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Album Review: Devlin – “The Devil In”

I’ve been very excited to hear new music from Devlin, following his epic verse on Wiley’s “Bring Them All / Holy Grime”, where the godfather himself refers to him as “a grime treasure”. He’s now returned with his new album “The Devil In”, his first studio album released since 2013. It’s a deep and personal album, filled with the complex wordplay and imagery Devlin is known for, all  set to a series of slick, classy beats. Note; all opinions expressed are those of the author.

To start with, the title of the album “The Devil In”, hints at the introspective feel of this album and the eponymous opening track instantly delivers on this. The title track sees Devlin speaking about his time away from music and the struggles he has had to cope with during this time. Opening line “I’ve been away for a while cause shit weren’t sweet like Tate and Lyle / I held it together with the fakest smile” hints at difficulties in the time preceding his hiatus whilst in lyrics like “Wanna know where I’ve been? Me too / It’s a blur of booze and birds wake up with a hand all bruised / and I ain’t got a clue what occurred” he gives us a taste of what he’s been up to in the interim. The honesty and bluntness of the lyrics is obvious, It feels like Devlin is revealing himself to the listener and isn’t afraid to shy away from difficult or personal topics. This is shown again in the hook “The devil inside of me / The side you just don’t see / I’ve been fighting, who? Me”, setting the album up well, for the next 40 minutes we are getting a peek into the inner depths of Devlin’s mind.

Production on the album comes completely from Term & Ratchet and is perfectly suited to Devlin’s flow. The beats are subtle and never detract from the MC’s spotlight but at the same time avoid sounding repetitive. The natural sounding percussion and use of actual instrumentation as opposed to relying fully on synthetic sounds adds an organic classy edge to this album. Lyrics wise listeners are treated to a showcase of impressive, intellectual wordplay a hallmark of Devlin’s output. On recent single “Blow Your Mind” for example “In Satan’s grove, I’ll conquer the beast / No way will he take my soul / Then gain control of the scene like back in the day / Then let them haters know that my ancient throne ain’t vacant no / No, no way José, who the fuck’s José? / I’ll see him on the road and leave him slain / I’m goin’ on cold, I’m back on the wave / You’ve been told”. I love the way Devlin links the two segments together here with the “No way Jose” line and how he uses the metaphor of the Devil to refer to himself as a king in the grime scene. Throughout the album Devlin is unafraid to talk about his own personal struggles and makes this very relatable to the listener. This is evident on tracks like “Cold Blooded”, “Life” and “Blue Skies” but for me is best shown on the uplifting “Just Wanna Be Me”. Devlin talks about his decision to follow a career in music despite opposition “Mum wanted me to work in the slave shift / But I was writing my lyrics in the grave shift” and encourages the listener to follow their own dreams “We’re all different here in Great Britain / So embrace yourself and envision that your skin never left you imprisoned / Be whatever you wanna be man, kill ’em”. I was absolutely stunned by the subtle-yet-complex wordplay in the last line and it serves as a powerful message to people to do what they want and not to accept limitations.

It is on “Castella Freestyle” however that Devlin truly shows his lyrical abilities. “Painting a page like Damien Rice / When it’s late and I’m high /Tryna bring the painting to life”, “Mic check, if you wanna be in set well stiffen up your Exoskeletons / Insects wanna creep and crawl around me because they heard that I’m Devlin”, “Contest, and I’m making you subject one in my strange experiment / Malevolent, pain indefinite / Dark development, drug nah I’m resident / Periodic when I store every element / You’ll never know what’s in store for your regiment”, “J don’t give an F to the K / I know you see the inside of the president’s / Brains sprayed by the great / Country that we gave birth to that buried them”. In these few lyrics alone Devlin makes reference to art, science, history subjects that most Grime artists would never even think of discussing. ~The references are so subtle that it took me a few listens to fully grasp what he is saying and that makes them all the more impressive, it’s like they’re hiding in plain sight. It’s lyrics like these that show how intelligent an MC Devlin is and distinguishes him from many other current grime artists who do not have this level of scope to their lyrical content.

Now as for features this album has only four, three singers and one other grime MC. I find the singers featured, Maverick Sabre on “Blow Your Mind”, Harry James on “Life” and Tom Prior on Crack Baby fit perfectly. The subtle vocals in the choruses adds a melodic feel to each track and compliments Devlin’s sometimes abrasive flow. In particular “Crack Baby” is excellent in my opinion, Tom Prior’s vocals and the subtle guitar in the background add a bluesy-rock feel to the track without straying to far into the territory of making this a chart-destined pop song. Now i’m going to admit I’m really not a fan of the Skepta collaboration in the context of this album. That’s not to say I don’t like “50 Grand” but it’s inclusion here on this record seems kind of forced and unnecessary. It’s one of four tracks on the album released in 2015/2016 but unlike the others “Corned Beef City”, “Bitches” and “Castella Freestyle” I found that it really sticks out here both in terms of the sound and subject matter.

Overall this album is a clear display of Devlin’s lyrical prowess as well as his ability to create a cohesive album with complex themes. In a time when many artists are afraid to push the boundaries of their lyrical content, or simply just don’t, Devlin has shown here how he is vital to the grime scene and how much his unique sound has been missed.

The author on Twitter: @neverbeenin

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