Usually hyperbole is the reserve of lazy journalists packaging a sub-par product in a wrapping paper of white noise and empty promises, then handing the present over, apathetic to the evisceration by the hands of the needy toddler that in this rather meandering metaphor is the music consuming public. But sometimes, on very special occasions, like the fancy wine glasses that are kept in a cabinet and barely touched, its presence is more than worthy. And much like those infrequent instances, it calls for a time of celebration.
Kendrick Lamar. Mos Def. One day, in the not so distant future, if there is any justice in this world, Tay Devenny will be uttered in the same breath.
Sprawling through love, alienation and death with the sincerest of intent, the highest of grace and the most searing commitment to artfulness; Tay Devenny is making a defined statement, and in doing so has shown himself to be one of the most talented hip hop artists that the UK has ever seen.
Throughout his début album Shrine, Devenny presents a stream of consciousness that is intensely conflicted. Eschewing the clichéd aspirations of sex and material possessions, he is motivated to continue by the purest and most heartfelt of wants; love, art, beauty, security. Yet, despite focusing on these most honest of desires, he remains unfulfilled, constantly on the chase of a tangible belief (whether that be in religion, self-improvement, artistic worth or self-destruction). This inner clash that Devenny divulges in throughout the album paints a picture that is multi-faceted, textured and wonderfully compelling.
This heavy thematic material is delivered exquisitely through Devenny’s deeply intimate tone; with every repeat the listener is restored to their position as sole confidant, each song being so impactful and resonantly personal that one cannot remove themselves from their pull, forever existing in the present. This is particularly notable on ‘White Lodge’; as he falters from his flow and flatly speaks ‘I used to have peace and serenity, and then it left’ Devenny transcends his role as a performance artist, communicating directly as a human being in the rawest way imaginable.
The bearing of Devenny’s soul is perfectly complimented by masterful production courtesy of Cosmic whose blend of etheral synths, choral chants and claustrophobic rhythms precisely reflects the insecurities that are conveyed in the album’s lyrical content. Much like the work of Boards of Canada and Burial, Cosmic taps in to an undefined emotion; the listener left unsure if they’re meant to be feeling sadness, tranquillity or dread, resulting in all of the aforementioned qualities being felt at once. It is this lack of emotional closure which sparks such intrigue and allows the record to as gripping as it is.
If there is any way to conclude on an album as open-ended as this one, some resolve may be found from the initial line. ‘When you’re looking at me, what do you see?’ asks Devenny on ‘Arabian Seas’, posing a further question of far greater scope. Devenny, for all his artistic vision, his eloquence, his intelligence, struggles to see himself as an entity, but rather a reflection of his peers and the ones he holds close. Not only does this present Devenny as a selfless yet painfully unconfident individual; but the awareness that his pain is in the name of others makes the journey all the more harrowing.
Fuck Krept & Konan. Fuck German Whip. This is where UK hip hop truly grows up.