Hip-Hop always seems to get press when something negative happens. Beefs between rap artists, arrests, and acts of violence are front page stories on rap and mainstream outlets. No one ever promotes when an artist does something positive — and it happens all the time.
One such artist that consistently gives back to the community is Devine Carama. From Lexington, Kentucky, Carama’s lyrics are full of substance. The conscious emcee has an extensive discography of music that makes you think. His latest effort challenges the listener to give back.
A Vintage Love Supreme is a 17-track concept mixtape produced by DJ Well Blended with guest appearances by Allen Poe and JK-47. Carama is offering fans the opportunity to receive a free digital or physical copy of the mixtape by doing some form of community service, taking a photo of said service, and tagging Devine Carama via social media.
Devine Carama spoke to The Real Hip-Hop about his philanthropic ways, the importance of making music with a message, and his new mixtape, A Vintage Love Supreme.
TRHH: Explain the title of the new mixtape, A Vintage Love Supreme.
Devine Carama: The concept is a relationship between an aging but an aspiring emcee in Hip-Hop. It kind of reads like a love story, but it’s actually between an emcee and Hip-Hop. It was originally going to be called “A Vintage Love” but we added the “Supreme” in to pay homage to John Coltrane. That’s one of my favorite albums, period – A Love Supreme. It’s only 36 minutes long so it’s like a love story but it actually moves like an action flick. We got a lot of minute and a half to two-minute songs on there. It moves quick and it’s a concept. It’s not really one of those you can listen to like, “What’s the best song on the tape,” it has a flow to it. Artistically that’s pretty much it.
I’m big on messages and substance. This is probably my least substance-driven album just because I tried to stay true to the concept. We still have a song on there called “Black Love Matters”. Even on the songs that don’t really fit into the concept they’re acting out the concept, if that makes sense. We got a joint called “X Factor” and on the two verses I’m talking about my ex-girl which is gangsta rap and my other ex-girl which is rappity rap. That’s saying in the past I was using the gun bars, and trying to be the dopest rapper alive, but neither one of those relationships worked. So my new girl and my soul mate is making music with a message. That goes into the Black Love Matters joint. Even though Black Love Matters doesn’t play into the concept, it exemplifies part of the concept.
TRHH: Do you personally have a love/hate relationship with Hip-Hop?
Devine Carama: I do. It’s kind of different now. I wouldn’t even say love/hate with Hip-Hop per se. It’s just as I get older I’m transitioning. A lot of people think I’m younger but I’ll be 35 next month. When I was coming up it was cool to be an emcee, but now it’s so over-saturated. Everybody and their momma rap. Now when you say you rap or do music people roll their eyes. I talk about that early in the project. I don’t rep Hip-Hop like I used to because I know it’s not as accepted and people automatically assume it’s going to be some garbage. I more have a love/hate relationship with the balance. It’s a lot of good music out there you’re just not going to hear it on a mainstream scale. If I have a love/hate relationship my hate part is in the mainstream representation of it. When I was coming up you had balance on the radio. You had your twerk songs, gangsta records, conscious records, street records, everything. Now you turn on the radio or go to the club and it’s like one long song almost. I’m kind of fighting for that balance to come back in Hip-Hop on a mainstream level.
TRHH: Why do you think there is an imbalance in the type of music that radio plays?
Devine Carama: I battle with this because I don’t want to be a conspiracy theorist. I speak to kids a lot here in my hometown. Here is a question I ask them, “How many times have you heard a song on the radio and when you first heard it you hated it, but by the end of the summer that’s your joint?” The kids are like, “Yeah, that happens all the time!” I wonder does the radio play what we wanna hear or do they play so much of it that we begin to like it? I don’t know if it’s a systematic strategy put in place to hold us back or keep the music small. You kind of have to blame the artist too because a lot of artists aren’t really taking chances. At this stage of the game Drake could drop a true Hip-Hop album. Will he do it? No, but he could afford to and he’s probably going to go platinum anyway.
You just don’t have a lot of the bigger artists taking chances. They still feel the pressure to stay with the times. Then you have the younger artists trying to be like the bigger artists so the sound becomes repetitive. Let’s say a cat like Add-2 or Lecrae really blows up in the mainstream part of Hip-Hop, some people feel like that will threaten the status quo. Maybe if Rapsody blows up then maybe people will side eye or second guess what Nicki Minaj is doing. I feel like there are people who are benefiting from the current wave of the culture and if anything else blows it up it might threaten that. I feel like it’s a lot of things that come into play.
Devine Carama: I got into Hip-Hop kind of late, when I was in middle school going into high school. I was more of an R&B and a jazz dude growing up. The Purple Tape was the first tape I bought with my own money. I saved up lunch money for The Purple Tape. Being into poetry and jazz I was geared more toward the lyrical Hip-Hop style, which was the East Coast sound. I was into Wu, Nas, B.I.G., I really wasn’t into Jay until later. I was a big Canibus fan. I tell these young dudes that at one time Canibus was that dude. The way they look at Kendrick was the way we looked at Canibus for a small time. I was a big Common fan, Mos Def, Black Thought, anybody that I felt really focused on the pen and pad and had some type of substance. Being in Kentucky we liked the Midwest and the South. We loved the Dungeon Family. I was just more of a lyrical and substance drive type person.
TRHH: What’s the Lexington Hip-Hop scene like?
Devine Carama: We’ve got a lot of talent. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with Nemo Achida, he was signed to 88 Key’s indie label. CunninLynguist’s is one of the biggest indie groups. They’ve done songs with Big K.R.I.T. and some other people. We got a lot of talent, I think the problem with our area is that we don’t get a lot of support. Being a mid-major small city if you’re not on the BET Awards people kind of laugh at you if you’re a local artist. It’s still kind of the Bible belt. It’s a real conservative state so there aren’t a lot of venues that open the door to Hip-Hop so we struggle to get a foundation. I’ve actually been doing an event for the last eight years called Brown Sugar. That’s kind of the one monthly Hip-Hop showcase that we do have.
It’s tough, man. A lot of our people kind of left. Nemo went to New York, CunninLynguist’s went to Atlanta, and I’ve been the only one to stay here. We had cat named Rob Jackson from the early 2000s who had a record label. He had a song called “Boom, Boom, Boom” with Lady May, he had a situation with Jermaine Dupri. We have a whole lot of talent we just don’t really have a scene if that makes sense. A scene that can really nurture the talent. Cat’s don’t really know how to e-mail mp3’s. They don’t know how to upload songs to Bandcamp. It’s just not Hip-Hop culture here, but we got a lot of talent.
TRHH: You have a unique way that fans can get a hold of A Vintage Love Supreme. Explain how people can get a hold of the project and why you decided to take that route?
Devine Carama: You can stream the project for free on Bandcamp or Audiomack. In order to get a digital or physical copy of the album you have to do some form of community service. I did it like that for two reason. One, to do something new and fresh to release the album. At this stage of the game with every release I’m trying to find a way to give back. Every time I get on Facebook there are fight videos and twerk videos – some of the twerk videos are cool sometimes. It’s just so much negativity that I kind of wanted to balance that out and see people doing something good for each other. There’s been a lot of stuff going on in Kentucky – a lot of shootings and this Kim Davis chick that doesn’t wanna give out the marriage licenses. All of the local news is so negative I want to give something positive circulating through the news cycle, but also just positivity in the community, period. I’m heavy into the community here. I got a non-profit, I do a lot of work. People in Lexington are not really surprised by this, but I know a lot of people were wondering what the angle was.
I’m always trying to find ways for people to give back. I thought it would be dope to lead by example because it’s a sacrifice. Being in Hip-Hop culture it’s not cheap paying for studio time and pressing up the albums. I just wanted to show people, usually an artist gets their return by selling an album, but I’m sacrificing that to try to promote something good. I’m just trying to lead and get some positive vibes going through the city and in Hip-Hop, too. I want to show the artists that you can do your 1, 2, thing but you can give back at the same time. That’s kind of the extent of it. The response has been good. We’ve had hundreds of people engaging and I’ve been re-posting them on Instagram. That’s worldwide, man. We’ll ship the albums out. I got fans in different places and they hit me up asking can they do it there, too. Yeah, man, it’s a worldwide initiative.
TRHH: Why is it important to you to send out positive messages in your music?
Devine Carama: I think that number one, everybody has a gift and it’s important that everybody use their gift to give back, somehow. That’s the only way we keep this thing going. You can’t take everything with us because when we leave the Earth it’ll be over. We gotta give it back. Secondly, for me I feel like it’s too much negativity in Hip-Hop culture right now. It was a point in time where underground and indie artists preserved the other side of the culture. But now even in the indie scene it’s poppin’ pills. This white kid, Slim Jesus, did an interview with VladTV. He has a song called “Drill Time” that was big for the last few weeks. He’s holding guns in the video. He does an interview with VladTV and said he don’t even live that life. I feel like you got a lot of that going on.
We gotta have balance. I don’t want Hip-Hop to be all conscious Hip-Hop. That’s what I do, but that’s not what I want. I want to enjoy myself and I want to be entertained, too, but I feel like balance is important. I see a lot of kids from my neighborhood without a pops and mom is working two jobs. Hip-Hop is kind of all they got to show them the way. It’s important that they’re getting balance. That’s what motivates me and I feel like it should motivate all artists. Big Sean’s got a record called “One Man Can Change the World” and he’s got all the turn up records in the world. His biggest song right now is that one. I think that’s important and big ups to him for dropping that as a single.