I Self Devine is no stranger to struggle.
From the streets of L.A. (Compton, Watts and South Central all played a part in his upbringing) most days it was a major challenge to simply survive, especially after his father left him and his mother on a Christmas day when Devine was only eight years old.
What makes I Self Devine a rarity as a L.A. MC is, despite his past life of gangs and all that comes with it, he never solely relies on his dark days as a crutch to embellish his rhyme narratives (like Snoop Dogg, for example). In fact, on his first solo effort Self Destruction, the legendary underground rapper touches on life, politics, sex, and hope in a variety of ways.
Aided with production by the Rhymesayers hit men (Vitamin D, Bean One, Jake One, and the beloved Ant), Devine’s album is as personal as they come, while still being relevant to others. Think: Tupac’s Me Against The World.
So when he says “Getcha Money On” over the grimy, pimp-flavored Ant track, you feel where he’s coming from. Likewise, “Live In The Moment (featuring Budah Tye)”, where Vitamin D channels Kanye’s surreal production, has I Self expressing his trials and tribulations in a most Talib sort of way; not glorifying, but relating his experience.
Then there was the fork in the road between choosing the gang life or choosing the hip-hop life first seen and heard after his mother took him to the film “Wild Style” in 1982. That is where Ant’s 70’s styled musicscape comes in for the song “All I Know.” With Mazta I singing the rhythmic, but never cheesy hook, Devine once again regales with tales of his life growing up. “Feel My Pain” is another track that works this angle, with I Self taking the Tupac “Keep Ya Head Up” route and talking candidly to the ladies.
More recently, his focus has been to pursue who he really is at this point. After working with the critically acclaimed Micranots, the group Semi.Official, and the power house group The Dynospectrum, I Self was always on the verge of making it big, but never quite crossing over.
Jake One’s urgent “Everyday Shit” is the perfect catharsis for otherwise destructive anger. “Actions” with Buday Tye & Blacc Money also speaks to the daily struggle of the young black man in America. And paying homage to his idols Public Enemy, Self shares the song “Overthrow”, with its bomb squad-esque aural assault and the chanting war hook, the song is as hard and catchy as anything by Chuch and the boys.
Of course, it’s not all pain and discourse. The playful “Sex Sex Sex” is self explanatory. But the Bean One produced “Love Song” is as passionate and introspective as a rapper can be about falling in love without being considered corny. This may not be the crowning achievement of the project, but it is the one where you feel most connected to the artist.
Another gem in the crown that is Rhymesayers Entertainment, I Self Devine may have just elevated himself to the ranks of those considered the best in the game with this album.
In much the same way that The Black Album will forever be considered Jay Z’s most complete and compelling album, Self Destruction is the most personal creation for an emcee that has spent too many moments wondering when his time might come. Though helmed by several producers, Destruction is both cohesive and complementary.
His time is now.