One of the weirder things about constantly being on the internet is how it messes with your sense of time. Can you remember when everyone was obsessed with Harambe, that gorilla that got killed in a zoo? Well my friend, that was only in 2016, but it feels like it may as well have been 1985. The amount of information from the internet that incessantly cascades into our minds on a daily basis means time seems to stretch out into the infinite, and makes fame as ephemeral as the next click of a browsing tab.
So it seems strange, then, that it’s more than ten years since Darren Devonshire was beamed onto laptop screens doing his ‘is this satire or nah?’ comedy rap act as MC Devvo. Today, he’s still touring off the back of what in 2008 felt like a fleeting fame. Granted, it was a fame that felt very pertinent to a time defined by phrases like ASBO and genuine uses of the slur “chav.”
For those that don’t know who MC Devvo is, or have simply forgotten, he was a comedic rap act who debuted in 2007. And together with avant-garde British comedic genius David Firth (of Salad Fingers animated web series fame), he took YouTube by storm with his lyrics about crystal meth, drinking tinnies and doing pills, all rapped in an extremely thick Doncaster accent. It was a satire about the kind of people the media were busy demonising at the time, but its appeal lay in the feeling that MC Devvo wasn’t some rich dickhead punching down, but rather someone who by and large lived what he was talking about – to the point where people at the time didn’t really know if it was a satire or not.
Either way, songs like “Crystal Meffin” (above) and “Donny Soldier” were popular enough to warrant an album release, From Yorkshire To New York, in 2007 and subsequent tours. Then Devvo disappeared completely between 2010 and 2012. But since then he’s been touring regularly up and down the country, and even though he recently announced his retirement, he still does the odd sell-out show now and then, like the 200 capacity venue The Maze in Nottingham just the other week. If anything MC Devvo was a precursor to the now-saturated UK comedy rap market. Before Big Shaq, Roll Safe, Kurupt FM and all manner of YouTube and Instagram comedians, MC Devvo was satirising British life using music and comedy in a way that felt new. Maybe that’s why he’s had, in viral internet fame terms, an insanely long-lasting career. Either way, I wanted to catch up with him and discuss what he’s been up to over the years as well as what he thinks of the recent influx of comedy music acts all over the internet.
Noisey: What was the inspiration behind MC Devvo and what made you start it in the first place?
MC Devvo: Well we were in Doncaster and also spent a lot of time in Hull, which is just a mishmash of weird fucking folk. So I started making videos for my mate David about those people, for a laugh. We would be blazing away, smoking joints and be like, ‘come on I’ve got to put one of these videos on the internet.’ People watched it and wanted us to come film another one. So I’d be like ‘Yeah alright’. I only had the intention to make David laugh, really.
Is that David Firth, from Salad Fingers?
Yeah mate, big Dave Firth. He created the monster.
How do you know him?
He’s just a kid who grew up in the same area, but obviously I’d taken a different path. We’d just have a laugh, y’know.
What happened next?
Prior to that like, around 2006, we were on YouTube, thinking I could do it myself. And then Channel 4 got excited – well, not excited: worried. Thinking people watching YouTube were not watching telly, Channel 4 scooped a shitload of us who were big on YouTube at the time and said, ‘Right we’re gonna give you ten minutes on telly’. So we just done some little clips for an awful show. Off the back of that we were able to do the album.
At what point did you realise you were getting big?
A year into it when we went to Leeds festival and did that video there. Then like, everybody around us knew who I were and I was like, ‘Fuck yeah – this has got some traction hasn't it?’ In the terms of physically seeing people and not being able to walk anywhere without having somebody shouting “DEVVO.”
What kind of musical influences did you have?
90s rap and stuff like that: your Dre’s and your 2-Pacs. Then there’s, like, Mobb Deep; fucking Mobb Deep mate. To a certain extent it did piss people off, I think, who took what I did dead serious. They would have been thinking, ‘Who’s this fucking kid thinking he can rap?’ But when I do a gig, I don’t take it serious, I take a fucking iPod with me. Take an iPod, sound check and crack on.
You’ve probably seen all the recent UK comedy rap acts – what do you think of them?
I think fair play to them, there’s a space for everything isn’t there? And if people like Big Shaq and then get into comedy, I’m all for it. Good on them.
Social media is a lot more fast-paced and rabid than when you started. How do you think it affects online comedians?
I suppose Big Shaq is doing his thing and there were a team of people who already knew he was gonna be big and they were very fast to get him out there. He’s done that video, he’s on 1Xtra, he’s doing a tour, he’s got Spotify, he’s making cash straight away. So in that sense it’s much easier.
I think a lot of the success with Devvo came from the fact that people didn’t know if it was real or not. Do you think that’s changed with modern day acts?
Everyone's happy to accept them two things aren't they. They’re not pissed off Big Shaq’s not “real”. Where at the time I think there was people thinking Devvo was real, and it causes a bit of thing where they’re asking ‘is it real or not real?’. It used to really fuck people off if someone was like, ‘Oh Devvo isn’t a joke’ and then they found out I was. Now everyone is quite happy to have Big Shaq and also the fact that he’s actually Michael D.
Why did you get into doing live shows?
I started to do a live thing just because I was pushed by the idea of not making it on telly. It took me few years to get my head round it. But you know what happened, I had fuckin good time. I was building the live gig thing then in 2012 I did it on my terms, booking myself and not having to pay somebody 10 percent or 15 percent, not having to feel like I have to appease people because I'm there to do something for them. If i wanna do a live gig and wanna play four songs off my iPod and chat shit for an hour then hopefully it’ll be a packed out and usually they are, but if it’s a shit gig I’d just play back to back iPod tracks and fuck off and pocket all the cash.
How has the reaction changed to them from when you started doing live shows to now?
It's just like back at the start: people didn’t know what to do with it. Somebody booked a gig because we were on telly and they didn’t know what was going on when we played. I feel like it's a nostalgic thing now. Nostalgic for something that didn’t really happen that long ago, any time I do a live gig you get a lot of people who would say ‘You got me through being at school’, you got me through this, or we used to listen to you when were doing that. That’s the reaction, it's more like we have a thing. That's why sometimes they call me Uncle Devvo because we have this shared nostalgic thing.
You’ve done quite well out of it though?
I’ve done alright, you know. The driving force when it started was just to make Dave laugh and then it moved to telly and then it made me think, ‘Oh right this is big now’. Around 2008 and 2009 I was thinking, ‘This isn’t what i should be, I’m pissed off – I'm not making what i thought I’d be’. So I just took a step back from it, because it pulled me into this world that I weren't actually thinking about entering into. Then that transpired to do some live gigs and enjoy myself. In terms of that, yeah I’ve done alright. I'm not made actual millions, of course I haven’t, but what I have done has made me happy.
You mentioned TV there again, do you have any regrets overall now?
I don't know, if you asked me in 2009, yeah I was fucked off that it’s not done what I thought it would do. You gotta think when you’re on telly, I should have made it onwards and upwards. But it took me a lot of time to sort my head out. You have to work a lot of harder to serve these telly people. But now, people come up and say ‘You’ve helped through hard times’ and it hits you and you think that surely thats what its about. ‘Me and my mates have an absolute laugh on the way to school’ and stuff like that. That's more then what I intended with this whole thing, so yeah, no regrets.
You can find Tom on Twitter.