Fueling Forever: Devine Carama Pushes The Power of Words Through Generations

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With album titles like No Child Left Behind, The Dream Walker, and his upcoming project, Believing in Foreverit’s easy to tell that Devine Carama’s music stands for more than simply putting slick metaphors together. But when you get to not only listen to his compositions, but also watch his actions, you realize that when he stands for something, he moves for it too.

Representing Lexington, Kentucky, Carama, in between releasing The Dream Walker in January and his upcoming effort in October, set up a not-for-profit foundation called “Believing In Forever” with the goal of providing positive outlets for children. Last week he gave away two separate $250 back-to-school scholarships to two middle school students who won his “Stop The Violence” essay contest, and this week Carama delivered a barrage of bars in “Nicest MC You Never Heard About,” the first single off of the project bearing the same name as his foundation.

Carama is a busy man with two 12-year-old daughters, and also organizes several long-running events in Kentucky, but he took the time out to talk to me about the goal and themes behind the “Believing In Forever” organization and album, Worldstar Hip Hop, violence in Chicago, and more.

Interview By Julian Caldwell a.k.a JSWISS (@jswisshere)

JC: What’s the mission behind the “Believing in Forever” foundation and what are its parts?

DC: We’ve got an event called “Poetry in Motion Youth” where kids can come out — it’s an open mic — and they can rap, sing, they can dance, they can do poetry. We even had one kid who came out and wanted to be a comedian, so he told jokes. The motivation behind that is, I know in the high school I had graduated from had about four or five suicides in the last two years. So it kinda shed light that these kids are going through a lot, but they don’t really have outlets to let that stuff out, or to express what they’re going through. So they tend to turn to violence, or bullying, suicide, whatever. So that’s the motivation behind it.

But also I’m doing “Power of Words” presentations. So I’m going to schools and talking to kids about hip hop and poetry, and how they could use it to inspire people. It’s not just to turn up. And I also did a back-to-school scholarship under that, where we did “Stop the Violence” essays. Kids turned in essays and the two winners got back-to-school scholarships.

JC: What did reading the essay submissions tell you about the youth in your area?

DC: It told me number one, that they really get it because they’re in it, so a lot of the solutions that they had were even things I didn’t even really think of. Sometimes you have to listen to those directly affected to get the answers. It was really eye opening.

And also just the fact that they care. I think as adults sometimes we look at these kids like they’re just young or wilding, and they don’t care. But there are a lot of kids that do care. So they’re in the same fight as we are as emcees. We try to uphold the tradition of what an emcee is supposed to be about to combat all this ignorance stuff. There’s a lot of kids that want to be on the other side of all this violence.

JC: What was in the essays of the kids who won that made them stand out?

DC: It was the solutions. It wasn’t just ‘I wanna see violence stopped.’ They talked about neighborhood watch programs. They talked about building better relationships with police. In-depth things that can actually happen as opposed to just emotional responses, which were cool too, but I feel like these young kids really dug deep for real answers.

 

JC: I know you hold a bunch of events in Lexington, break down all those for me.

DC: Through the Devine Experience, which is events I do for profit, we do “Brown Sugar,” which is the hip hop showcase. We do “Poetry in Motion,” which is the open mic, spoken word joint. Then we do “Neo Soul Nights,” which is where we combine the live band with spoken word and we got live painting, and then we got a couple of DJs. And one more event with those that we only do a couple times a year is the “The Slow Dance,” which is like an old school slow jams party. And then like I had mentioned before through the non-profit Believing In Forever, I do “Poetry In Motion Youth,” which is a monthly event open mic for the kids.

“Brown Sugar” and “Poetry in Motion” we’ve been doing seven years. “The Slow Dance” we’ve been doing six [years]. And then “Neo Soul Nights” and “Poetry in Motion Youth” we’ve been doing one year.

JC: How do you view hip hop’s role in the community and what it can be and what it should be?

DC: I feel like it can be a positive role just because the influence is so strong. A lot of these kids look up to these hip hop artists more than they do their teachers sometimes, or even their pastor, which isn’t right, but it’s the truth. It’s just such a strong influence. So, if hip hop has that kind of power, why not use it to do something positive and inspiring.

But at the same time I’m not gonna say that’s what it should be, that’s what it can be. Cuz I feel like hip hop should have balance. I feel like we need all the elements. We need the negative, the positive; people wanna have fun with hip hop sometimes. So I feel like we need everything, but that’s what it’s capable of.

JC: Has giving back been something that’s always been a part of your music career?

DC: I think it’s something that developed over time. Obviously there was always the content that was there in my music. But I think being in kind of a smaller mid major city like Lexington that’s not as diverse, as I devinecarama3got older, I realized whether it as the nightlife or the culture within the city, I felt like things was not very diverse and was stagnant.

So I felt like if I can get two, three hundred people to come out and watch me perform, maybe I can get two, three hundred people to come out and watch a live band or watch a hip hop showcase with other artists. I just felt like I got this type of support, why not use that support to create some other things that can last long after I’m gone. When I was coming up, in Lexington, as far as the urban crowd, it was club or the strip club. When my daughters come up, I want them to be able to be like, ‘Oh ok we’re going to poetry night tonight, then we might hit the reggae spot Friday.’

JC: How much of an impact has being a father had on your career?

DC: A lot man. It started obviously before I had kids, the content was there. A lot of people might have kids, but they might not really be in their lives or really close to them, but if you have a close relationship to them — and I feel like if you do hip hop from the heart, it’s hard to separate those two things. It’s hard for me to disrespect women in my music and then go and kiss my daughter on the cheek.

JC: You went out to Chicago to address the violence there for a few days this year right?

DC: Yea I went a couple months ago and did my “Power of Words” presentation to a couple schools on the Southside and a couple of Boys & Girls clubs. And even got a chance to perform at a church. I just met a lot of people and built with a lot of people. I know they got a lot of people there doing work, so I didn’t wanna make people there already doing work feel like, ‘Who’s this dude coming from Kentucky who thinks he can just come in and do whatever?’ So in those eight days I only presented for four days and in the other four days I took time to meet people and build. So I’m actually gonna go back this fall and I plan on going a couple times each year.

Talking to these kids [in Chicago] there is a hopelessness with a lot of these kids. Going to these schools and going into these neighborhood centers, these kids don’t really have any hope. So you can kinda see where the violence begins generating before a gun even comes into play. People talk about gun control, and I was one of those people, but I think this trip to Chicago made me realize it’s not just the guns. You gotta start with the minds and hearts of these kids and the living conditions.

JC: What inspired you to make you last project, The Dream Walker EP that dropped earlier this year?

DC: I was halfway through that project and I was working on a project called NiceAnd my concept was, ‘I just wanna be the nicest doing it.’ It was just real lyrical-driven; wordplay and rhyme patterns. And then about halfway through it, it was MLK (Martin Luther King) weekend or leading up to MLK weekend, and I started seeing all these crazy flyers with MLK throwing up the West Side and chains all around his neck. So that kind of inspired me to come from the theme of, ‘Is this what he died for?’ So you notice that if you listen to The Dream Walker, track one through maybe five, you really see a more lyrical driven project, but then from track five or six on, you see more of the conceptual records that fit more into the theme.

 

JC: On that project you have a track called “Twinkle Twinkle Worldstar” where you criticize the website Worldstar. Explain your issue with them.

DC: I don’t hate very many things in my life, but I hate Worldstar. For two main reasons. For one, the fact that they put “Hip Hop” on it. If you wanna call it Worldstar.com, ok. But to call it WorldstarHipHop.com, it’s frustrating because you can put all the rap videos on there you want, but your site is popular because of all the rachetness you promote. So you kind of hide it with the umbrella of hip hop, which hurts hip hop.

Number two, you promote the worst of the African American community. Back in the day we had to deal with images being projected by the movies. If not movies then TV. That was bad enough, but in social media it’s ten times worst. You check some things from fights that people post, to fire challenges, to pass out challenges, all this ignorant stuff, and they’re getting millions and millions of views. So this stuff is just being perpetuated.

It hurts race relations because ignorant white folks see this and think this what we’re all about. Then you got young, impressionable black kids that see this and think this stuff’s cute. And then now you got rappers that don’t even care about the culture. They feel like they can make a quick Worldstar video and blow up. So there’s nothing I like about it at all. That’s why it’s up to emcees or whoever to be the other side of the coin. I gotta be honest, Worldstar motivates my music, because that’s what makes me wanna keep shining light on my side.

 

JC: You’ve got a track simply called “Love” on that project as well. How do you feel about the presence of love in hip hop?

DC: It’s definitely not enough. Somewhere along the line love has been considered soft in hip hop. While we’re in an era where dudes are wearing dresses or whatever. I feel that’s kinda ironic. When I made “Love” my goal was to try to over love. I think whether it’s love for the community, whether it’s love for women, whether it’s just love within relationships — it’s like all the songs now in that lane, it’s all about sex, or it’s all about, ‘Imma cut this chick off’ or ‘I got the baddest bitch.’ Future got a song saying, ‘She’s my trophy.’ So even ‘Love’ songs aren’t even about love anymore.

So again, when you got other cultures that don’t know anything about us, or you got young kids that don’t have a dad in the household, and the mom’s working two jobs, hip hop can be very influential. So again I just feel like certain elements like love and social commentary need to be in hip hop music. Not every artist, but I feel like there needs to be some artists talking about it.

 

JC: What can fans expect from the Believing in Forever album that’s coming up?

DC: I’m gonna drop it on my birthday, October 27. With this album, it’s gonna be a looser theme to it. Believing in Forever, as far as the concept of the album is just music and themes that could last forever. Devine believing in foreverWhether it’s an album like [Nas‘] Illmatic or Common‘s Resurrection20 years later we’re still talking about those, and probably 20 years from now they’ll still be relevant. So I wanna make music that’s gonna last a long long time. So that’s my main focus. Cuz I didn’t wanna shackle myself in a theme too much on this project, so the name is more the feel of the music. So I’m talking about local fame, artists getting trapped in that local fame stigma. I’m doing a joint about the radio, I got the Maya Angelou tribute. “Is There A Heaven for the Southside,” with stuff going on in Chicago.

It’s real soulful, it’s inspiring music. Here [in Lexington] on Sunday mornings our urban radio station will play gospel, and then at 10:59 they’ll play their last gospel joint, and then right at 11, with no warning, you might hear some French Montana. So I want this album to be like the hip hop album that you could come out of church or be leaving your wedding and you hear them gospel songs, and then boom, my album comes on. And even though the sounds are a little different, the feeling doesn’t change.

For this particular record, the joint I dropped [“Nicest MC You Never Heard About”] will probably be the only record of its kind. I think the majority of the rest of the record, the sound is more soulful and triumphant. Almost a bright revolutionary sound.

All the proceeds from the album are going to my non-profit organization. I’ve been applying for grants and stuff, but until I hear back from those, I’m kinda funding it myself. So that’s where the proceeds from the album will go, straight to the non-profit organization.

Follow Devine Carama on Twitter @DevineCarama, and his Believing in Forever organization @BeliefInForever.

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