Pick up any UK urban CD and you’re likely to get quite a familiar vibe from it. Like our American counterparts, a lot of our rappers are clichéd, two dimensional and quite frankly, borderline pretentious. These artists unfortunately seem to stand the test of time for longer than they ought. Ghettos, shootings and drug use seem to be common features in the endless phallic battle between the different area codes and crews of London. It’s tiresome. And then someone like Devlin comes along. Listening to Devlin is a bit like watching a Yellow Submarine DVD at x32. A true MC in every sense of the term, Devlin shoots over bars with such speed; you’re bombarded with his own unique style of creative imagery – which is closer to hip hop in its form than grime. Any rapper spitting at over 130bpm would begin to falter after a couple of singles. But three albums later and he’s still on form.
At 19 years old, Devlin’s worked with some of the biggest names in the industry including names such as Ghetts and Durrty Goodz, as well as being part of such behemoth of crews’ The Movement alongside Scorcher and Wretch 32 and his Dagenham based OT Crew. He’s had three albums out and three music videos. It’s refreshing to see producers taking him seriously and not passing him off as another white lad rapping. His ability to critique modern youth culture and his running social commentary on England in general is educated, intelligent and occasionally quite touching.
Bud, Sweat and Beers is an audio-montage of a country in decay. The beats are simple and effective; the lyrics are relevant and incredibly well structured and the range of melodies; from indie guitar riffs to jazz piano, are as diverse as Devlin’s plethora of lyrics. In 1989, Devlin manages to tell his entire life story in three minutes over a powerful distorted guitar loop which starts the album as it means to go on, until the last track; End of Days, which is a tongue-in-cheek observation of the predicted apocalypse of 2012 and features lines Byron would be jealous of. Dreamer begins with a frustratingly clichéd female vocalist which soon breaks into a guitar riff more deserving of the XX than of rap music, which gives the song an incredibly catchy beat. Community Outcast, which features on Tales from the Crypt and from Bud, Sweat and Beers, is refreshingly honest, encouraging us to open our eyes to British poverty and our own individual wealth. It’s not groundbreaking but it is sincere and like a lot of his songs, it carries an air of virtue to it, you’ll be hard-pressed to find with other rappers.
It’s not all gold though. London City, although full of patriotic sentiment, falters to me as it seems to lack any point or focus. Devlin uses the beginning of Christianity to emphasize his feeling on moral decay in Our Father: “God must have been cross that his son had to die on the cross”. Devlin’s got more talent than that pitiful play on words and it’s shameful that line and others weren’t ripped out by the producers. However it could be argued such lines show Devlin’s true colours. He’s not middle class. He’s not educated. He’s a 19 year old lad, from Dagenham, rapping eloquently about things most of us are either aware or, or can relate to. He’s not threatening to try and kill or shag you… Which makes a pleasant change from the standard of lyrics the scenes become accustomed to. There’s a noticeable change in direction since the Tales from the Crypt and Art of Rolling mix tapes. You can hear the difference in style between the album and Devlin’s previous mix-tapes; there’s far more attention to melody and some of the tracks sound quite poppy, which is understandable, he’s trying to make money. At least with Devlin, there’s still an apparent deep-seated connection to grime. He hasn’t given up on commercial grime yet, which is more than can be said for Tinie Tempah, Chipmunk etc. This album isn’t necessarily the dawn of a new era in music, but it’s a fantastic album you should invest in, purely for the calibre of the lyrics.
Bud Sweat and Beers is out now on Island Records and you can check out the video for lead single ‘Brainwashed’ below.