For a while there it seemed like Devlin was out of the game.
Resting after 2013's studio album 'A Moving Picture', the Dagenham MC seemed to be content to sit out-with music.
In his absence, though, the charts have changed beyond recognition. The communication between underground rap and the mainstream that he did so much to foment has reached fruition, with grime becoming part and parcel of the fabric of everyday life.
New album 'The Devil In', then, couldn't come at a better time. Out now, it's an unapologetic return, the sound of a rapper re-discovering his lust for simply kicking out in the studio.
Vibrant, infectious, and - dare we say it - mature, 'The Devil In' finds Devlin pushing his way back to the front row with typical style.
Clash grabbed 15 minutes of the rapper's time to find out how it was done.
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One of the things that stands out on this record is that it feels quite focused – is that something you wanted from the outset?
My life changed quite dramatically, all of a sudden. I wasn’t really making music, and when the boys turned up and got me back in the studio they were showing me records, and I think my mind wasn’t quite in that space for making a record… I was still going through a bit. So that probably is quite intense.
What issues were you dealing with?
I’ve just made music since I was so young… I’ve had people know my business, you can’t go anywhere, it’s a lot to handle for a young man, you know what I mean? I think I needed a year out to just live life as a young person and get some stuff out of my system then get back in the boat. And that’s what we did and we’ve now got this album. God knows how but we put it together.
What did you do in your year out, then?
I was running around with beers, women...
When did you begin putting this together then, was it last year?
Probably a couple of years ago now, to be fair. We had some problems with the samples and a few bits of crap – sorting all that out.
Do you ever feel frustrated by music? By the music industry side of things…
Yeah I think so. I get frustrated with life in general, do you know what I mean? It does get frustrating, but then again. I suppose any job get frustrating to a degree, and you need to step away from it sometimes.
Is that the way you think of it, do you treat it as a job?
I suppose it is my job. It’s been my job for most of my adult life. But then, it’s a blessing is music; I get to do some brilliant things and go some special places and meet good people. But obviously there’s a lot of hard work that goes into it as well. I get to do some good things in music.
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You took that year out, but then you went back to music. What is it that keeps you coming back?
Rachet used to come and drag me into the car, would get me in the studio. I’d give props to them, they got me back on it! I’ve always enjoyed it somewhere deep down inside, but when the pressure is off that’s when you enjoy it the most. It used to be purely for fun. And when you start looking at it like a job a little, the fun comes out of it. Just wanna capture that fun right now, and try and enjoy everything that comes my way.
During that year out grime, in a commercial sense, has really exploded. Do you feel competition with those artists?
You’ve got people like Wiley and Kano doing well, and it’s probably helping with these new kids pushing everything as well. I think it’s a great time to come back, and yeah competition is healthy. You wanna up your game, you wanna be the best, so the more people are doing well the better for everyone I think. That’s what drives everyone.
Putting this record together, did you have anything made before you went in the studio or is this largely a studio record?
Yes, it’s totally a studio record, man. We did it in Essex. In some weird old mansion, we had a wing, we had a studio there, two of me pall there. We just got in and recorded beats and rhymes - we did it together. It’s all made in the studio.
How long did it take you to piece it together? Do you know what?
It has been the best part of the year, I suppose, we had everything sorted then. But then, as I said, we had a few complications, and we moved out so we didn’t have the studio there, so we had to wait.
Was it one long, sustained period in the studio?
We were just living together… we’d go out for a beer, maybe, then just come back we’d get in the studio. Or sometimes we’d just chill, we’d go in the gym or do something different. So there were no set routine.
Is there a track on there you’re particularly proud of?
It's almost... you know, I’ve done my job, I know when a record is complete, and I don’t necessarily have to love it. Everyone has got the songs they like, and I’m pretty harsh with myself, but I know when it’s brought together and it goes together properly.
I find it very hard, I’m very harsh on myself, and when it’s done I almost feel a little detached from it. It’s for other people to judge my work, I feel like I’ve done my job.
One thing that’s noticeable about the record is this sense of growing maturity.
Definitely, man, I’m not a baby no more. I’m gonna be 28 in May - I’m a grown man, so I thought that’ll come naturally anyway. If that’s showing through my music, is suppose it’s gotta be true.
Do you have any regrets about music or are you the sort of who doesn’t tend to look back?
I don’t have any regrets about music. Not really. I’ve done lots of good things. I could be working in a horrible job that I hated!
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Your Fire In The Booth slot has exploded online – did you feel a sense of nerves going in?
I didn’t feel confident going in at all. When I was young… I wasn’t arrogant, but I was cocky. As you get older and mature, I’m not a kid no more. Coming in now, having been away… you almost question yourself. But the reaction I’ve got… I’m just over the moon about that. It makes me wanna do more. It’s nice to know people have got your back, and they like what I’m doing still.
The reaction has been incredibly positive, hasn’t it?
It’s been all I can ask for! I thought: I’ve done well on the first one, I had a little moment there… so I was almost scared to even go back there and touch it. I didn’t wanna ruin something that I’d done. But now, judging from the reaction, people are saying they like it better than the first one. So I’m over the moon.
There’s a lot of different emotions on here – some nice, some ugly - do you think you document what you see around you?
Sometimes… sometimes they’re not even my own personal thought but just reflections where I put myself in other people’s heads, and see how other people think about situations. Other times I don’t even know where they come from, and other times I’ll sit there for months trying to finish a lyric. It’s frustrating. I almost don't know where they come from with my lyrics.
There’s a real mixture of emotions in your lyrics.
I think you’re quite near the mark there. You get the happy me, you get cocky me, the horrible me, the twisted me, the dark me. So yeah, I think that’s quite a fair statement. It’s got a reflection of my character in snippets on little songs. The good parts and the bad parts.
And it’s unapologetic as well. You’re not the sort of person who’s going to apologise for who they are.
Nah, I suppose I can only be me, man. I feel a little cleared in my brain now. If I don’t apologise for what I am and what I do, people buy into it... and that’s why I keep going.
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'The Devil In' is out now.