The Experienced Listener Presents: Blood of a Slave, by Devine Carama
Before I get to this next review lemme give ya’ll out there in the real world some advice: if you EVER take out a loan to help a Black man, you make sure that Black man pays that loan back to you in CA$H. Ain’ NOTHIN like a bad-check-writin’ associate to eff up ya concentration like diluted Hi-C lemonade…
And speaking of debts, Blood of a Slave by Devine Carama… I owe a review to this project. I was recommended this mixtape by bosslady Sony Mac because she knows I’m a fan of Thee Tom Hardy, who makes a guest appearance on it. As expected, where greatness makes an appearance, you find more greatness: Devine Carama is raw. And when I say ‘raw’, I don’t mean merely hardcore or gritty; I mean ‘raw’ like a “lion to you alley cats”, as he so eloquently puts it on his opening track Revolutionary Rap. This Kentucky native has something to say and needs to be heard loud and clear. And along with his raps, there are many snippets from various socio-political figures and entertainers who have addressed the issues Carama brings to light on the mixtape. It’s an educational experience you can nod your head to.
Freedom Song is instantly one of my favorite instrumentals on the project. But, of course, the song is much more than an instrumental. In honor of Black history month, I think it’s appropriate to highlight this song that references so much Black history in the chorus:
Way before these brothas started wilin and shit/
There was WEB DuBois’ talented tenth/
Like, way before you was winning and tweetin Charlie sheen/
Envison marching for a dream with the brotha martin king/
Before Whites prescribed Blacks to plank in pits/
White tied us face down off the planks of a ship/
See the same hearts that these lost niggas spray they tools wit/
Be the same bars they erasing our union with/
This track just feels good. It’s warm, it’s straightforward, it’s sober. Honestly, I prefer it as the first single of the mixtape over Revolutionary Rap. I’m the type of cat that doesn’t need a lot of energy to get me interested; just gimme quality. Moving on.
Featuring Thee Tom Hardy himself, Sparkling Jewels easily rises to the top of the Blood of a Slave mixtape. Devine stands out here, as his delivery finds its proper place against the droning instrumental; this track was truly built for his voice. A flute appears on the chorus that does a great job grabbing the listener’s ear with a refreshing sound. One of my favorite lines from the track is, “Now I’m not telling you not to go to college/ I’m just saying God’s wisdom comes with many different options/” …TRUE words to the wise right there. That was a personal struggle of mine in my schooling: trying to reconcile the path prescribed by the world’s reasoning with the path prescribed by my faith in God.
Now, one flaw of this track is that, when Thee Tom Hardy comes in, his voice is just barely audible. I’m not quite sure how to take this, however, because I’ve seen this occur before; the late producer Nujabes is notorious for dampening MCs’ voices, and he always did it deliberately. Taking that into consideration Hardy, nevertheless, makes it happen on this track:
My dreams are lucid now, that third eye’s vision’s clearer/
Cuz I use it now, give you my exclusive style/
I know you heard about me, but prob’ly not/
But if so, I wonder if you want a song ,would you hafta doubt me/
I’m not for speakin loudly, unless I’m feelin’ the situation/
And pacing round the, room and soundin crazy/
But you really listen, and pay attention/
Maybe something that I mention can get you to hear the wisdom/
In true cameo style, Hardy doesn’t dominate the track, but gives just enough to make his presence known and co-sign on the idea presented by Carama. Knowing Hardy the way I know his music, there’s a lot of holdback in his performance here. But Carama shows little restraint in his verses:
That’s why I do this, I pray to God that my music/
Can touch these young boys like perverted Catholic priests/
For those that take the verse too literal/
But it’s so pivotal that you capture the meaning/
Hard core? Right on.
The next track, Plain Gold Rings, comes in with some sweet vocals from Nina Simone. Over the jazz sample, some simple percussion turns the soulful original into a hip hop track. Devine Carama then ensues to tell a story of turbulent relationships; it’s a much-needed change of pace from the rest of the project. One of the downfalls of Blood of a Slave is that the subject matter becomes repetitive; Plain Gold Rings serves to dilute the concentration of this repetitiveness. After talking about his previous relationships and the children he’s fathered therein, Carama concludes with these lines from his second verse:
Nah… I’m cool, I don’t smoke, f#ck ya loose-leaf/
Ask ya girl, I don’t need that to get me bomb sex/
I swear to God it’s just me to treat ‘em like queens/
But I’m the same token conscious rappers never get groupies/
Lemme throw this nugget in here. The school I teach at recently had a presentation made to it by Augusta’s Garden City Jazz collective. And it talked about the role jazz played in American history, sidenoting its contribution to hip hop. This track is exemplary of that relationship— a timeless Nina Simone sample used to birth something new and relevant in the form of hip hop. Gotta love it.
The Populist Pulpit is a very relevant and timely track (and video, as you can see above). Beginning with a clip of Michael Eric Dyson explaining the lack of equal compensation for hard-working minorities in impoverished areas, the song speaks to the plight of the common man. Or, more specifically, the common aspiring MC Devine Carama, working minimum wage jobs and trying to live the life that hard work would seem to entitle him to.
I’m working at the toy counter shit I can’t afford/
Eyeballing cutie at the counter at the store/
Yes I’m poor, so how do I approach her/
Going straight for the chocha or something a little more/
It’s hard to be me when I’m sexually frustrated/
And I’m stressed about money, plus I’m feeling like a mummy/
Titties real like queens, plus the studio/
Packed to capacity, every time I’m trying to record/
Engineer, don’t you know my music is my diary/
My girlfriend dumped me, my job just fired me/
No one else will hire me, a few rappers inspire me/
I’m tryna figure how to use my gifts for the Loooord…/
Ahh yes. The paradigm of the struggling Christian rapper. I have my own resolution as it pertains to that issue. We’ll get into that another time.
On the track Take Your Shackles Off I’ll be honest: if you don’t pay close attention, you’ll think you’re listening to Lupe Fiasco. Everything from Devine Carama’s delivery to his lyrics to the beat— because Lupe does tend to blend his Midwest delivery and thought-heavy lyricism with Southern style instrumentals— has ‘Fiasco’ written all over it. Which, all in all, is cool; if you’re gonna emulate a style, at least let it be someone noteworthy, right? I hafta say tho… I hate it when Lupe Fiasco does tracks like this. Yeah, he kills it lyrically. But it just doesn’t sit comfortably with me; I like my conscious artists to sound different than my ignoramuses. So, if Lupe doesn’t get a pass, I can’t give Devine a pass either. Even if he kills the track. Just a matter of personal preference :-\
The track Nigga Please featuring Vito Banga of Nappy Roots really impresses me. Devine Carama uses a lot of inflection in his delivery, which amplifies the effect of the classical music piece that’s sampled for the instrumental. After a few snippets of the legendary comedian Richard Pryor speaking his mind about the N-word, Devine Carama articulates how unavoidable it is in our culture, and poses the question of whether or not it deserves all the attention. What it becomes is a big circular argument (doesn’t it always?) with lines such as:
I understand the context, but what about the premise/
It’s still a word that was created by a nemesis/
You can take the microscope, and examine the rappers/
Writes what’s in they soul, but that damage is past tense/
Christ should be the goal; go examine the pastors/
I swear it’s a double standard between movies and music too/
The imagery in cinema is more vivid than music/
Go and dissect the words of the ACTORS/
But then, oh Lord have mercy, Vito Banga gets the mic…
Can’t tell me this cat is wild/
Pick shit up quick, like a paper towel/
Merchant of music, melodies in a brown bag/
Militant, whiskey in my dog tags/
…I know, what does that entire series hafta do with the N-word, right? Don’t wurl about it; V ripped it. Ya’ll didn’t say anything when 80% of Kanye’s verse on Selfish by Slum Village had nothing to do with the song. …Yeah, everything after “Getcha own.” Nothing to do with the topic. Listen to it again.
…You’ve just been Jedi Mind Freak’d. …I know, right?
And now, for a commonly held fact: Kentucky Fried Chicken goes HARD. And so does the song Kentucky Fried Chicken on this mixtape. This beat made ya boy Earl Grey Summers verrrry happy. It’s GUTTER. It’s GRITTY. Like the Memphis Grizzlies; straight Zach Randolph in the paint, feel me? The track is all about the temptation for conscious MCs to dumb down their material. But Devine Carama adamantly refuses such a ridiculous notion. Conjuring a flow that somewhat mimics the delivery of Eminem, Devine Carama goes… ‘Eninen’, so to speak:
My flow nicer than white rose flowers to your wife/
And I’m the lightning through the clouds that’s strikin’ her Eiffel tower/
Mic cowards, not Mighty Mouse, I’m dope like white powder/
I’m Dwight Eisenhower mixed with D’wight Howard/
As Black history month comes to a close, this mixtape is appropriate to dedicate some time to. If you love dope lyricism and can appreciate a new, more intellectually-inclined dimension of Southern lyricism— or if you just want songs that are full of meaning and relevance to the African American struggle— Blood of a Slave should hold your attention. I will say it’s not perfect; here and there, the production quality lacks, the featured artists tend to drop off-topic verses, and even some of the great songs will wear on the casual listener with their sheer intellectual weight. To put it in perspective, Michael Eric Dyson’s appearance on the track The Populist Pulpit perfectly represents what you’re in for. Dyson has a reputation for saying all the right things… in the most complicated, laborious words possible. And the mixtape does that at times. But it’s worth stepping your vocab game up to find out what Carama’s bringing to the table.