Review: Devlin harks back to his roots on colossal new LP 'The Outcast'

"This tune reminds me of the pirate sets / Devz inside, what's good? Mic check." ("Pirate")

The opening line of Devlin's fourth studio album, The Outcast, serves as a powerful pretext to the incoming 43 minutes of music from the seasoned Dagenham spitter. Now well over a decade into his music career, it's fair to say that the Essex wordsmith and self-proclaimed "granddad of grime" has seen it all – from the days where radio stations would operate from illegal, precariously-positioned aerials at the top of tower blocks; to the diluted, major-label-backed pop-rap of the 2010s; to the trap-tinged, Americanised hybrid sounds of late. With his experience comes a lifetime of lyrical mastery and industry insight possessed only by a select few in the scene, and now he—like Wiley; like Skeptareturns to where it all started: raw and authentic grime.

With The Outcast set against the backdrop of three polished, yet under-performing commercial rap albums, some of us never expected to see Devz reunited with titans of grime production  yet the LP's instrumentals are supplied by three legends of the game: longtime collaborator Lewi White, Hardrive label boss and Aftershock founder Terror Danjah, and R&G kingpin Kid D. The project is bursting with nods to the grime of yesteryear: opener "Pirate" pieces together various iconic instrumentals including Big E-D's "Frontline" and Jammer's "One and All", and "I Will Never" recreates the bass stabs from Terror Danjah's "Creepy Crawler", while "Live in the Booth" samples the a cappella intro from Ghetts' 2006 debut mixtape 2000 & Life, and Devlin is reunited with his Movement colleague for real on "Triton"  a track named after the Korg synthesiser notoriously used in countless early grime hits.

Lewi White takes the reins on eleven of the LP's thirteen tracks, drawing on a multitude of sounds and styles for inspiration: dubstep-slanted basslines (see "Scratchlin", a guttural collaboration with Roll Deep's Scratchy; and the Nero-like "Ride 2 This"); cinematic violins ("Too Far Gone"; "Get It"); delicate, plucked synth arpeggios; and splashes of rolling hi-hats and clicks ("Live in the Booth"). On the project's second single, "Fun to Me", Devz laces Terror Danjah's "Mars", a booming, 808-heavy number taken from his 2017 LP The Planets. Latest single "Limelight", by contrast, is a floaty, melodic Kid D creation, littered with vocal cuts, ambient foley samples, and delay-soaked strings.

Moments of lyrical introspection gleam through at various points throughout the project. "Get It" finds Devlin musing on how he's been mistreated since achieving fame ("I'm as human as anyone, fuck everyone / Now I'll do me till I die") and offering sage advice for aspiring MCs ("There's a whole big world out here / Don't wait for those that won't hurry up"). The self-censorship of the word "bitch" on "Limelight" speaks volumes, too  hinting at a newfound maturity and a conscious effort to flush out misogynistic lyrics from the scene. Finally, closing track "The Light" is a heartfelt message of reassurance and empathy, written for an anguished lover but simultaneously crammed with references to iconic Britpop songs (see: "Let's find an oasis / That's right, we can slide away" and "What I see for you is all yellow like / Coldplay's song you was preeing").

Die-hard grime fansespecially those who felt let down by the lack of grime content on Devlin's 2017 effort The Devil Inare in for a treat with The Outcast, which can be streamed in full below.

To delve further into the project, check out Devlin's recent appearance on DJ Semtex's Spotify podcast Who We Be, and find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more updates.