In interviews, one of the most popular questions artists get asked is “How did you come up with your name?”
For singer, rapper, producer, and multi-instrumentalist Devin Christopher Mitchell, the answer lies in a stylized remix of his birth name, Devin, which then became DEVN. Lately, the Charlotte newcomer has had a lot to celebrate. For one, his debut EP, St. Luke St.—a rumination on love and romance that he engineered himself—was released this summer.
The industry has noticed: Album opener “The Chase” was included in the “Discovered on Apple Music” segment of hip-hop radio host Ebro Darden’s Apple Music 1 show. DEVN was also recently featured on Dreamville rapper and fellow Queen City native Lute’s new record, Gold Mouf, which was released to favorable reviews.
While his sound might be a hodgepodge—bringing to mind auto-tune forefathers like T-Pain, melodic rappers like Juice WRLD, newer R&B luminaries like dvsn, and pop icons like The Weeknd—DEVN’s identity as an artist is largely inspired by the rawness and authenticity of sixties and seventies soul music and early-2000s-era neo-soul.
His musical journey began at the young age of eight. He was raised in the church, where his grandmother had a requirement that everyone sing in the choir.
Almost immediately, adults began to whisper about his vocal abilities.
“I kind of knew that something was special about me,” Mitchell says. “As a kid, I would hear people say, ‘Oh, he can sing, he can do this.’ And they would [give me compliments] more than they did others. So that’s kind of how I figured out, OK, I know how to do something.”
When he wasn’t in choir practice, Mitchell would sneak to the back of the church to play around on the piano. When the church’s drummer caught him one day, instead of scolding him, he showed Mitchell how to play chords, thus introducing the young child to another musical skill set he didn’t realize he possessed.
Despite having gospel music embedded in his upbringing, the first song DEVN recorded was a rap song.
Thankfully, he did not grow up in a strict religious environment where secular music was avoided.
“It was never like that for me,” Mitchell says. “My family wasn’t strict like that. The great thing about it is both sides of my family are great at music. My uncle had his own band, and he wasn’t doing gospel. He would play at the family reunions. Watching him play sparked something. The crazy part is, I never thought to record gospel music. When it was time for church, it was time for church. But I recorded what I wanted to, there was no ‘Hey, you can’t do this or you can’t do that.’”
With years of recording experience under his belt, DEVN identifies as a trap-soul artist; creatively, he pulls influence from the likes of Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke, Waka Flocka, Lil Wayne, and T-Pain.
There’s a drive in his work and commitment to staying the course that can be felt, even through the phone. To that end, in the middle of our conversation, while talking about career obstacles, he stops and thanks himself.
“First, I want to thank myself for continuing,” Mitchell says. “When I started I didn’t have much and I didn’t know what I wanted. But I ran into this guy who was signed with Columbia Records and he showed me everything I needed.
That was a highlight moment for me—just stepping out on faith. I’d sit in the studio and say, ‘Yo, can you just show me how you do XYZ …. I just want to record.’ In exchange, I took out the trash and did food runs for the artists that were already in the studio. So I want to thank myself for that.”
His persistence and desire to learn have paid off. He now can record his own vocals and do his own engineering.
“As an artist, you want to be a complete package,” he says. “I’m proud to say that I produce, I sing, I write, I rap, I engineer—I do everything, so you can’t just put me in a box and say, ‘Hey, he can’t do this.’”
Things haven’t always been this smooth for the trap-soul star. Like most artists, DEVN battled depression. Financial limits placed a strain on the singer’s mental health, and the curative power of social media didn’t help: the pressure to be popular, to receive a certain number of likes, or even to have the perfectly placed Instagram photo caused DEVN to compare himself to his peers.
”We put out whatever we create on social media and we compare it to what everyone else has going on, and it can make you feel worthless,” he says. “Especially when you look at responses on Instagram or Twitter and you see ‘Oh, well they’re responding to this stuff, so it must be not as important.’ I struggled with just trying to fit in and find myself.”
DEVN’s Instagram name, @whoisDEVN, perfectly captures his journey through these struggles. And he remains grateful to have music as a therapeutic outlet.
“I don’t talk to too many people,” he says. “I put it on the microphone, and I let it all out there. And it has helped me find my purpose. If I wasn’t doing music, I don’t know what I would be doing.”
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