Cast your mind back to 2010; the British music industry had just come back to life after the shock success of Tinie Tempah's No. 1 smash, "Pass Out", and Ed Sheeran was on the cusp of a global takeover with his rap-leaning folk sound. This was also the year that Devlin from Dagenham released his debut album, Bud, Sweat & Beers, on Island Records. Coming off the back of pop-heavy singles such as "Runaway" with Yasmin and "Let It Go" with Labrinth, all eyes were now on the silver-haired rhymer. That album, though a Top 30 hit and a decent effort, wasn't exactly what fans of Tales From The Crypt Dev, The Art Of Rolling Dev, was expecting from one of the grime scene's most loved spitters. And from there on—despite the odd nod to the genre on his 2017 LP, The Devil In—for many of his day-one supporters, Dev had become a lot like Dizzee: a gifted, lyrically dense MC revered highly for his earlier works, but one we'd officially lost to pop's sunken place.
But grime fans are a forgiving bunch.
We hold onto the hope that, one day, the scene's top wonderers would find their way back home after getting to the bag with their watered-down sound. And when it was announced that D-E-V-L-I-N would be releasing The Outcast, excitement in grimeland hit the Twittersphere with force. Snippets and Insta pics of the MC in the studio with veteran producer Lewi White was enough to get people talking about his long-awaited return to grime's core. But upon pressing play on The Outcast, I wasn't expecting much; after two highly-polished LPs before it, could you really blame me?
After the opening moments, though, I was fully involved: from start to finish, the 13-tracker proved to be one of the most balanced and well-put-together grime sets to hit my inbox since its stars moved from making mixtapes to albums. For me, this was the Bud, Sweat & Beers debut I always wanted to hear.
Opening up the set we have "Pirate"—one of the 11 tracks produced by Lewi White, who uses a number of classic instrumentals (e.g. Big E-D's spine-rattling "Frontline" from 2003) as his base for a concoction of sounds you would typically hear in a pirate radio set. Devlin sounds as hungry as ever as he reminisces on his mic-spraying days of old, before handing it over to close friend and collaborator Syer B—who sounds as energetic here as he does on Sidewinder tapes from the mid-2000s. "Fun To Me", the album's second single following "Live In The Booth", is up next, and for the fact that Devlin chose a menacing Terror Danjah riddim to bar on shows us exactly where his head is at.
The self-proclaimed "grime ambassador for Dagnarm" is no longer here to please the mainstream, instead taking it back to his true grime self; one with fire in his belly and heaps of lyrical substance. No track lets us know that he means business more than on "Grime Scene Killa", where we're quickly reminded of Devlin's position on the genre's leaderboard. Devlin knows how well-respected he is in the scene that birthed him on "Limelight" (produced by Kid D), and "Too Far Gone"—and instead of continuing with the washed up pop-rap formula of 10 years ago, there's a clear realisation throughout the album that this now-independent artist is back home where he truly belongs.
It wouldn't be right to mark Dev's return to grime without a feature from his old The Movement pal, Ghetts, both of whom spar on "Triton" as tautly as they did on "Buss 1" in 2008. Also appearing on the LP is the singer Steph Wills, for the R&G-tinged "I Will Never", Rawz Artilla on the braggadocious, rap-leaning "Make It Hot", and Roll Deep's Scratchy joins in for an East End bar-off on the dubsteppin' "Scratchlin". The outcast of pop? He may well be. But Dev's grime stripes have now been reinstated.