Release Date: Feb 4, 2013
Record label: Island
Genre(s): Electronic, Pop/Rock
When Dagenham born and bred Devlin scoffs: "I ain't chirpy, I'm dirty" on A Gift & a Curse, he's pretty much articulating the problem that fellow grime MCs – Dizzee, Tinchy et al – have had to negotiate: the way that major label success demands party tunes. Credits on this second album include Sussex pop star Ed Sheeran, who's about as street as an M&S sausage roll, and there's plenty of widescreen, orchestral-surge production to match the look-how-far-we've-come sentiment, but Devlin remains most compelling in scowling underdog mode, spitting bitter threats as on The Garden and Off With Their Heads. .
Dagenham's James Devlin follows up his 2010 debut Blood, Sweat and Beers with an album still stuck on punning but looking to stake claim on fresh territories, too. As an MC, he pairs a grimy flow with a barrage of disdain for his musical peers, his street rivals and the powers that be. The patter doesn't always feel original nor particularly self-aware ("You ain't from the street, you spit shit on funky house," he chides on So Cold, shortly before performing a duet with Ed Sheeran).
Two years ago, Essex rapper Devlin released his debut effort Bud, Sweat & Beers, a record that – amongst over things – featured contributions from a pre-Olympics Emeli Sandé. There was a sense of curatorship to the record – Devlin overseeing the careers of talented vocalists on the up (Labrinth played a starring role on the album’s third single Let It Go). But beyond that, more than any other album released that year, Bud, Sweat & Beers felt like an accurate portrait of London in the 21st century – a tantalisingly real electronic tapestry of city streets alive with the hum of traffic and the adrenaline of a generation lost in a media-obsessed world that offered as many social ills as it did pleasures.
Every job has its hazards, but I’d wager stapling your hands together by accident doesn’t come close to having to listen to Devlin and Ed Sheeran’s cover of ‘All Along The Watchtower’ – a low point on Devlin’s second album. Ensconced in the current UK hip-hop trend of being both depressing and cheesy, 23-year-old James Devlin raps about weapons, swine flu and diabetes (‘The Garden’) as his “arteries run to the chambers of hell” (‘Gift & A Curse’). All this is set to repeated piano chords, dialled-in beats, Boyzone choruses and melodrama.
Struggles to strike the right balance between street cred and pop appeal. Alex Denney 2013 Grime’s enjoyed a golden age of chart success lately, but long-time fans of the genre have been left counting the cost. Back in 2009, Dizzee Rascal and Tinchy Stryder sparked an industry goldrush when they discovered that sledgehammer-subtle electro house and big RnB vocals was the way to make a fast buck.