In part one of The Real Hip-Hop’s talk with Devine Carama he talked about how his faith, his family, and his music has helped him to cope after losing his 18-year old daughter in a car accident. In part 2 Carama discusses the response or lack thereof to COVID-19, being a Hip-Hop dinosaur, and not being loved by his contemporaries in rap.
TRHH: The entire world is dealing with the coronavirus and you touch on that multiple times on the album. On the song “Come Together” you say, “We’re fighting with a virus/heightened by a tyrant/who’s willing to risk souls for the sake of the economy.” I believe that Trump was gung-ho about opening up the country because businesses are hurting and a crumbling economy hurts his re-election chances; but I also think he doesn’t care because the virus is primarily killing black, brown, and old people. What do you say to those who believe that Trump was right for trying to open up the country?
Devine Carama: I’ll keep it focused on this question because when it comes to Trump how I’m going to answer this question can be prevalent to a bunch of other things. He lied. Him, the CDC, and his health strategists all created a model. It said, “We need to start seeing the cases per capita have a two week decrease before we even talk about re-opening the economy.” But instead in some places and in some cases, before the curve even started flattening out, or before the cases started to decrease he was setting dates to open the economy. For him to kind of disengage from some of the people like a Dr. Fauci who was in his inner-circle and he may not agree with, let’s me know that he had an agenda and anything that was against that agenda he didn’t want to hear about it. Even if it meant costing people their lives.
That’s a fact. To me that can’t even be debated. When your metric is, “Now hospitals aren’t overrun with patients and there’s enough beds for new patients, so we can open up the economy” that’s crazy! People are still dying. People can still get it. Just because hospitals have increased capacity to handle sick people doesn’t mean that’s a license to just open up the economy especially when there are people who said it’s an expected second spike and the lack of social distancing could even increase that. And, you’ve got to look at his language and the narrative. That’s one of the reasons they cut off the daily briefings because of how bad it was making him look. He was no longer talking about the tens of thousands of people who were dying each day. We’re over 100,000 now.
He was constantly talking about the economy every day while thousands of people were dying. “The economy is perfect. This is the greatest economy in the world until this happened.” He was still even speaking about it in terms of, “Hey, don’t blame me. It’s not my fault. The economy was great until this virus came.” His language was agenda based. It was defensive. He was more focused on “hey, don’t blame me” than actual human lives, and this is our president. To me, a lot of the stuff is just plain. When he uses “thugs” in all caps and goes back and says, “I didn’t know what it meant” yes you did! There are so many things that he does that are blatant and I think people have to take politics out of it and look at it for what it is. You see the recent killings; it’s getting to the point where you have Tom Brady speaking out. I tweeted “When Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan are speaking out on race relations you know things are bad.”
Devine Carama: I was looking at ESPN and saw Tiger Woods, like, “What?!??!” It’s getting to the point where it’s just right and wrong. You can’t frame it like, “Those are the liberals and I’m a conservative so I’m on this side.” Nah, bro. It’s gotten so bad now that it’s just right and wrong. I would challenge people on the other side to take politics completely out of it. Forget who you vote for, what side you lean, and just look at the language, the narrative, and the facts and make your decision based off of that. I don’t even see how people could argue with me.
TRHH: I’m sure somebody could, but I don’t see why they would [laughs].
Devine Carama: [Laughs] Yeah, on Facebook.
TRHH: My favorite song on the album is I’m a Dinosaur…
Devine Carama: Yeah, I figured that, man [laughs].
TRHH: [Laughs] Why’d you figure that?
Devine Carama: I’ve known you long enough, man. I know you subscribe to some of the same thoughts on music. We come from the same era, so I figured it would be one of your favorites [laughs].
TRHH: It’s definitely my favorite. It’s disheartening for me that certain aspects of Hip-Hop, that to me epitomize what Hip-Hop is, are now viewed as passé or old school. Are you and I really dinosaurs? Do you think we will become extinct or do you think the culture is just evolving?
Devine Carama: It’s such a tough question to answer and I’m going to give it my best shot. I only say that because Hip-Hop is only 45-years old. In the grand scheme of things, it’s still such a young culture. I try my best not to be too much of a purist and understand its evolution, but at the same token, I do think that there are some things that can’t be debated that Hip-Hop was founded on and that will keep Hip-Hop alive that we are losing. Here is where I’m at with it; I debate with my best friend on this, Hip-Hop was built on lyricism, there was balance and content, Hip-Hop was a voice for the voiceless, and that’s kind of what led to its inception. Really even on the DJ side, to the graffiti side, to the dance side, to the lyrics side, it was always supposed to represent what was relevant to our community.
Albums were important – constructing and trying to make a classic timeless album was important because we understood that, “when I’m dead this could be a blueprint for my children or the generations that come after me to follow.” Those elements – trying to make classic albums, lyricism, the beat breaks, the content, to me those are the founding elements of the culture and we’re losing that. The debates of who the best emcee in the game is, I don’t even think these kids care. I think Drake is a talented lyricist, but recently he dropped sort of a lost tapes project with a bunch of loosies and threw a TikTok song on there, the Toosie Slide, and that is actually a part of his discography. That was mind blowing to me that, I don’t want to say lazy, but you can disregard your own discography like that. Like, “I don’t care if this is classic, I don’t care if this is timeless, I’m going to put out a TikTok joint with it, I want to feed the streets so I’m going to put this out and call it an official album.” To me, when you go back and look at Drake’s discography or any artist today, how much of their music is timeless? Every Mother’s Day we hear 2Pac’s “Dear Mama.” People still talk about Illmatic. People still play “Juicy” and “One More Chance” by Biggie. What music in the last five years is going to be around 30 years from now?
Forget us going extinct, I think that there are enough artists making music and the advent of streaming has enabled artists like myself to still put music out and people have a choice. They’re not handcuffed to what the radio is playing or what MTV and BET is playing. They can go and find Oddisee or check out the new Styles P joint or Griselda, even though they’re not on the radio. I think us having choices is what’s keeping the culture alive, but it’s heartbreaking when I go to browse on my Apple Music and go to listen to the top 10 Hip-Hop albums. It’s heartbreaking. There is no lyricism and no content. For me, I think I just have to admit, and I’m sure you can relate, I never wanted to be the old dude that was, “Forget all this! Back in my day this is how it was!” I never wanted to be that dude, but I think I’m there.
I’ll close with this because I kind of wanted to know your thoughts. I was born in 1980. I’ll be 40 in October. I remember when I heard Big Daddy Kane and Rakim when I was 8-years old and I loved it. I was trying to freestyle and dance, but I didn’t really get into the culture until the 90s when it was Nas, Mobb Deep, Wu, Outkast, and the west coast. That’s when I really got into the culture, but my older brothers would say, “Yeah, this stuff is cool but, Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, EPMD.” There was an era before me. I used to tell them that, “They think that stuff is the only thing rockin’. This 90s stuff is poppin’ too.” I used to call them old fogies and say they weren’t adjusting with the times because I felt like we were still in the golden era of Hip-Hop, even in the 90s.
I think our generation was able to evolve a little bit more than the one before us. We understood evolution. We saw the shiny suit era and were still engaged, we saw when Rawkus tried to bring the balance back, and we went into the early 2000s when things were online. I don’t think it’s that we’re dinosaurs in the fact that we can’t evolve. I think our generation was willing to evolve. We went from AOL dial up, to the real internet, from pagers — we remember those things. I just think that so many of the founding elements are being lost and we have a right to feel the way we feel. I think we have a right to feel the way that we feel. I don’t think we’re just the old dudes that are mad because the young dudes are doing their thing. I just think we’re trying to preserve the culture. I’ll leave it at that.
TRHH: I could not agree more. I’m 44, so my era is your brothers’ era. I guess I was 12 when Rakim, KRS, and Big Daddy Kane were hot. But my Hip-Hop fandom goes back to 1979. My mother had “Rapper’s Delight” and “The Breaks” by Kurtis Blow. That’s my introduction to Hip-Hop. I came from that to the era of Run-DMC, Whodini, and LL Cool J, but my favorite era is Rakim, Kane, and KRS. So, when the 90s rolled around there was stuff that I listened to, but there was a shift that happened in mainstream rap where they only pushed gangsta rap. Gangsta rap was everything, so I stopped listening to Hip-Hop. I was like, “What is this? This is not what I grew up on.” It was negative, violent, and misogynistic, but that was what was selling and what they were pushing.
When I heard Wu-Tang Clan it brought me back to Hip-Hop because to me they sounded like Rakim and Big Daddy Kane. I was happy there was some dudes out there spittin’! I’ve seen it all. Like you said, we lived through the Puffy era and you’re 100% right; I’ve seen all those moments of change in Hip-Hop. I like Kid ‘n Play, I like Fresh Prince, I like Ice Cube, and I like 50 Cent. I like some talent, some effort, and some creativity. I feel like it’s regressing and lacking now in the mainstream. This is what I do – I talk to some of the dopest people doing this right now, but on a mainstream level, with the exception of Kendrick and Cole, it’s severely lacking. I think that’s the part we want to preserve.
Devine Carama: And that’s it because the mainstream is still what impacts the youth. As a youth advocate the mainstream is what impacts the youth the most and shapes a generation. And it represents us and our culture. I’m with you. Even dating all the way back to the 90s there was always this underground element that always kept it true to the culture and the roots. All the way up until now. Even in the streaming era you can go and find the artists that are still preserving that. My frustration is with you. That’s why I was torn even with the parity in the 90s because I was a Nas fan, I was a Wu fan, I loved what Outkast was doing – it was different, I loved Common – his content, his vibe. I was just a little torn with what was going on in the mainstream because that was my inception into Hip-Hop, so I was confused. Which made me go and do my research because I couldn’t understand why the artists I liked weren’t getting more mainstream pub in the 90s.
I’ll never forget this, I was like 8, but the live version of Wrath of Kane had my brothers going crazy because they were enamored by the possibility that Kane and Rakim were going to battle. They were saying in the song that he was subliminally going at Rakim. I remember hearing it at 8, “sun, moon, and star.” His breath control, he was obviously rocking a crowd, and it was a high level of lyricism. My brother had to remind me that I was running around the house freestyling and making up my own rhymes at 8. He was like, “Go back” so, I actually re-visited the 80s because that golden era that you’re talking about made me have to debate myself. From 88-to-90 was the original golden era. Now I’m listening to Rakim, now I’m listening to Big Daddy Kane, now I’m listening to Slick Rick. I was always like, “Yo, the early to mid 90s was the golden era” but now that I’ve re-visited and gotten older, which is something I don’t think this generation does enough of, I might be with you there, man. You look at that time from the groups, the lyricism, the music, the quality of albums, the classic albums, and like you said, from KRS-One, to Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, EPMD, N.W.A. on the west coast, and MC Lyte doing her thing, I’m with you, bro. I’m not going to argue with you [laughs].
TRHH: It’s tough to argue. The parity that existed then was crazy. I always tell this story, I went to a show in the 90s right before Juice came out, so it was late ’91. Public Enemy was the headliner but Naughty by Nature was there, Latifah, Geto Boys, Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince, Kid ‘n Play, and A Tribe Called Quest. Today you would not book that concert because none of these people are like the other. That’s the way it was then though. I saw Kid ‘n Play on the same show with N.W.A in ’89…
Devine Carama: Wow!
TRHH: Yeah. The lineup was literally N.W.A., Too Short, Kid ‘n Play, Kwame, J.J. Fad, and The D.O.C. That’s what’s missing – the parity on a mainstream level. Once these companies found out that one style was making money, they started jumping on that one thing. It will be something different in a few years..
Devine Carama: I’ll say this real quick, I tell young people just what you said. I remember when Trinidad James came on the scene a few years ago and was the biggest thing in Hip-Hop. A year later he’s gone. Same thing with Fetty Wap. Dude had five number one singles in one year, where is he at? Same thing with Desiigner, the Chief Keef movement, you can go on and on with artists that were killing the game but there was no sustainability. You could just go down the line. I’m with you, bro, because when we were coming up that parity is what gave us balance and a choice to what we would be influenced by and what we could enjoy, but then also what would impact our life. These kids are getting all of one thing.
It was something about listening to “Gin and Juice” by Snoop in the 90s, but when Common would come on and say what he was saying, or Nas would come on and say, “If I Ruled the World” I would think, “Gin and Juice is cool, but Nas got me thinking what would I do if I ruled the world!” I’m with you, man. It’s that parity. I think we’ve discussed this before, but it makes you wonder what comes first, the chicken or the egg. It’s getting to the point now where they’re beating kids over the head with it. Is that really what they want or since that’s all you’re giving them so they’re getting conditioned to it? It’s almost the metaphor of that song by DJ Khaled that you hear on the radio that we all hate, but you hear it a million times, so by the end of the summer you’re nodding your head or are in the club boppin’ to it. Is that what they’re doing to the kids?
TRHH: Yeah. I was 12-years old when Yo! MTV Raps came on. I think the first video they showed was Boogie Down Productions’ My Philosophy. We were watching this show as a family. It was a huge moment. They were showing rap on TV! In the “My Philosophy” video KRS is on stage rapping and they’re flashing pictures of Malcolm X in the background. I asked out loud, “Who is that?” and my mother said, “You don’t know who Malcolm X is?” No, I didn’t.
That forced me to go to the library and get The Autobiography of Malcolm X. I was ashamed I didn’t know who he was. It was Hip-Hop that forced me to learn something that would eventually change my view. I got deeper into KRS-One. I’m saying that to say, give the kids an option. On the same show they played Rob Base’s “It Takes Two,” there is no message in that song. It was a hot song for the summer, but that’s okay! Give them the option. Having an option is the way it should be.
Devine Carama: Let me ask you this as a KRS-One guy before we move on, I’m curious because this was a dude that you were locked into. This is what confused me, I really got into Hip-Hop as a teenager because my parents tried to keep me away from it. I was an R&B head and a New Jack Swing head from the late 80s to the early 90s until I was able to hop on my bike at 13-14, ride up to Best Buy and get what I wanted, and I would just hide my joints from my parents. When it was going into the mid-90s this is what confused me because KRS-One was actually my guy. This is where I think you were talking about the shift in the music, what album had “Ah-Yeah” on it and “Free Mumia”?
TRHH: That was the self-titled album, KRS-One. 1995.
Devine Carama: That was it! That dropped when I was 14 getting ready to turn 15. The next joint came out in 96-97 was the one with “The Rapture.”
TRHH: I Got Next.
Devine Carama: I feel like there were two or three albums in between there. Matter of fact, I think the other album was “MC’s Act Like They Don’t Know.”
TRHH: That’s the KRS-One self-titled album.
Devine Carama: Okay. I was confused at this point. Nas had came out, I think Jay had came out, Wu-Tang was killing the scene, Outkast was, the west coast was doing it, but I couldn’t understand why KRS-One wasn’t played 24 hours a day on the radio. I loved KRS-One. It was the illest thing I’d ever heard. Seeing him perform live – the breath control – he was a true emcee. That was kind of like the end of his reign. I had to go back to Boogie Down Productions and through his discography. I was confused as a teen like, “Wait a minute, I’m just now getting into this guy and you’re telling me he’s kind of descending in the eyes of the mainstream?” What is going on? I was mad confused. I had to realize that this dude was super-prevalent in the 80s. He’s already had a decade run. I was just confused because I felt like his music, what he was saying, what he was doing, and the production was top notch. That’s when I started to understand that the Hip-Hop game was different. Money has gotten into this, because this guy is supposed to be the king. He’s supposed to be on top.
TRHH: You’re right, but he kind of still had a spot then. Like you said, he was descending but was still in the game. In the 2000s he was not even taken seriously. He still makes more music than anybody, but it’s not the same quality that people are used to. That was the Puffy era. Not to diss Puffy, but it changed everything. Hip-Hop was either gangsta or in the clubs. Where did KRS fit in? He didn’t fit in at that time. “Step into a World” was kind of like a club record, which was different for him.
Devine Carama: And it was almost like an accidental hit like Dead Prez’s “Hip Hop” and Mos Def’s “Umi Says.” I remember that was number one on Rap City. That might as well have been the Rap City theme song for a whole year or two straight. He accidentally stepped into “Rapture.” I don’t think he intended that to be a hit.
TRHH: It was very Hip-Hop. That was as Hip-Hop as you can get, but the chorus was some Blondie stuff. Let’s move on. We can go talk about this forever [laughs].
Devine Carama: We can do that anytime, right [laughs].
TRHH: On the song “Johnny 5 (They Don’t Love Me)” you talk about how you aren’t really loved by fans and colleagues. How has that realization changed the way you move and approach your business?
Devine Carama: I’m pulling the curtains back a little bit. Everybody talks about this dynamic everywhere. I’m sure the same thing goes on in Chicago, but with us being a lot smaller of a city and the demographic being different, it’s more detrimental to a place like Lexington. What I deal with here is a lot of infighting, crab in the bucket, Willie Lynch mentality. Everybody can say there is some of that in their city, but you only have about 300,000 or 400,000 people in Lexington and we only have make up 15% of the population. Over half of that are people who are very marginalized, in poverty, and aren’t progressive thinking. So, now you cut that 15% in half of people who would even be semi-interested in a Worshiping in the Wilderness type of album. So, you’re always behind the 8 ball often times with your own people because you have a very small number of people fighting for what they feel are master’s bread crumbs. It could be jobs or social media clout and attention. It’s just the mentality that I’ve dealt with here for a very long time.
But, all glory to God, I’ve been able to break out and be a successful independent artist going on ten years now, for several reasons. In that, I think it breeds a lot of envy and hate, and because a lot of the work I do is service oriented. Even with my business model we do an open mic series, Brown Sugar. We’ve been doing it for 8 years. It’s a Hip-Hop showcase for artists – the ONLY Hip-Hop showcase in the city. We do an open mic poetry night, we’ve been doing that 13 years. We do a live music series – Neo Soul Nights. My philanthropy work is service oriented. We do Communities on the Corner where me and my DJ set up on the block while giving away free household items and we do the coat drive. So, what I kind of noticed is that people look at me as a service, and when I’m providing that service all is well. But, when it comes time to do an album its crickets.
Luckily, I’m blessed to come up in the blog era where I was able to get posted on some of these sites and it kind of spread my music to other places, where now if I drop a project I’ve got so many people outside of my hometown that support the music that it doesn’t bother me. I’m blessed to have this conversation with you. People now look at me as somebody who provides, so, if I’m not in that element of giving then I see the support isn’t necessarily there. And they want it on a whim. They want it when they want it. Forget me mourning my daughter and going through things that everyday people go through. “Yo Devine, I need this,” and if I can’t give that often times you see a disdain or they say I’m uppity or a hater or they say I don’t want nobody else to win. It almost goes to the question you asked earlier about my faith. The way I look at things is there has to be a higher integrity in which I move that is bigger than my personal comfort.
So, I think that I’m trained to be able to have faith in the things I can’t see because of the dynamic in my hometown. And it’s not everybody. I don’t want to make it seem like everybody in Lexington hates Devine – it’s not that. But I’m able to deal with road blocks or people who are not supportive because in my mind there is a bigger purpose, so, I’m able to kind of push through that. It’s actually made me stronger. Even my art, I’m not looking at who the top artists are in my city or even in my state. I’m not unconsciously competing with them or I’m not listening to their music and saying, “I need to do this.” Bro I’m listening to Illmatic like, “How can I drop a classic?” I’m listening to The Blueprint and Like Water for Chocolate like, “How can I grow my art?” It’s pushed me to think of things globally and nationally in regards to my art and how I pursue it and not get in this rut of my hometown.
If I’m constantly just trying to be the king of my hometown or get kudos from artists in my hometown, I would have probably quit years ago. I would have gotten frustrated because that’s just now how the landscape is built. Obviously throughout the song you hear that even in my own family you feel that way. In activism you feel that way. I thought it was an opportunity to express that. With the higher level of integrity, I don’t go on social media really going in on that. I’m not going to go on Facebook saying, “This is how I feel,” because a higher level of integrity is needed to do the work you do. I thought this was an opportunity, even in a fun way, to say, “Yo, I’m a human, but sometimes I feel like I’m Johnny 5 – just a robot.” That’s where the concept of that came through. Even at the end of the record I’m starting to combust because of all these things, all of the hats you wear, all of these anxieties in your mind and sometimes you feel like you’re going to lose it.
TRHH: What is Worshiping in the Wilderness’ place, not only in your discography, but in your mind and in your heart?
Devine Carama: You always close with that one, man [laughs]. I’ll probably give you the same answer on every album and say, “This is my best body of work.” I’ll be honest with you, I’ll start with personally, God forbid if I was to pass away tomorrow, I’ve said what I needed to say on this album. There’s a lot of stuff I wanna say. Hopefully I’ll be around to continue making music and help kids make music. I don’t get very personal in large quantities like this album. I feel like this album and The Good News are the only two albums in my discography where in a high quantity I’m very personal. So, for me, it’s a crown jewel in that sense. It’s a balance of it being personal, but not personal like a diary, but just opening up and hopefully helping other people that are going through the same thing, but also shining some light into this is why I move the way I move or here are some of the things I’m dealing with, to give some context.
For me, personally in my heart, it’s one of my favorite albums. It’s right up there. The ode to my daughter, opening up with the Johnny 5 track, Where the Wild Things Pray, to me it’s probably going to be one of my favorites. Because I had a song about my daughter, often times in creating, because I’m a perfectionist, but a lot of times I’ll complete the album and I have to stop myself from continually going back because I hear something and say, “I wanna do this and do that.” I think on this project I allowed myself to be a perfectionist in a sense. There were small interludes, I added a little more dead space or silence at the end of songs to transition to the next track better, or, “I could have leaned on that bar a little harder, I need to go back and re-do the verse.” So, when I listen to it I’m content. I rarely ever feel like that when I listen to a project because I’m always like, “I should have did this,” or “I should have did that.” I don’t’ feel like that as much on this album. As far as my discography, I think it’s right up there with Kingtucky. To me, Kingtucky is always going to be up there with because of its level of lyricism and its production. It’s right up there – top 2. If someone never heard of Devine Carama I’m probably giving them Kingtucky and giving them this album for that parity. Here’s what I’m able to do with the pen, and here is my heart with Worshiping in the Wilderness.