Devlin is one of the UK’s best lyricists in grime, and not just according to us but also Wiley – the Godfather of Grime – and many other emcees. His new album The Devil In and new Fire In The Booth showcase why he is up there with the best, and once you listen, you can’t deny his lyrical prowess.

Shireen Fenner snagged some of Devlin’s time to speak about the old-school days of grime, staying grounded, taking time away from music and his new album…

Devlin, tell us first of all about what life musically was like for you growing up?

Grime music was always big in Dagenham, but before that I liked the sound of Garage. It was the OT Crew that were the boys I fell in with in the end, they had a big show on Rinse which was a massive platform, and they used to work with Roll Deep and do shows with them. So when I met them I started getting a little audience listening every week and things started building from there.

Where does your music influence stem from? You’ve mentioned So Solid and Roll Deep and Sharky Major – what was it about them that made you want to start writing?

I thought they were good and they captured me. Their lyrics were more complex than the garage stuff I had heard. They were thought out, they were talking about stuff that was going on and that I was seeing as I was growing up. I just wanted to have a go at it myself, and I loved it, stuck at it, and then it started coming through.

I liked the tempo of Garage, but when I heard Grime, the sounds of the beats and the lyrics, I could relate to it a bit more. I liked that dirtier sound.

Back then it was a very pirate mentality and the goals for Grime MC’s was to get on pirate radio…now Grime has gone mainstream, MC’s can think a lot bigger. What’s the difference between your goals back then and now?

Your right, when I landed on Rinse I thought I’d struck gold, I’d listened to people growing up and tape tapes and tape set for years so it was a blessing that I’d made it there. From that where the listeners were growing, we started doing raves, all the older people had been doing raves, but I started doing a few and noticing the fan base growing.

Nowadays it’s been pushed through into the mainstream and there is a lot more opportunity now, back in the day we only had pirate radio. The internet is massive now, you can utilize that to get your videos across and social media is also a massive thing which we never had which helps people network.

As weird as it sounds I never had a massive major plan or goal in my head, I just loved doing what I was doing. I just wanted to be the best that I could be at what I was doing because I enjoyed it, I loved it and that took me on a journey I suppose that I never saw myself doing. I never pictured it like that. My goals are still to just keep making sure my music’s good and people are happy and my fans.

Wiley has dubbed you the ‘greatest Grime MC’ and a lot of other artists also rate you highly – what do you think it is about you that sets you apart and made Wiley give you this title?

I’m blessed that people think that and I take that as a massive compliment, but I can say whatever I’ve done I don’t expect everyone to love it or hate it. I always put my heart and soul into it and I’m my own worst critic when it comes to my lyrics. Maybe that’s something to do with it, I’m very critical about what I do. Passion and wanting to be the best, but if I fall short I fall short, but I’ll come up somewhere half decent.

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Working with The Movement crew must have trained you and them lyrically to be the best you can be, was there a lot of competition?

Yea definitely, that firm was all about lyrics. We all had love for each other and a mutual respect. It definitely helped push my lyrics. I always wanted to be the best, everyone was hungry, on the day you had to come fucking good. It was good times back in the day.

From ‘Bud Sweat & Beers’ your debut album to your recent album ‘The Devil In’ talk us through the evolution as Devlin as an artist and as a person…

It all seems like a whirlwind to me. I’ve spent my life writing music and it all seems to have gone so fast. It’s hard to remember half of it. I’ve just grown naturally as I’m getting older. I grew up I suppose in front of everyone’s eyes; I was only very young when I started, so naturally I’ve grown as a human being. I’m just normal, I’m just me, there’s not too much science behind it. I just love music, I try to do my best, and I’m lucky enough that people have gone and brought my albums for some reason, I’m not too sure why.

‘The Devil In’ shows all different sides to you as a person and is a more mature, unapologetic Devlin – can you tell the readers what different sides to you there are and why it’s important to reflect these in the album?

I think there is a little snippet of every side of my personality on there. There’s happy, there’s sad, there’s twisted, there’s angry, there’s loving, there’s caring. That’s what I tried to do with the album. Whenever you’re making songs your trying to capture an emotion and trying to relate to people.

I’d say it’s a mixture of me and my own thoughts and what I feel and other things I’ve seen I put myself in different people’s shoes mentally. I try and be creative.

What are your favourite tracks on the album and why?

‘Blow Your Mind’ I’ve always liked the music on this track, the oldy, feel, it’s got pace in it still, and I like the music and the beats, it’s uptempo.

You seem like a very grounded, down-to earth person still, not really stricken by the fame element, how do you stay like this, it must be hard?

 Sometimes it’s overwhelming, but without those people I’d have nothing really so it doesn’t bother me, I take a picture with anyone. On the flipside it could be worse, I wouldn’t have job if it wasn’t for these people, but yeah sometimes it gets overwhelming. I stay grounded, I don’t care for much, I love my family I love my friends, I love making music and I’m lucky enough to do it. I don’t let nothing else bother me.

It’s been 4 years since your last album release and you took a year out of music – why the decision to take a break?

I’ve just made music since I was so young, I was stressed, and I was trying hard to write. My second album didn’t go as well as my first one, that probably pissed me off a little bit. I suppose I’ve got my own life, I’ve got my own stuff going on in my own life I needed to sort out. I came back with a fresh head. I had to go and be a young man for a couple of years. When you’ve made music from a young age with a camera always in your face, I just needed to go and be a young man and get that out my system and come back with a fresher head and a bit more grown up.

Explain what is The Devil In Devlin is?

There’s every different side to me on the album and that’s what makes me; love, joy, hate, it’s almost like conflicted emotions. That’s the man behind the music.