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From 'Trash Guy' To 'Trap Soul Artist': Charlotte Native DEVN Is Breaking Generational Curses Through Music

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Courtesy of the artist
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DEVN is an up-and-coming trap soul artist from Charlotte, North Carolina.

Charlotte native DEVN has had a busy (musical) summer. Within a few weeks' time, the up-and-coming music producer not only appeared on a new hit with chart-topping North Carolina rapper Lute, he also debuted "St. Luke St.," an electrified hip-hop/trap soul album inspired by his first love and family roots in West Charlotte.

"That’s the thing about trap soul music: it’s already written in your spirit, it’s already written in your soul."
– DEVN, Charlotte rapper/producer

Interview Highlights:

On the definition of trap soul music:

Everything I do comes from the soul. My influences include Marvin Gaye and Sam Cooke. When I say things in my song, it’s coming from a real place. That’s where the soul of “soul trap” comes from. And the trap part comes from me enjoying 808s and hip-hop. I don’t want to go too far away from hip-hop. I want to sing, but I want to still stay over here with hip-hop, so let’s mix that together. And a lot of men, we’re not transparent about failed relationships and people that we love. We’re just hard-bodied all the time. That’s what trap soul is: wearing your heart on your sleeve and not steering away from hip-hop.

On his musical upbringing:

It started with my grandmother and the church. I didn’t know about singing or rapping. I was just an 8-year-old kid in church singing with the family in the choir.

What put a little more fire under me was seeing my uncle play with his band at the family reunions. He would do cover songs or his own songs, and he would just jam out. And one time in my life, I saw my dad perform as a DJ at my aunt’s restaurant that was called Rudean’s on Beatties Ford — it was a historic place that was open for about 60 years. My family has always been doing music, but they never took a step to making it into a career.

My uncle passed away, and one of the things that put a fire under me was hearing my aunt say, “Well, he never really made it in music. He tried so hard, but he didn’t get too far.” I told myself I needed to do this for him, I needed to do this for my family and I need to break generational curses.

On his early music career:

I remember graduating from Northwest School of the Arts, and when I got out of school, I got my first career offer. It was with Gucci Mane’s Brick Squad label. At the time, I had been recording at ImaginOn in downtown Charlotte because I didn’t have my own studio, and I would walk miles just to go there everyday to record.

One of my friends from Northwest School of the Arts told me he knew a guy with a studio who had worked with Columbia Records, and I got to meet him. My mind was blown because I had never been in a real, large, beautiful studio — not a closet studio. He asked what I needed him from, and I said I just wanted to learn. He gave me the opportunity. I was cleaning up the studio and taking trash out for artists, and he let me record in the studio for free. Sooner or later, he heard a little bit of my music, and the artists said, “That’s the trash guy!” He loved it, and he gave me an opportunity to start shining.

On his 2021 EP release "St. Luke St."

I grew up on St. Luke Street on Beatties Ford in Charlotte. I was on that street when I first experienced what I thought was love with my first girlfriend. There was a guy down that street who recorded one of my first songs. The album is about failed relationships and love, and also my love of music and family. I wanted to represent my family and see that I named the album after the street that we all grew up on.

The weird thing is I didn’t even write songs! Everything I do is freestyle. That’s the thing about trap soul: it’s already written in your spirit, it’s already written in your soul.

On the importance of using music to tap into emotions:

I don’t drink or smoke. I never got into drinking, and I never smoked because I have asthma. Some people have those avenues when they’re sad or stressed, but I’ve always been the one to think about dealing with my problems and pain in a different way, and this microphone is my way to let go. Men tend to be hard-bodied and don’t want to show that emotional side of us, but I’m like, “Why not? Let’s talk about it.” We need to talk more. We need to vent more. We need to tap into our emotional side. And as a psychology major, I understand that part of it.

Music featured in this #WFAEAmplifier chat:

Lute - “Myself” feat. DEVN
DEVN - “I Need That”
DEVN - “Mind”
DEVN - “Foreva”
DEVN - “The Chase”
DEVN - “Sky House”

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Joni Deutsch is happy to call Charlotte home as WFAE's manager for on-demand content and audience engagement, where she's led the first Charlotte Podcast Festival and helped produce such podcasts as FAQ City, SouthBound, Inside Politics, Work It and the Apple Podcast chart-topping series She Says. In addition to being an NPR Music contributor, Joni is also the creator and host of WFAE’s Charlotte music podcast Amplifier.