Laura Bruneau | Thursday, 26 August 2010
Entering the room where so many of his fans had been sat just a moment before, it was hard not to be impressed by how big an impression Devlin had managed to make on them. Sitting fairly nonchalantly across from us was a young man that has yet to grow up and acknowledge the world around him. He is still naive and uninformed on so many levels, yet he is not superficial enough to get caught up in the artificial glitz and glamour of his 15mins of fame like so many of his peers. Maybe the day will come when he makes that transition, but for now he seems hard working, dedicated to his fans and focussed on the job of being a musician.
But what is the job of a musician? Can their music be entirely separated from how they think, how they feel, how they express themselves outside of that medium? Is that not far too simplistic? For if the music cannot be separated from the musician, then the way that Devlin thinks and feels is also paramount. Willing to stick his head in the sand rather than confront the world around him, here is one MC that holds fast to the motto that ignorance is bliss.
Every press release and biog markets him to us as a hard hitting social commentator on 21st century Britain, and yet he refuses to engage with the political realities of his surroundings. He feels uncomfortable even discussing the issue of race and rejects the idea that racism is really a problem that needs to be addressed in our society. Perhaps he has never had to deal with those issues, but the youngsters consuming his music certainly have and so isn't he doing them an injustice by not acknowledging them?
Who is Devlin and what does he really believe in? DMG sat down with the grime MC that everyone's talking about right now and tried to get to the core of how he really sees the world around him and why we should give a damn about it.
What made you want to start making music at such a young age?
I think it was the old school garage and that, when that come out. Then I heard grime in the end and that was it. When I heard the lyrics and the pace and the energy, I think that was really what made me want to start writing lyrics.
Is there still the same pirate radio scene today that you grew up in, and what was special about being a part of that?
I don't think there is. There was a lot of pirate radio stations, I just caught the end of that era I think. But, back in the day, you could click onto Rinse and you'd hear Roll Deep, OT, you could click onto Deja and hear Boys In Da Hood, East Connection. So there was a lot of variety man and everyone was doing their thing on radio. Nowadays Rise is still doing their thing, like Rinse has just gone legit, and that's good. But nah man, you used to have so many different crews and that up there, and it was just the sheer energy and…just literally, that's it man. There was so many people to listen to, but now there's not really that chance. It was like a training ground at radio, every twice a week I was on. You was perfecting your style and your lyrics and it was all practice man, and it was a buzz as well. So I don't think it's the same nah, sadly. Sadly it's died out a little bit.
Dizzee Rascal was quoted in a recent interview as saying that the label 'Grime' was invented by journalists and doesn't really have any real significance or meaning to it. Do you agree with that? Do you think that putting the label 'Grime' on something actually has meaning and that there's importance to having labels and genres to categorise things in that way?
I can see where Rascal's coming from, because straight away it's quite a negative word and people get the wrong idea. But, to another extent, like, as you said, you've gotta recognise things, it needs a name and…it's hard. It's like an underground wave of music, d'you know what I mean? But, that tempo, 140, and the sounds we was using, it was pretty grimy music, and I think it is recognised as Grime now. I can definitely hear where Rascal's coming from obviously, because at the end of the day it's a tempo, it don't all have to be grimy and filthy music, there's plenty of different sounds and avenues to go down. So, I think it's recognised, the underground thing, the freestyle and just going in with bars, it's recognised as Grime man. But when you're being a bit more musical on the same tempo you can't always call that tempo just Grime. So yeh, I can hear what Rascal's saying.
Do you think that MCs are selling out when they stop writing about the streets and they get big time and start talking about the glamour? It's a change in lifestyle yes, and so maybe they're talking from where they are now, but do you think that in doing so they're actually forgetting where they've come from and they're being dismissive of their background?
I think that, it does go to people's heads. I mean, from having nothing to all of a sudden having really, not everything you ever wanted, but near enough everything you ever wanted. It's crazy man. You gotta remember, these kids coming through, we are still kids, well not kids, I'm a young man now. But it's young people so, some people let it go to their heads, some people don't but me I'm just grounded man y'know what I mean. Normal, everyday person doing my thing, lucky to be where I am. Not lucky, I've worked hard for it, but I'm still blessed. I'm definitely just doing me, what I've been doing for years on a bigger scale. Yeah, you see it go to people's heads, but that will be their downfall in the end I think anyway.
Do you think that when they start actually talking about things that are less real or less down to earth in their lyrics, that loses something?
It's hard man, because everyone's different as well. We've all come out of the same sort of scene, but everyone's going to split off and go their own way. Everyone who's done their thing has just paved the way for more artists to come through. Everyone is different, at the moment. Like, Stryder and Chip come out and done their thing, it weren't obviously the music they'd been making but it definitely laid the foundations for people like Tinchey to come through. That switched it up again, laid foundations for me to come through, then switched it up again, so everything that everyone's done has played their part. But, nah I think you've got a point. People shouldn't totally forget where they've come from and try and keep a level head man. We all breathe air don't we? We all breathe oxygen.
So, in October, you're going to be playing your first headlining show in London. Does it feel like the pressure is on to mark your territory and have that sense of growth to really own the stage as a main event in your home town?
D'you know what, yeah like, it is. Everyone is looking to see what I'm doing now so obviously there's pressure, but I try not to scrutinise everything too much. The way that I see it, I just think it's a show man, this is what I do, let's go out and enjoy it. I'm quite glad we're playing to the home crowd. Every chance we get to play in London, as long as you ain't in a horrible place, as long as you're in somewhere half decent, it's nice man. Because we go up and down the country and do our thing, but to be on home soil…I keep saying it but Wireless, I loved Wireless. To do London city and get such a big response and for everyone to show that much love, I'm happy. So yeh man, I can't wait. Everything's an opportunity now to prove to people and enjoy myself so I'm just happy to keep moving.
Are you happiest playing your home town?
D'you know what, I'm happiest when I've got a sick crowd there. I don't care where I am. If people are having a good time, everyone's showing love, the music's pumping and I'm going in, I'm happy, that's it.
Does being acknowledged as a solo MC, compared to performing as part of a crew, lead to a sense of ego instead of the kind of egalitarian collectivism of a group production? Do you think that some people, when they move away from doing work with a crew, can get big egos?
I think they can. I've seen a lot happen over the years through my music. I've watched people that are older than me and been in positions like me make mistakes, we all have. I think everyone's learnt from each other but I'm lucky. I always say I'm lucky, I've got such a good group of people around me, they've always got my back, look after me. Like, for me to get too big for my boots…I've just got so much love for the boys, I'm lucky. So I value the people around me, my crew, my management, too much to ever get out of my pram.
A lot of people have described you as a 'conscious' rapper, but very few people seem to have elaborated on just basic generalisations. Do you see yourself as a political commentator on the reality of growing up in an urbanised, working class Britain?
You see what, I don't really. I don't see myself as nothing. I write the lyrics that I write and they seem to have an impact on people. It is like a social commentary some of the stuff I do. I try and touch on what is happening in the present times and that. But, I don't really think that much man, I just go in and I just really try and be relevant to the times and to the song that I'm writing to really. I don't over scrutinise. I just think it's crazy that everyone is looking at me so much and actually takes what I'm saying on board so much. I'm just clearing out my brain a lot of the time.
What do you think they mean then when they call you a 'conscious' rapper?
I'd say, because I actually take time to think out what I'm writing, like it ain't just a lyric with no meaning to it. I always try and keep relevant with my rhymes. Maybe try and give you some food for thought rather than just words like "I'll kick off the door" "I'll bring a shooter" y'know what I mean. So maybe like that's what they meant. Maybe I try to go in deep and give you something to think about rather than just words thrown together.
What do you feel that you've got to say that hasn't already been said?
Do you know what, everything's been said. Like we're all using the same alphabet, we're all using the same language, it's how you phrase things. That's what I believe. If someone said something in that way, how can I come from a different angle. I'm always trying to look at concepts people ain't come up with, or how I can be different or, even if it's not my point of view, give people another point of view to think about. That's all I can say really, it's crazy. It's just basically me in the bedroom with my song playing and that's it, and I'll just write and catch ideas off it.
You're originally from Dagenham, up until recently, the BNP has had quite a big presence there. Do you think that music has an important role to play in uniting people together against the politics of division that are promoted by the far-right?
Not really, to be honest with ya. Politics, I think they're all criminals mate. You've got the extremist Muslims, they're doing exactly what the BNP are doing. It's all segregation innit, to keep Muslims and whites and blacks. Basically, if you look at it, we're all in the same boat in manors. Y'know what I mean? All placed in the same boat, all trying to earn a pound note. So I just think everyone's struggling, black, white whatever colour but that's silly mate. Just silly stuff. Politics, they're all corrupt, any politician you put in there, they're all scum mate.
Do you think that music can bring people together though?
Definitely man, we've seen it happen. I just think it's pathetic to even categorise people. Music is there to be loved by everyone. I don't even see it like that though, you've got white people standing next to blacks and Asians having a good time, it's just people in general loving music. All them people with religion is war and politics, I just think they're silly man. The younger generation, I don't even think we clock things like that, we're just doing our thing man. Don't cross me, I don't think twice, oh everyone's having a good time, look at all these different multicultured people. Music's for everyone to enjoy man and that's it. I think we're a very multicultural nation now, there's a lot of variety of colours and people from different backgrounds, it's good to see. Like, if I would have thought "Oh, I'm white, I shouldn't be spitting bars" I wouldn't be sitting where I am today. So just enjoy music, it's there to be enjoyed.
Wretch32 that was in The Movement crew with you has worked with outspokenly activist rappers like Lowkey in the past and crews like Roll Deep have been heavily involved with Love Music Hate Racism. Do you share any desire to blend activism and musicianship by getting involved with anything like that?
I do really, but I think all this, the more we go on about racism, it just reminds people of it. I don't really see it mate. Nobody's ever been racist to me in this game. Like, maybe assumptions like "Oh, he's white he can't spit" but I just think that word gets slung about, just crack on man. I just think it's a big hype over nothing, it just reminds everyone again and segregates everyone. All this talk of race and Black History Month and everything like that just bung it, it's done. Every race colour and creed has been a slave to some nation. Like, England was invaded by Vikings, we could go on about that forever. Fuck it, we're a multicultural nation, it's 2010. I just don't like talking about racism all the time man. I ain't seen it in my music. Everyone's welcomed me with open arms, I'm blessed to everyone, everyone's blessed. I think that's like an American thing a bit more. Like, over here, literally, everyone's just in a melting pot cracking on. I wouldn't think twice whether you're purple, orange or pink man. Boring subject for me man, racism. We're all friends, we're all doing this thing. UK, that's what it comes down to.
Your first album, Bud, Sweat and Beers, is going to be released in January 2011, can you tell us a bit about what you've tried to do, creating this record?
Really, it feels like the journey, the last couple of years. From coming up the ranks and doing the radio and that, to the end of that, to the start of a new era and then our journey here man, to where we are now like. The title's like an equation, that's what we done and that's what the outcome was y'know what I mean? I weren't really trying to achieve anything, just make my music and just do me and that's what I've done really. But, I think, if you're a fan of me and you know about my music, I've tried to switch it up with the concepts. A few deep concepts on there, a few just winging out. There's a variation of sounds on there. There's some nice, some dark, there should be something for everyone on there anyway.
Finally, what's coming up in the future for you?
I've got the Example tour, I'm really looking forward to that, he's doing well for himself at the moment. That should be really good, we're going on tour with them, so that's going to be brilliant. 'Brainwashed' came out on the 8th of August, the first single, so we've been pushing that, and we've started shooting for the second one 'Runaway'. That's it man, just busy busy seasons. More music, more performances and that's it. Cracking on really and enjoying everything.