From humble Dagenham beginnings, Devlin has become a household name not only within the grime scene, but internationally among rap fans. With three albums under his belt, a chart topping hit with none other than Ed Sheeran and a vocabulary that would make an English teacher jealous, Devlin is hailed as one of the grime OGs, one of those who came from the depths of the underground scene and found his way to the top, and to this day can still show the newbies how it’s done. Not too long ago, the rapper was named as the favourite emcee by the godfather of grime himself Wiley, so what does that make Devlin? Without any doubt, that mention alone puts him up there with some of the best, but when you also consider his unique rhythmic flow of intricate, multi-syllable rhymes, wordplay and hard-hitting lyrics, well, perhaps that makes him one of the best.
Like any other underground grime artist, his storm to success comes from hard graft and undeniable talent, but the tip off from hip hop hero Kanye West when he shared a video of the fifteen year old Devlin spitting bars certainly helped in gaining him an international fanbase, “I couldn’t work out if it was p*sstake or something serious to be honest!” the rapper tells, showcasing his modesty - a rare characteristic for any emcee.
With what very much remained an underground genre since its inception, grime has recently been completely launched into the mainstream, with entire festivals being curated to showcase the best in the genre and artists like Stormzy, Skepta and Giggs being in high demand. The beginnings of the grime scene weren’t all festival appearances and touring life though, and Devlin tells how it’s about time something came off within the mainstream from the hard work of a group of very talented people, “I’m from rough old places where we’d be doing sets and the microphone would be falling apart, we used to do things like go down to watch Live Lounge and watch the scene grow, so it’s nice to see people coming up, there’s a lot of years of work being put in.”
While he’s happy about the recent success of the genre, and sees it as “a positive thing”, there’s also the feeling that he should be enjoying it while it lasts, “I suppose music’s like fashion, it goes around, swings and roundabouts. I find people get sick of one thing and go back to something else.” Grime might just be the next big trend in music but Devlin is still optimistic that the hype isn’t going anywhere any time soon, “so long as there are people out there making music and the fans are there to make the music and come to the shows, I don’t see why it wouldn’t be here to stay!”
After a short hiatus from making music, Devlin’s returned with his third album The Devil In, a twelve track insight into the inner workings of his mind, dark at times, and it came at just the right moment it seems, “I wasn’t making music for a little while, I took some time out, then we cracked away and made an album, by the time we’d finished it and it was ready to go, the scene was popping off again so it wasn’t bad timing!” Was the timing deliberate though? “Just a coincidence!” he assures. Lucky as well as talented, then.
It was over the hiatus that Devlin felt he matured and polished his already pretty tight flow, “I suppose I’ve matured as I’ve got older, and I like to think that everything's got tighter and better and just more packaged over the years, while I’ve been practising my craft.” Even though many - including Kanye West - thought that his lyrics and flow were tight enough at the tender age of fifteen, his most recent release does showcase a certain maturity that isn’t necessarily apparent in his previous tracks, with soulful choruses coming from some top vocalists including Maverick Sabre and a narrative of inner turmoil and the inclusion of conceptual lyrics, The Devil In is less about the production and starting beef with other acts and more about this raw and minimal approach to songwriting and storytelling.
For Devlin, it was a natural progression in growing up that aided in the development of his style and sound, starting out in the industry at such a young age and being noticed and thrown into the limelight saw the artist gain a huge fanbase but made him grow up faster than he’d ever anticipated, “I reckon I was about twelve when I started writing,” he says, “I was on the pirate radio stations like Rinse FM - when that was underground back in the day - I was on that when I was about fifteen, and that’s what started developing the fan base, when I was going up there a couple of times a week...I’m a bit like Peter Pan, didn’t want to grow up!”
Having started writing music from such an early age, where did a twelve year old find the inspiration to write such clever lyrics? “I’ve always just liked words, I suppose. I wasn’t good at anything in school aside from English, out of all the subjects.” he explains, before delving into what he loves so much about the genre he decided to make his own, “I like the way you can touch someone with a phrase, that’s what always impressed me, that’s why I always liked Springsteen so much and Kurt Cobain and people like that, and Big Pun as far as rap goes, and Eminem. Just their vocabulary and their wordplay - anything that can make you laugh, or make you think, or touch you, I think that’s amazing. That inspires me.”
Nothing quite compares to seeing such a passionate and talented emcee live, giving you the opportunity to devote your full admiration and respect for their artistry, Devlin performs with collaborator and friend Giggs at this year’s Warehouse Project on Friday 13th October, and he can’t wait, “I’ve known Giggs years now! His manager is my good friend, we’ve been friends over the years and we just clicked, it’ll be a bloody good night and I’m looking forward to it!”