be right”. But the song can be seen as even more than that.
The other big meaning of the song is the different perspectives of everyone involved, mainly the perspective of the pregnancy between Hannah and Dave. There are a few perspective changes throughout the song, like how the song starts off with Dave and how he is viewing the situation Lesley is in, then Lesley’s view of talking to Hannah and Jason, and then back to Dave at the end of the song and with him talking to his therapist at the end of the song. During the conversation between Lesley and Hannah, the key message is how she selfishly is saying the opposite view of what Dave had just told Lesley in the prior verse.
And yet still, there are other little details you can find in “Lesley” that amplify the song and its messages. For example, after verse 3, where Dave tells Lesley his more positive view of her pregnancy, the instrumental behind the song starts to slowly pick up, until after verse 4, where it begins to pick up even more as the fight with Jason slowly creeps its way into the picture. Alongside this, wordplay is used in masterful ways to visualise the story. In the middle of verse 4, there is a line where Dave says “She calls Hannah the next day”. After the line is said, there is a pause before Dave continues rapping, which is possibly referencing how apprehensive Lesley might be towards talking to Hannah about stuff anymore after their conversation earlier in the verse.
Accompanying this little visualisation, during verse 4 again, when Dave says “She doesn’t know that her and Jason are going out again” is seen as a confusing verse at first, but makes much more sense afterwards. The lack of a name being used is to show the mystery behind the possibility that Hannah could be with Jason behind Lesley’s back, or it is just Lesley being with Jason again. Dave is saying his advice from a view that Lesley should try and find the best in even the worst of situations, while Hannah states her piece from the perspective that this kid would mess up her fling with Jason. It shows Dave being critical of the idea of selfishness vs selflessness.
The song also is the final piece of Dave’s therapy sessions throughout the album. After showing up at the beginning of “Psycho”, and ending the two tracks “Purple Heart” and “Environment”, the unnamed therapist makes his final appearance. The whole album revolves around the idea that Dave is healing himself, finally getting the help he needs to find himself, and understanding his emotions.
From the four-track run of “Psycho” to “Black Heart”, Dave details his life and the struggles he has dealt with while becoming more open to why things are happening on the run from “Screwface Capital” and “Lesley”. Keying in on the end of “Environment”, the song sandwiched between the two tracks listed previously, where the therapist ends the song by saying “Do you ever just sit and wonder about the stories behind the people you meet day by day?”, which leads into “Lesley” and the story behind her day to day life.
“Lesley”, along with PSYCHODRAMA, is a complex and beautiful piece of art that shows the intricacy of life and why life is gorgeous. There is so much to life; the improvements we make as people, and the adventures you can take, is hard to wrap your mind around sometimes. But it makes valuing the life we have right now even more important.