As this is my first post, let me be an introvert for a while. I intend on writing reviews of music, films, TV shows, live gigs, festivals, theatre, weddings, that time I went to the pub and got a little too drunk from one pint of cider. Yeah, I’m a guy who likes the same stuff as everybody else, but I’m keen to discuss it, even if it’s just with myself in a blog post nobody reads. This week, and probably most weeks, an album verdict, and I had to choose one with a name this clever.
A brief history of me and UK hip-hop: I was an indie kid that would barely stray from anything “Alt-Rock” until about 2013, and anything grime or hip-hop was not an option until a couple of years later. So of course I’m a voice of authority in all things Devlin. However, even in my apathy I’d noticed popstar Devlin hadn’t been around for about four years after the release of A Moving Picture. I listened in hindsight, and you can’t help but notice that ‘Watchtower’ and other tracks on that album stink of a Grime MC paddling in the mainstream, making something to fit in rather than writing something aggressive, bullish and powerful as Tales from the Crypt. Devlin knows grime has changed in the years he’s been missing, it’s won Mercury Awards and held prestigious Pyramid slots at Glastonbury. So how will he handle this shift in UK hip-hop that he was worried about way back when ‘London City’ propelled him to celebrity? Will he release grime bangers? No, that’s not him, Devlin just wants to be himself.
The Devil In is undoubtedly honest, self-critical and scathing of an industry and society which allowed Devlin to line his pockets. He hasn’t lost his wit and rage, but it‘s channelled into a more mature dissection of the self and celebrity culture that left him filled with regret and an identity crisis. In ‘Just Wanna Be Me’ Devlin explains that everyone is entitled to be themselves, as he will now and forever be himself. Curiously this acceptance comes after ’Bitches’ a song where he not only attacks falseness but attacks male emotion and non-traditional manliness. But this is not where the ugly hatred ends, throughout, the use of the word ‘slut’ is grotesque. In ‘Stay’ he refuses to come back to the cold reality of London, staying instead on his lad holiday in Magaluf to sleep with a particular slut, and in ‘The Devil In,’ he’s been busy “taking a slut to a fancy restaurant when he should have been headstrong.” If Devlin is being honest on this record, he is an unaccepting misogynist, and I struggle to empathise when he “crawls inside his shell and it feels so horrid.”
This is not to say he isn’t talented, his ability to tell a story doesn’t interrupt the rotten concept of the album, ‘Crack Baby’ is an articulate tale of council estate poverty, yet another kid left behind by a broken society. The album’s most tender moment, ‘Blue Skies’ is Devlin’s biggest regret, lost love. He doesn’t take full responsibility blaming the industry for shaping him against his partner, but at least he doesn’t speak ill of her on the grounds she is a woman. The pop-friendly numbers are mixed, ‘Blow Your Mind’ and ‘Life’ feature catchy chorus vocals but implausible aggression and failed attempts at humour, while ‘50 Grand’ stars Skepta, the highlight of the album, Devlin is less critical of himself, he attacks wealth and celebrity, meanwhile Skepta doesn’t need to wear a suit, as he’s backed by a beat that gives the record it’s only ‘grime banger.’
I’ve learned I don’t like Devlin as a person, but he has talent, the self-proclaimed “youngest veteran in the game” has broken free of expectation and commercialism, no longer a celebrity, but a misogynist who is paving the way for others to become themselves, although he would prefer them to be more like him. He is more mature, brutally honest and self-critical, but I struggle to invest in an album that’s laced with unconvincing aggression and misanthropy, even if it has the odd witty remark, articulate tale or catchy chorus.
Listen: 50 Grand, Crack Baby