The expression “when it rains it pours” applies perfectly to rapper Devine Carama’s 2017. He lost his job, his car, and his marriage within the same time span. That’s enough to bring any human being to their knees, but despite those hardships Devine Carama dusted himself off and soldiered on.
The Kentucky emcee channeled the energy of his personal hardships and tragedies across the globe to create something positive. The result is a 14-track gospel Hip-Hop album called, “The Good News.” The Good News is produced entirely by J.O.D and features appearances by The Campbell’s, Deven Roberts, and Joslyn of The Sweet Compression.
Devine Carama spoke to The Real Hip-Hop about The Good News, how he overcame a turbulent 2017, and why his new album isn’t only for Christians.
TRHH: What prompted you to make a gospel album?
Devine Carama: It’s funny, man, because I kind of feel like my music and my life in general has been trending that way. I did the Glorious B.I.G. project about a year ago, which kind of set the stage for The Good News. But even back in 2013 with No Child Left Behind I kind of just went to doing clean music, not using the n-word, and not cursing. I think honestly music is just kind of a reflection of where I am in life. My spiritual walk is just in that place. Working with these kids 24/7 that’s just where I’m at with it. The thing about it is the people who listen to the album say it’s not what they expected. It’s not your typical gospel, or Christian Hip-Hop album, which I didn’t want it to be. I still wanted it to be a Hip-Hop record first and foremost. I think calling it a gospel album people were wondering what it would sound like but it’s still a Devine Carama record.
TRHH: You said in 2017 that you lost your job, your car, and your marriage. That’s enough to crush anyone. At your lowest point did you always have faith in God or did it come to you after so many losses?
Devine Carama: Honestly, I always had that faith. The year before was really a big year personally having my baby girl, getting a new job, and I got a lot of different awards and accolades. In retrospect I think 2017 was just my faith being tested. Almost like the Book of Job – I’m going to hit you with the one-two and see if you’re still rocking with me. It tested my faith. I have two teenage daughters that I had at the same time. They’re both 16. A lot of my friends asked me if I ever had that moment where I asked myself what I was going to do. Honestly I never had that moment. I just hit the pavement and just started grinding like, “Okay, I got two kids on the way, now I gotta do what I gotta do to take care of them.” I kind of handled 2017 the same way.
There were a few moments where I was like, “I don’t know if I can do this,” but for the most part it was that faith. People done went through a lot more than this and people can draw from this. A lot of people from the outside looking in, especially here in my hometown, they think I got it all together. I think showing them that I went through all of this and I’m still continuing on with the mission and what he charged me to do can inspire other people. “If Devine is going through this and he’s still marching, I can go through whatever I’m going through and I can keep marching.” To answer your question, the faith was always there but I think it was tested this year.
TRHH: Those are some big big tests, man.
Devine Carama: [Laughs] In every way, shape or form and in a close proximity. The marriage had kind of been failing for a while. This is my first marriage so obviously you’re thinking you’re in it for the long haul. You just kind of chalk that up as part of it. You gotta make it work, but that had been failing for a while. When everything came to a head and then losing the car and the job it was in a 30 day span. It was right before the holidays and right before the big coat drive, which is our big initiative every year that we do down here. It’s crazy. Like you said, big tests.
TRHH: On ‘The Good News Show’ you make mention of my city, Chicago, and how the inner city is portrayed. What prompted you to include that in the song?
Devine Carama: Earlier last year I got to come down to the city. It was my third or fourth time there. The first couple of times I just came and did some speaking engagements. I went to Simeon, did a couple of Boys & Girls Club on the south side, and just did some motivational speaking. The last couple of times I came down I actually got to do some mentoring, linked up with Vondale Singleton, Dwyane Wade’s mom, some of Common’s people, and actually got to get involved a little bit more and got to build a little more of a relationship with people in the city. I’ll start coming down there a little more regularly. I know the outside perception of Chicago is just a place where kids are dying. Even the name Chi-raq – it’s a divide within Chicago, some people call it that and some people don’t like it.
The sentiment that I would get from a lot of the people on the ground doing the work in the neighborhoods is they hate that name. Us from Kentucky, California, or New York, we think it’s like a popular slogan or something. I think it was more or less me just wanting to shine light, because that was the concept of the song and the album, to looking at things with the glass half full. Of course we got kids dying in Chicago, we got kids dying in Kentucky, there’s a lot of things going on within our neighborhoods, but we can address those things while at the same time not always just highlight the negative and the bad part. Chicago is one of my favorite cities. Now that my girls are older I’m thinking about even moving there. There are a lot of great things even within the inner-city, even on the south side. It’s a lot of great things about Chicago that I don’t think a lot of the people on the outside know about.
TRHH: Did J.O.D cater the beats on the album to have a gospel feel or did you just get a batch of beats and pick certain ones?
Devine Carama: J.O.D is a cat out of Italy and I’ve been working with him since the Believing in Forever album in 2014. Pretty much he sent me a batch of beats, but I also told him the concept of the album and that it would have a gospel feel to it. I would say about 60% of the production on the album I pulled from the beats that he sent me. I didn’t really want to prompt him because I still wanted it to have a Hip-Hop feel. When you look at records “Black Jesus” or “October 27th” those are Hip-Hop records and the majority of the beats fit in that. I think when I told him the concept he tailor-made probably three or four beats that had a gospel feel to them. I think “The Good News Show” the “Praise Him” joint and a couple more he kind of tailor-made to the concept. He sent me like forty beats. We thought about doing a double album. That’s how many beats he sent me. I picked like 7-to-10 out of the 14 and we just went from there.
TRHH: On the song ‘False Prophets’ you kind of point out contradictory behaviors of people, but to me it seems like normal human stuff. Why use the term “false prophets” when we all fall short of perfection?
Devine Carama: Honestly to me that was the deeper meaning of it. If you notice in the song I even talk about my own inconsistencies. Me calling it “False Prophets” was also facetious. I talked about the Muslims, the pastors, and myself. My music is clean and I do it for the kids, but in between takes in the studio I cuss. I wanna be a leader but am I led by Jesus? It’s talking about my imperfections. I think the shock value of calling it “False Prophets” was to draw people in, but it was more or less highlighting everybody’s inconsistencies but then to say it doesn’t mean we can’t lead. Nobody’s perfect. If only a perfect person could lead it would be no leaders. Martin had his issues, Malcolm had his demons –nobody is perfect. Also too, it was leading into the next joint which is the “Millennium Christian” joint. That followed by the “We Rollin’” joint, conceptually each song would set the listeners spirit up for the next joint. It was less of me attacking people and more or less shining the light to say, “All of us, including myself, fall short.” I can see how people could take it that way, and that’s fine too.
As long as people are convicted one way or another to either say, “We gotta be better,” or “Nobody’s perfect.” You can’t really control how people are going to interpret it so I try my best when I do conceptual joints to leave it open so on both sides you can get something from it. That’s one of my favorite joints, too. That’s one of those Hip-Hop records that you wouldn’t hear on a typical gospel Hip-Hop album. Even it being an interlude it’s because I couldn’t feel where to go and I couldn’t maintain that balance through a second and third verse, which is why I cut it short. We kind of played on it. You can hear the paper crumbling like, “Dang, this is all I got.” But that’s literally where I was because after that first verse I had to either commit to one side or another. I wanted to maintain that balance like, “Is this a joint attacking people for not being perfect, or is this a joint that highlights that everybody has imperfections?” I couldn’t maintain that balance after the first verse so I just kind of cut it there.
TRHH: How do you think the elders will accept a song like “Millennium Christian?”
Devine Carama: I don’t know. That was another one of those joint I had to ask myself, “Who is this song for?” I wanted it to be almost a war cry for the young cats. The young cats that come up, not just in Hip-Hop culture. You know this because you come from my era, but things are a little weird now. The way these kids are dressing and what they’re doing, it’s different, but it’s them. If they come into the church or the mosque or wherever they’re coming in search of a higher power, who are we as the older cats, which really wouldn’t even be us because to me we’re kind of the mediators, which is a constant theme on this project, who are the older cats to judge how they come, how they’re seeking, or how they choose to worship God? I think that song was a war cry for the young cats. I want that to be a song that they sing, they dance to, and rock with. The message was for the older cats, but honestly I don’t know if the older cats even care. I don’t know if they’ll even take anything from it. Honestly I don’t know, but the cats our age that’s going to be the generation that I hope pulls something from it because pretty soon we’re going to be the old cats at the spot dictating what’s accepted or what isn’t accepted in the church.
We’re going to be in the leadership roles, so I’m hoping cats 30-35-40 years old can get something from that joint because we’re kind of reaching that place. There’s a balance and even in that third verse, which is supposed to be a pastor around our age, that’s why I sampled Common at the end because at the end of the day in this war we need the young cats energy but we need the wisdom of the old cats. The older guard has to understand that these young people are carrying your torch in their own way, but the young cats also need to know that they can learn from the older cats and it’s also rites of passage. Nobody is necessarily right or wrong but it’s about finding that balance because at the end of the day it’s about God. I think it’s a message for all three in that joint I’m hoping. That seems to be a lot of people’s favorite record for whatever reason. Nobody has really told me why but they’re really rocking with the song. On my Bandcamp it’s one of the most played songs on the album, so I’m hoping people are pulling something from it.
TRHH: Is the Good News album only for Christians?
Devine Carama: No, no. I mentioned Muslims on the album and I mentioned Jews. Obviously me being a Christian there are a lot of socially aware themes on the album. I don’t think it’s just for Christians. I think it represents where I’m from. For instance, I’m a huge Oddisee fan. I can tell listening to his music that he’s a Muslim. I don’t get the feel when I listen to his music that it’s not for me or I can’t listen to it. Or when I listened to Wu-Tang coming up, which I was 5% coming up, obviously a lot of my friends that listened to Wu-Tang weren’t 5%. That’s obviously what they were. That wasn’t my design, but it depends on what people grab and grasp from it.
I tried to be honest about where I am spiritually and not hide it, but at the same token I want to be motivational for whatever your spiritual walk is. Like, “He’s screaming for who he believes in so this motivates me to scream for who I believe in.” I’m hoping that’s what different cats can pull from it. I tried my hardest with being honest but not pigeonholing the album to where only a Christian could rock with it. I guess over time we’ll kind of see. I think Lecrae is battling with that now. He’s been a Christian rapper his whole career. Now he’s got Ty Dolla $ign on a hook and now he’s like, “Yo, I don’t want to be considered a Christian rapper. I’m just a rapper that’s a Christian.” That’s a tight rope he’s dealing with and that’s something I never even thought of until creating this project, that dilemma. You want to get your message out to as many people as possible.
TRHH: What advice would you give to someone who is going through similar struggles than you endured over the last year?
Devine Carama: I think perspective is huge. If it wasn’t for my perspective, forget music, I don’t even know where I would be or if I would even be if it wasn’t for perspective. What I mean by perspective is it’s natural to get engulfed in whatever it is we’re dealing with, but definitely in 2018. Everything is so individualized, everything is so instant, and everything is enhanced because of social media and the internet – that’s what we’re sensitive to. I think it’s easy to get engulfed in, whether it’s the good things or the bad things. I tell the young cats, “When you start getting money are you able to maintain humility? Can you balance that out? Don’t get engulfed once you get money.” The bad thing is just about perspective because I’m thinking me as a Christian, I’m thinking “Alright, this is what Jesus went through. I done had a hell of a year but if he went through what he went through I can make it through this.” It’s a spiritual perspective, but even just literal.
I did the 48 hour marathon performance outside to raise awareness for our coat drive. For me being out and seeing people that live in these conditions, that are living in the cold, that are homeless, and working with these kids whose mom is on drugs and whose pop is locked up, these are situations I didn’t have to deal with growing up. I’m seeing these young kids dealing with that, so that gives me perspective. It tells me that everybody’s got a cross to bear and this is just mine and this is just my time. I think that perspective helps me to get through, but then also when I’m learning I tell everybody, “The mountaintop’s got the snow, but it’s valley that you see the vegetation in.” You see things growing, the water, and the brooks. Even though I’m in my valley point in 2018, that’s where I’m growing. I’m getting strong and I done learned so much – things that I would have never learned if I didn’t go through these things. So I think it’s that perspective, not looking at everything as a win or a loss.
R.I.P. Combat Jack, I was listening to some of his old podcasts yesterday and they were on there talking about how the whole Nas/Jay-Z thing. They were talking about “Ether” and how Nas said, “Eminem murdered you on your ish,” that’s when we no longer enjoyed collaborations between artists because after that everybody was looking for who washed who on the track and “who murdered who” after he did that. That’s the way I look at it when people fall on bad fortune. Everything is looked at as a win or loss and it’s not about that. Everybody has their moments when they’re down, but how are you going to recover? What are you going to learn in that moment? To me it’s just all perspective. I would just tell people, whether it’s spiritually or connected to your life, just try to find perspective when you’re going through rough times. Try to find a silver lining and just know it ain’t always gonna be bad and how are you going to use what you’re going through to help the next cat that’s going through some stuff? I had a bunch of people hit me up saying they’re going through a bunch of things in their marriage or, “I’m just getting out of a divorce, how did you move?” it’s already setting up a stage for me to use my experiences to help other cats. I just think it’s all about perspective, bro.
Purchase: Devine Carama – The Good News