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Marvin Sparks interviews Devlin

You probably saw Devlin's first F64. If you haven't play with traffic. Prepare for 64 more. I have no comment on this. Listen and digest real lyricism at its best

Definitely top 3 in UK. One of my favourite lyricists on planet earth.

I'm posting an interview I conducted just before Brainwashed but I couldn't release it them times (in Jamaica and the magazine hadn't released). Still interesting insight into Devlin and his career in my opinion so should still be a good enough read. I fully planned to upload the audio, then I remembered I don't have it. Left it on my cousin's laptop in Jamaica and the link has expired. Feck!

To mark the release of Devlin's album 'Bud, Sweat and Beers' (*cough*) we spoke about the aim of debut single Brainwashed, him not liking comparisons to Mike Skinner, whether he's faced obstacles du to being a "white MC", his dislike for his single Giant, not caring about BBC Sound of 2010 list, working with Giggs and other stuff


Marvin Sparks: You started writing lyrics at 13. What were you lyrics like back then?

Dreadful, mate They were my first bars, that was a long time ago, like 8 yeas ago. But like anything, you meed practice and practice makes perfect, so I couldn't just wake up and write big bars.

Marvin Sparks: Was it still quite gritty, reflective of what other MCs were talking about back then?

Not really, no subject matter really, just rhyming. I learnt about portraying a message in my bars and different flows, making the whole thing a bit more compact and just progressed over the years.

Marvin Sparks: What was your first meeting with Ghetts, formely Ghetto, like and how did that come about?

First time I met Ghetto - it's mad, I used to listen to him. I remember when he had just come out of jail, and he went on a NASTY [Crew] show - I'd left a tape on overnight. I went to my aunty's the next day, listening to it on the Walkman and I was like 'who's this? He's good.' Then about a year later I met him, I was 14. One of his cousins didn't live too far away from me, we were in the studio just chatting, he liked some of my bars and what I was doing. We started chatting, lost contact. Went studio a couple of times, then didn't see him about for a couple of years. Then I met him through a mutual friend. He was a close boy of one of my friends, we [met] up and that was it.

Marvin Sparks: How did your first mixtape was Tales from the Crypt come together?

I'd been about for a couple of years before that - well a year at least - so I thought it was time to get a mixtape together. I'd been doing the radio thing for years, so that was the first CD I put out and try and make the name grow. Tales from the Crypt, to me, felt like where I'd been trapped. It was tales from the places I'd been, my life and the struggle from coming up. Even getting on Rinse I was over the moon with back then, I'd listened to it all my life - well coming up listening to grime. That was just a personal CD, and a look into me as an MC, and the places I'd come from.

Marvin Sparks: Looking back, what impact would you say that had on your career?

I'd say it had a big impact cos it gave me a nice platform. It got me a lot of love. And where I was coming from so young, and the CD - I ain't blowing my own trumpet - but it was good. I think it got me a lot of love because I was so young and people appreciated what I was doing. I suppose it was fresh, but it definitely had a big impact on my career. I'd say it made the fanbase grow quite tremedously.

Marvin Sparks: And the song that many class as the standout track, and possibly your signature track is Community Outcast. Going back to that day, why did you write the song and what inspired it?

I was sitting in my manage Mikee's flat, chilling, playing computer and stuff, and Rachet had just sent over the beat. It's one of them tunes that just click. I said 'Mick, get me and pen and paper now.' Sometimes it's there, sometimes it's not, but then as soon as I heard the tune it did something for me. It was just a reflection of my area and things I'd seen. I wanted to give a mention for that I feel like they are forgotten about in a place where it is hard to get out of, so I thought I'd touch on that. It came out to be a very successful tune. Big up Ratchet on that.

Marvin Sparks: As a white MC, was it tough or cool coming up in the predominantly black grime scene? Many obstacles? Were there people with preconceived ideas?

I wouldn't say I had a lot of obstacles. Slyly it was part-and-parcel. When I was first coming up, I definite used to get the feeling people were looking at me like 'who's this white guy?' But get on the mic and its a different scenario, everyone's like 'Bruv, you're sick!' I think its a lot more multicultural over here. Maybe that's a thing in the [United] States, but that's never something I had over here. I've never seen racism or suffered racism, I'm just me, innit? Devs. I think everyone appreciates the fact that I ain't trying to be something else. I'm Devs; the white boy that spits bars from Dagenham. I don't think I've had to deal with any great prejudice. The only thing that winds me up is 'He's the best white boy.' I don't care, I'll go with anyone; pink, purple, black, white... I don't like that 'He's the best white boy.' I think I'm one of the best full stop, so that's the only thing I don't like.

Marvin Sparks: And obviously there are the 'Next Mike Skinner' and 'UK's answer to Eminem', does that annoy you or do you find that inspiring?

No disrespect to Mike Skinner but I don't place him in the same category as what I do. That don't annoy me, but I wouldn't say I'm similar to him. But the Eminem, I can see from the lyrical aspect of things, I do go in, so that's a compliment to be placed in any sort of league because the geezer's a genius! But Mike Skinner, he makes good music and he does his thing, but I don't like being associated with him. I just think it's because I'm white and I wear a Ralph Lauren shirt that's the comparison there- its a visual thing. Eminem, I can see where they're coming from with that. If I'm half as good as or make half as much money as that geezer, then I'll be fully laughing. I'll be happy with that.

Marvin Sparks: Another successful tune for you was London City. It surpassed 1 million views on YouTube, several week atop the Channel U charts, and a song many believe put you into the position you are in today with Island/Universal. Were you surprised with the reaction to that?

I was, because I switched up the vibe. I thought I'd do a more relaxing thing. I overthink everything that I write, but I think I just sat back with that one, just tried to be easier with it, mellow, talking about a night out in the capital and it came out nice, man. I was surprised, because my boys were saying 'We should do a video for that one,' and I was like I'm not sure. I wasn't sure that was the one we should have done a video for, but obviously, I apologise to the boys, they were right. That did a lot for me also.

Marvin Sparks: Another song that had a different sound was Giant. Why did you go for that sort of sound and song?

Do you know what, I'm not a great fan of Giant. Out of all the songs I've ever done, I'm not a fan of Giant. You can't make a banger everytime. I try to do something different, switch it up, we tried something. I still don't think its a terrible song. I put my effort into it. Maybe not the best song I've ever done though. I was trying a different outlet there. When Silvano played me the tune I like the beat, I still think the beat is good, but maybe not the best one I've ever done.

Marvin Sparks: Do comments on YouTube and forums have an effect on you?

Erm, nah, I don't really check them things out too much. I do, because it's nice to see what people are saying about you and that, but you're always gonna get haters, you're always gonna get people that love your stuff. I've seen some lovely comments on there, I've seen some I can't repeat, but that's natural. But nah, it doesn't sway what I do too much.

Marvin Sparks: You have a vast vocabulary. Do you read the dictionary?

Nah mate [laughs]. If I'm unfamiliar with a word I'll look it up and incorporate it into my vocabulary, because the English language, there's too many words and I love it! I love rhyming, I love all different words. I don't know, man, I just do what I do and it goes well [laughs]. I just love words. But definitely, I shall read more. Even crosswords; I like doing crosswords, widens your vocabulary.

Marvin Sparks: Tell us about the single Brainwashed?

Where it's the first single into the industry, I just wanted to make people familiar with me, and I think that song does familiarise people with me. If you listen to the song, you'll get to know me, and what I'm about. So yeah, that's the first single, just tryna make a statement that I'm 'ere.

Marvin Sparks: There's a line about trials and tribulations to get here. What are examples behind that line?

Well for 6 years we've been doing shitty radio stations in dirty old flats in manors, having no money, trying to get bookings, driving old [Ford] Fiesta's to Machester 5 man up. Them sort of tribulations.

Marvin Sparks: And what sort of speculations and assumptions were you talking about?

'Devs has gone soft,' 'Devs is gonna do this, Devs is gonna do that.' But basically I'm just sticking to my guns and I ain't watching anything. I'm just 'ere doing me, mate.

Marvin Sparks: One thing people say about the artists that have gone from grime to pop is that they make music for 14 year old girls. Will there be any of that from Devlin?

Nah mate, I'm just going in with the bars mate. I'm happy with the creative control I've been given and I'm just gonna keep pushing it. Brainwashed's content is hard, the beats hard - I'm just going to keep doing me, keep switching it up. Watch out for all the grime freestyles, I'll be doing some videos for them soon. I'm just gonna keep bombarding it mate.

Marvin Sparks: Why the title Bud, Sweat and Beers?

That title there explains my lifestyle. If I ain't drinking, working in the studio, sweating my nuts off running around sorting things out. All the hard graft. That's my life in a nutshell for the past three years, running around, grafting, smoking weed everyday even though it's not a great thing - but getting down in the studio, smoking, writing, drinking, mad nights out and just all the memories over the last few years. I think it's become more the journey I've come through in the last two years to me, that's what it feels like to me - the album. Just a personal look into my life and some of the shit we've been doing behind the scenes for the past couple of years.

Marvin Sparks: How would you say you've grown as an artist since Tales from the Crypt?

Flows getting tighter, even vocalling in the booth, the standards coming up, making sure everything's always tight, I've learnt, I've progressed, the vocabulary has got broader which from 4 or 5 years ago whenever it was released, my vocab has grown, I've learnt a lot more on craft. I've been on the front line learning and that's what it's all about. I've learnt a lot more and I've put that together with the knowledge I own now and put that together to better my music.

Marvin Sparks: Any producers or features you can talk about?

Obviously I've got my boy Ghetts, my boy Dogzilla, we've got a singer called Yasmin; she's a really good singer. Giggs on the Shot Music track. We kept it really in-house.

Marvin Sparks: Speaking of Shot Music, how did that come about and why work with Giggs?

Me and Giggs have known each other for a few years through mutual friends. He's got a massive fanbase, I've got a massive fanbase so we both said to each other what's going on we've got to utilise that. It was overdue, so we done the tune together and that was the outcome. We kept the roads buzzing with that one.

Marvin Sparks: A similarity that you both share is that you're both very hardcore artists and both listed in the BBC Sound of 2010 list. Were you surprised at your inclusion in that?

I didn't even know about that list until I heard that I was on it. I'm very scatty, this is why Bud, Sweat and Beers is a good name for my album cos it's me in a nut shell. I don't really watch much, I'm always on a mad one. That was a massive compliment. I heard Lady Gaga was on the list last year and it was nice for me and Giggs to both be up on there. That's a good look for underground UK scene; 2 artists going in hard as you said, and still going hard as you said, with the support of the BBC, it's a good look for urban music.

Marvin Sparks: Has that added any pressure to you? Do you feel you have to live up to expectation?

I don't you know, because if you think like that then you're always gonna be putting yourself under scrutiny. I'm just trying to enjoy it. I wouldn't be here if people didn't like what I was doing, so I'm just going to persist to do that and just enjoying it man. Me and the boys just enjoying what we're doing and that's it. I'm just happy to keep making music on a higher level.

Marvin Sparks: Your lyrics are hard, your flow's tight, what's more important to you, flow or content?

That's a very good question. You can't have one without the other, but on some of my tunes, sometimes the flow just won't work. I'll listen and think I just said the sickest stuff on that tune yeah, but the flow's boring, so you need both of them. They're both as important as each other. Obviously you can't be chatting gibberish, but then you;ve got to deliver the bar with a certain amount of energy and in a way that it's going to be the most effective, so I think they both count. They've both got to be there.

Marvin Sparks: What are you hoping to achieve with the album?

I just want to sell as many copies as I can and build this thing up and hopefully we can do some big stuff man. I want to do concerts, I want to go everywhere and perform, and just enjoy this thing. Hopefully it goes as well as it can, we've worked very hard for it so I'm just hoping it all goes as good as possible. Keep moving forward.

Marvin Sparks: I take it the heights Tinchy Stryder, Chipmunk and Dizzee have achieved has inspired you, because you can see those heights are achievable.

Yeah bruv, definitely. There's opportunities for people now. Dizzee went a long while ago, but Stryder and Chip have done a lot for the music that I've come from. It seems like after they went through it went mad. Everyone wants to sign up artists from our scene now, so definitely something to look forward to. I think everyone's a bit happier now because there are opportunities. You get your nut down and carry on, and there's no reason why we can't. The scene's growing tremendously. Everyone's playing their part now.

So there you have it. Hope you enjoyed. Go get the album out now

To see where this went in feature format, click here


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