DeVin Maze and The Art of Intimacy

by Melissa Mellati

DeVin Maze raps lyrical on addiction and beats
Devin Maze’s “Blakk American Dream” off his recently released EP, SAMO, will have you furrow browed and nodding appreciatively at the poetic cunning of his lyrics: “Little black boy with the American dream, ghetto is his scene and it’s quite a routine…” The Mississippi-born Atlanta rapper recounts his most intimate internal struggles through his lyrics, from the emptiness expressed on the appropriately titled first track “Hollow”, to moments of rising hope intoned on “Waterfalls”. If you haven’t heard of DeVin Maze, the low and smooth inflections of his melodies are sure to build your anticipation for his upcoming debut album, Slum Beautiful, due for release some time later this year. Here, we talk to him about some of the influences on his style and the inspirations for his work.

Your EP is titled “SAMO” after the work of graffiti artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat. Besides the title, how has Basquiat’s work influenced the EP?

The reckless abandonment Basquiat would present through his art. Especially when he was using the moniker SAMO. He was very random and impulsive during those years and on a song like “Windmills”, I showed that same characteristic. Just doing a song because my manager Stephon wanted me to, and stopping when I felt necessary. The song is a demo version because it wasn't mixed or mastered. We wanted to be as raw and uncut as Basquiat could sometimes be.

What has the response from “SAMO” been like so far? 

I've released projects before but this was the first time I executed a release with a clear vision. And the response has been nothing but love—genuine support. I believe I have songs, if not a whole project, that will make you come back and listen to me again and again. It has definitely helped lift my spirits and gave me the confidence to keep pushing.

How did you first get involved with music?

My dad used to DJ back in the day so music was essential growing up in my house. I couldn't tell you exactly when I came up with the idea to even aspire to become a rapper, but by 17 I knew I didn't want anything else.

Your lyrics tend to rest on a lot of dark themes. How much of your own experience is expressed in your lyrics?

Everything on SAMO is a direct reflection of my own thoughts and internal struggles. From the emptiness I expressed on “Hollow” to anxiety around not knowing how to treat women that I have feelings for due to my relationship with my mom. I only scratched the surface of experiences I've dealt with over the past six years with SAMO.

How would you describe your writing process? What inspires you? 

It is very rare to catch me in a writing mood while sober. I've definitely had some issues with addiction, but I feel I'm more relaxed and willing to speak on the things that weigh heavy on me when I'm high. I get inspired through experiences. I love psychedelics, so doing shrooms and LSD for a week, then listening to a stack of beats is a great way to get dope music out of me, but I also go off moods. Seasonal changes also inspire different narratives from me.

As a Mississippi native, how has the Atlanta rap scene impacted your style?

My undying love and faith in the trap music sound: 808's and those southern drum kits are beautiful to me. But the main thing it has helped impact is giving my music some soul. It’s the south, if you believe in these things, then you can expect a lot of spirits and energies to be around that you can't find up north or on the west coast. I believe the south has so much soul left in it that doesn't get enough of a spotlight. I'm trying to change that.

“SAMO” features artists such as Art, AE, and Kamikaze Hendrix. Given the opportunity, who would you like to collaborate with next? 

Villz since we continue to miss each other when trying to collaborate; 6lack, Noname, Mick Jenkins, Raury, Have, Jersey, and Anderson .Paak, among others.

Your upcoming debut album is called “Slum Beautiful.” What inspired the title? 

I love Outkast and one of my favorite joints off Stankonia is “Slum Beautiful”, but mainly because of the name. I always thought my life was slum beautiful. Sometimes the tragedy and tribulations can create something amazing and beautiful.

What has been your proudest moment in your career so far?

Maybe this is my problem; I can never see the silver lining... I'm not proud of any moment simply because it hasn't amounted to anything real yet. I'm still out here trying to figure out how to survive and make ends meet. I'm hard to please.

What can we expect from your debut album that we haven’t heard from you before?

A more focused and personal story: I want to put everyone in my shoes and take them on the emotional roller coaster that is my life.