When you exude confidence, people pull into orbit around you
In mid-January, I played a game of cat and mouse with rapper-producer Devin XO, months after the release of his all-embracing EP Journey to Paradise. As we eventually decided to meet at Kafe Kerouac on an unusually warm winter night, Devin XO (born Philippe Laroque) enthusiastically shared details about his craft and forthcoming projects.
“When you exude confidence, people pull into orbit around you,” Devin XO said, rummaging through his extensive iTunes catalog on his MacBook and giving insight on his next release, possibly being titled ‘Coming of Age’.
“I want my projects to include a statement, not just being projects, but an experience.” As he explains the premise of his previous albums, including Americana and Fake Smiles, he makes it clear that his next project will not be linear to Journey to Paradise, “On Journey to Paradise, I wanted to push the idea of being yourself. Make what feels right, make what’s natural.”
During our conversation, Devin XO was also preparing for his set during the King of Iron Goo Tournament later that night, letting me hear a snippet of his song ‘God Mode’ featuring Columbus native Correy Parks that he planned to perform. The song is gospel-like, featuring glimmering production and a spiritually elevating message: “God as my witness, I’ma get it.”
Colorful and Uplifting Music
As we chat inside Kafe Kerouac, located across from the campus of The Ohio State University, XO recalls his life as a college student. During his time at Ohio State, XO created well over 200 songs and visited Shanghai with the OSU Freestyle Club. His travel to Shanghai, along with making a stop in Wuhan, Beijing, was aptly marked by the March 9th, 2014 release of Pharrell Williams’ album ‘GIRL’, the day XO’s flight left the states. Devin XO’s remembrance of his past almost seems to parallel the music that surrounded him during previous events. He also recalls meeting his girlfriend, songwriter and producer Diamond Brown, whose music he describes as “colorful and uplifting.”
“I loved the sound and that he produced,” says Diamond, two weeks after my meeting with Devin XO. Sprawled out on XO’s bed with a large white comforter, across from a cherrywood record player and a stack of vinyl records beside the door, the couple easily replicates a modern version of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Bed-In for Peace. Diamond reflects upon meeting XO at an event in 2016, already having been a fan of his Fake Smiles album, and her musicality being affiliated with his past works.
“I began playing saxophone in 4th grade,” says Diamond, skimming through her past production works. She plays a song that she created called ‘Imaginary Lovers’, which is reminiscent of Sweetback, Sade Adu’s backing band. “My family always had instruments. Even if we didn’t play perfectly or know music theory, we were always performing.”
As a former student at Howard University studying public relations, Diamond realized that she had not yet discovered her niche in school, and returned to Columbus to continue producing. Upon her return, she invested in a keyboard and began making beats on Garageband. Noting that she has synesthesia, the ability to see sounds, Diamond says, “I wanted to recreate the sounds I really liked.”
Along with working with musical artist Chelsea Smith, Diamond also lent a hand with Columbus poet Queen Jami’s spoken word EP 4, staying up until 5 AM some mornings to find the perfect soundtrack for Jami’s poetry. “I was really thinking about the literation she made towards herself,” Diamond says about Queen Jami’s project. “I wanted to musically portray what she was saying in the best way possible. Nothing that would override her voice, but would match her mood.”
Whilst listening to songs featured on Diamond’s private SoundCloud, Diamond and Devin XO retell their adventure of attending the 2016 Afropunk festival, meeting both Thundercat and Steve Lacy of The Internet. It’s clear that music has aligned the couple, as they go forth into planning their future projects. “I have my ears one way, and his ears can be another way, but I always want to share my input.” Diamond says. “We may be musically separate at times, but we always get back together.”