He’s the underdog that is about to put Dagenham fully on the map with his venomous unique delivery. Devlin is about to leave you brainwashed through his journey of dark soulful rhymes of realities and a mesmerising flow. Laura ‘Hyperfrank’ Brosnan caught up with Dev for to discuss Kanye West’s blog, touring with Chase & Status and clashing Wiley when he was 16…
You’ve got a distinctive edge to your delivery, as well as the way you construct your lyrics. What type of music did you listen to growing up that influenced the shaping of Devlin that we know today?
I grew up listening to a bit of everything to be honest, but garage music was a big influence as it was what first made me want to start writing music. The music that was being made around the Maxwell D and So Solid Crew era was key music; even tracks like ‘Master Of The Ceremony’ and Pied Pipers ‘Do You Really Like It’ were tracks I remember enjoying listening to. Going back further though, I remember hearing a lot from Diana Ross, Bruce Springsteen, Michael And The Mechanics and Bob Marley being played in my home. I think even though it was still popular music, it was more lyrical. I was listening to great songwriters at such a young age, like Bruce Springsteen is a blinding songwriter, as well as Bob Marley and that probably influenced the way I write lyrics today, they just had more depth to them I’d say. I just wanted to tell people a bit more about my life and where I’m from. Growing up I was listening to Ghetts, Sharky Major and other MCs from the end of the Nasty Crew days. You see Sharky; I would say he was a big influence back in the day, especially the way I was writing, because he was a big lyricist back then and probably one of the first of his kind.
How do you feel your specific sound has influenced the younger generation of budding MCs and rappers?
I think I took them more down the song route really. Before I came about in the grime scene it was notoriously bad anyway and people were making songs like ‘I’ll kick your mum’s door off and shoot your old man in the face.’ When I made ‘Community Outcast,’ which was one of my first songs, I tried to bring a bit more depth and make some music still keeping that underground vibe, but come away from the violence and try and make songs with meaning that get people thinking a bit more. I think after I brought a few songs out, the kids went away and thought more about what they were going to start rather than just spitting a lot of madness.
What was your thoughts on US rapper Kanye West blogging your Practice Hours freestyle and calling you a ‘Gangster rapper’?
He did a bit of free promotion for me, but I think he was most likely taking the p**s, wasn’t he? [Laughs] Gangster rappers…
Listening to tracks from ‘Tales Of The Crypt’ and hearing some of your latest album work, it’s clear that you’ve kept the same style that has made you so respected. How do you feel that your music has changed and developed since then?
It’s evolved now, to a point where I’m doing it on a professional level. Obviously I’ve got to keep the vibe that I’ve come from, but I’ve just matured and I’m making different kinds of stuff now, I’ve been around the block now and from experience I’m just learning things. Every time I’m in the studio I try and come from different angles but still keep that element of what I’m most known for.
Do you feel like now you’re signed that your style is changing? Is pressure on you to change?
See Island Records, they have been blinding with me really. They’ve given me free reign like, obviously they have been guiding me but they didn’t sign me to manipulate me into a pop artist. They let me crack on in the studio with no pressure and they’re happy with the music I’m making, so I just keep making the tunes. They’re not on my back, it’s a good relationship, I feel like they have faith in me and that’s nice. I wouldn’t say my styles changed either; I’ve been doing this for 6 years now so I’m just maturing a bit. There’s a few different elements on the album, but you’ll have original Dev on there as well.
You‘ve also been associated with The Movement. Were you ever actually in the group?
That thing for me, it died about like 3 years ago. The collective at the time, I thought we were the best MCs in the game and we all came together to raise our level and in that aspect it worked for everyone. When you’re around better artists, I knew I couldn’t just spit any old lyrics, so it raised everyone’s game. That was done on my account a long time ago; I don’t know what them guys are doing. Ghetts has always been my pal, but I don’t see much of Wretch or Scorcher, but I do see Mercston occasionally.
You’ve kept to yourself when it comes to clashes, apart from the dub you dropped during The Movement VS Wiley war report. A lot of people have mentioned your name, but this has been the only time that you have replied. What was the situation at the time that made you reply and get involved in the clash?
I tell you what, I was only young then, I was about 16. Wiley’s a nutter anyway and he just piped up and I just went and made the tune about him. I wish I’d never done it, but like you said, I never clash anyone I just watch myself, make my music and that’s it. Anyone can say what they want as long as they leave my old dear out of it. That’s how you know you’re doing well when others are having a pop at you, but that dub was just silly. You won’t hear me sending for anyone else, I’ve got too much to focus on.
How do you feel coming from grime? The scene has changed from when you were rising up the ranks. I mean, what are your views on artists that are jumping on certain bandwagons just so they can make a quick pound?
As we were saying before about how the platforms of coming up have changed, now everyone is trying to have a pop at it and now it’s cracking off everyone wants to jump on, fair play because everyone wants to make a quick buck and I suppose we’ll see who’s good enough to stick about. I wouldn’t knock someone for having a try or doing different things, even if it isn’t my cup of tea.
How do you feel about the comparisons to you being the new Mike Skinner or the UK version of Eminem?
I don’t mind the UK version of Eminem, because that geezer in his prime was possibly one of the best ever. I don’t really like the Mike Skinner association. I think any comparisons to him come from me being white and because I wear a Ralph Lauren shirt mate. Eminem obviously as well, I don’t want to really be compared to him either because I’m my own artist, but that’s a bit more of a compliment if you know what I mean.
At the end of last year you, along with 14 other artists from all different genres, were announced as rising stars to watch on the BBC’s Sound of 2010. You were the only artist on the list that wasn’t signed at the time. Why do you feel you were on the list compared to other artists working hard in the scene? Do you think it played a big part in you getting signed?
I can’t even answer that, it’s just mad. All I ever do is my music, come back to Dagenham and just live life, so when that happened I was like, ‘F**k, people must recognising.’ It was a lovely compliment when it happened, I don’t even know how I got on there but maybe it’s because I’ve been around long enough and people started to catch on. Lovely stuff. It definitely played a part in my favour in me getting signed.
You’ve just finished touring with Chase & Status. What was it like touring with them?
Devlin: It was a proper good time man; we went to a few different cities so it was pretty hectic. Their ‘Take Me Away’ drum and bass tune is big, I like that one. We had a little show and I was spitting some grime bars over some dubstep, did a few performances and then slipped in a few drum and bass bars at the end of the show. The crowds were loving it and in this experience the audiences were at a much bigger levels to what I’ve been used to, so I suppose that helped me because now I’m coming up the ranks I’m going to be playing to bigger crowds. I never really get nervous, I usually just get butterflies because I just want to get it done so I can look back and analyze what we’ve done. To be honest, it wasn’t even like performing, we just had such a good time, and we were just enjoying ourselves. I might even get on a track with Chase & Status, I know they make a lot of styles at a high level so I wouldn’t mind doing one of each maybe; they do make some nice dubstep though. They’re good geezers; they know what they’re doing.
What kind of sounds and subjects will you be touching on with your new album?
It’s a bit more of a personal look into my life and my journey over the last couple of years on the way here. Listening back to the album now, that’s what it feels like. Sound wise, you’ve got the ‘Community Outcast’ vibe, there’s a few where I’ve gone on deep with the concepts and there’s some rap beats on there along with some faster s**t and of course some grime. It’s definitely some of my best work…
Devlin: ‘Brainwashed’ – is out now.
Stay up to date with Devlin on Twitter – http://www.twitter.com/DevlinOfficial
A version of this featured on MTV THE WRAP UP