Meet the hulking rapper who produced for P.Reign and counts a number of NBA players as friends.
Photo courtesy of Jennifer Su/The Varsity
Even though he’s a rapper now, Devontée’s future was filled with possibility while he was growing up. In high school, the now-21-year old played football for his undefeated team, achieving the rank of #1 Left Tackle in Canada during his tenure with the Donald A. Wilson Gators. He stopped playing halfway through his final year after the passion for sports suddenly disappeared. “I just lost the love for football. I was just really good at it, but I knew it wasn’t what I wanted to do at that point in my life. I wanted to be a musician since I was eight, and I knew that it was time to really focus and put my everything into my craft.” This revelation forced the man known to the world as Devontée Cormier-Grubb to find a new path for his hulking 6’5”, 300 pound frame to follow. He chose to pursue teaching, enrolling as a mentor at the same music program he had taken during his time in high school, the School Alliance of Student Songwriters. He had entered the course as a rapper, rhyming under the moniker of D-Bonez while enrolled. “I learned a lot while I was enrolled, just about how to structure a song and how to count bars. Even now, I teach kids the same kind of thing that I benefitted from most, like stage presence and self confidence.” In addition to learning how to rap and write songs, Devontée started playing around with music programming software, “I got fed up with trying to find beats online so I decided to start making my own. I produced my first song with Fruity Loops and I ended up recording maybe 300 songs by the time I turned 16 with Fruity Loops and Audacity. But when I learned more I started to use Logic to produce and Pro Tools to mix.” After Devontée found his ear as a beat maker, he decided to drop his juvenile moniker of D-Bonez and adopt his real name as his rap name, releasing his debut project Devontée By Devontée in April of 2014.
The way that Devontée raps isn’t typical of someone who comes from Toronto. His voice literally booms with bass when he belts lyrics directly from the inside of his barreled chest. It’s a delivery that sets him apart from what you’d typically hear from Toronto rappers, who either inflect their voice with a sandpaper growl or float melodically like The Boy over songs. This distinguishing characteristic, when coupled with Devontée’s ability to make his own beats—one of which found its way onto P.Reign’s Dear America tape as the song “Obama”—makes him a character with his own self-defined personality, allowing him to stand out among rap peers who chase trends.
In addition to all of the practical musical knowledge that he’s picked up over the years of schooling—both self-imposed and otherwise—Devontée has also built a steady rolodex of star athletes who he is fortunate enough to call friends. “I’m very freaking affiliated with sports.” says Devontée. “I’ve actually recorded a song with Kevin Durant. It’s somewhere on Youtube. I took it off my channel but someone else has it up. I don't know who, but the song is called, ‘Texas.’” Devontée recently appeared as a cameo guest in Steph Curry’s home-made remix to Drake’s “0-100” for which Devontée flipped the beat. “Boi-1da actually texted me about the Steph Curry stuff and was like ‘the way you flipped the beat was crazy.’ That was surreal to me because he made the original “0 to 100” track and for him to say that my version was really good—that was fucking crazy.”
Noisey: First thing’s first: How do you get in the Steph Curry “0-100” spoof video?
Devontée: I produced it for them because Steph Curry’s wife is my cousin. I was actually with them on their first date.
Yeah, I was spending time at her house when I was in North Carolina, and he came over and we all went to Blockbuster and got a movie. I think it was, The Ring. They actually used my digital camera and took pictures of that date, so I’ve been close with them ever since.
It seems like you’re tangentially related to a lot of athletes.
That’s just the path God has placed me on. Myck Kabongo is like my best friend, he’s from Blake Street. That’s the street that i spent a lot of my childhood on because my cousin and my Dad are from that side of Toronto. My Dad use to bring me to Blake St. and that’s how I met them. I know alot of the Canadian athletes just from being on that street all the time.
What is Woe?
Woe is my crew. It stands for “working on excellence.” It’s just my whole brand and my whole movement and my way of life for everyone. I want everyone to work on excellence. So, all my friends are my Woes and I feel anybody working on excellence in life is a Woe in life as well.
You’ve worked with a lot of people and artists. Who would you say has taught you the best lesson?
One time I went to the studio and Drake was there, and he invited me and Julian Cruz to one of his sessions and see what he’s recording. He played “Tuscan Leather” and that song with PartyNextDoor; “Own It” and it was just an experience seeing his vision and the goal board he had in there.
What do you mean? Drake looks at a vision board while he records?
Yeah, it’s just a board of all the things he wants to accomplish in his life all the things he’s already accomplished. There’s like magazine covers, pictures from his childhood … I don't remember too intensely what was on them, but it was a really cool thing to see. Since then I’ve been learning to set my own goals. P.Reign taught me a lot about always working on your music, because he also has a really great work ethic and drive. Really just creating what's on my mind and not over thinking things. I’ve learned it’s important for things to just come from your heart. I find that when I make music with that mentality it comes out the best.
What do you like better: producing or rapping?
Producing is easy for me. Rapping is a challenge to me sometimes, so its fun and I feel a lot more accomplished when I finish writing a verse. But I also produce 99% of all my music so I can't really separate the two in a sense. I could just literally open my computer and press all the sounds that I have and a beat just comes.
Why do you think your sound is so different from everyone else that has come from Toronto?
To me, Toronto has no colour until the night time—if that makes sense. The sky is very gray here. If you’ve ever been to America and you look up into the sky, it’s very blue in the daytime. But here in Toronto, the sky during the daytime is kind of grayish-blue, even the buildings are like tall and gray everything just feels gray. But I feel once it hits the night time, the city is all colour.
So you think that the atmosphere and colour of the city makes the music that comes out darker?
Yeah in a sense. Even the happy stuff has a dark tinge to it.
What are your goals in 2015?
To put out a new project to have a bigger fan base. I want to earn $100,000 from my music career next year.
Are you going to be touring?
I don't know, we’ll see. I’m really looking at trying to get more production placements on some new albums.
Are you going to be focused more on producing or rapping?
It’s weird because some weeks I’ll make seven beats and then I’ll be like ‘shit I should be rapping right now.’ I don't see myself as a rapper or producer, I just see myself as an artist making music. It’s hard for me to give up beats sometimes, because when I make a beat and I even record just a little bit of vocals on it, then I automatically don’t want to give that song up. At the same time, I have connections to some pretty big artists so it’s just a balance.
When people see you name on the album credits would you rather it read, “produced by Devontée” or “featuring Devontée?”
Are you going to go back to your football career if this doesn’t work out?
Definitely not. This is going to work out.