It seems like the days of an artist to emerge bearing a diamond-in-the-rough aura have been put to bed. In the past Dizzee Rascal, the So Solid Crew and many others jumped into the mainstream still bearing the so called ‘stains’ of their underground success.
Today, emerging acts are glammed up and polished to appear more ‘camera friendly’ and to (begrudgingly) be labelled as a pop act. But James Devlin has refused to follow suit. A product of the Grime scene, Devlin’s appearance isn’t as a potential poster boy for the new urban pop scene – but rather as a musician who has taken the dark, edgy tools which have elevated him and fine-tuned it to appeal to all markets.
Packing fierce, uncompromising lyricism, Devlin’s debut release Bud, Sweat & Beers intends to reaffirm the notion that the music scene is a level playing field and that the underdog can have its day.
Reaffirming his allegiance to the darker, 140 bpm format of music, ‘1989’ kicks off Bud … with a venomous barrage of verbs and adjectives, accompanied with a piercing guitar riff and pulsating Grime beat. Before one’s heart rate can return to its regular beat, the previously released ‘Brainwashed’ follows – its solid combination of sharp rhymes, a pounding production and a chorus belted out powerfully by Jodie Connor results in successfully mastering an infectious crossover track.
One of Bud, Sweat & Beers’ star appeal however is it embarks to create emotive, insightful music rather than collating a number of singles which has ‘chart appeal’ stamped all over it. ‘Days & Nights’ is haunting and stirring, chronicling the desperate chase to end the drought in the protagonist’s life. Bud … encapsulates an anarchic, hazy, yet witty and soulful view of inner city London. ‘Community Outcast’ and ‘London City’ both in their own way, capture the essence of the council flat burdens and the hypnotic energy of the city respectively.
Whilst the Labrinth featured ‘Let It Go’ is underwhelming compared to the producer’s prior works the beautiful vocals provided by Yasmin on ‘Runaway’ adds depth to his current single, currently on the verge of breaking the top 10 in the UK charts.
Also sporting something for philosophical and Grimy thinkers, Dev brings his Movement brethrens Ghetts and Dogzilla along on ‘Finally’ and turns introspective on ‘Our Father’ with its use of pan pipes adding much grandeur to his debut.
Bud, Sweat & Beers is one of the few major label releases which really expresses much emotion, soul, and honesty in addition to holding on to the underground elements of the artist’s origins. Devlin’s first official release share some of the definitive qualities which made The Streets’ first two albums and Skinnyman’s Council Estate of Mind release groundbreaking.
Devlin has proved that even when signed to a major there is still room for depth within the music – both lyrically and production wise. The album is not without a few questionable patches (the album begins to fade in the final third) which highlights this as a first outing for the Dagenham MC, but overall Bud, Sweat & Beers pushes past many of this year’s album offerings from those who also graduated from the Grime arena - and should encourage many more artists to dare to be true to their musical origins, even when pursuing mainstream stardom.
Bud, Sweat & Beers is available from November 1st.