Portrait of an Artist: Devon Ray Williams '10-'11
Devon Ray Williams ’10-’11—who just released his first hip-hop album “High Time” last Monday while balancing school and ultimate frisbee practice—is not your average college senior. Though just a few semesters ago he was a computer science concentrator considering a full-time job at Microsoft after graduation, Williams now devotes the majority of his free time to his true passion: making music. In one word, he calls his new album “relevant,” and proves that the road less traveled is sometimes the road with the most potential.
The Harvard Crimson: Can you tell me a little bit about your new album?
Devon Ray Williams: It’s called “High Time.” The first half is about social justice issues ... the second half is about my romantic justice [and] getting back from all the relationship issues I’ve had. I knew as soon as I wrote one verse of “High Time” that it was going to be the title song of the album because it just embodied [my ideas] completely. It’s high time that I do this ... it’s high time that people listen to what is happening in the world around them, and it’s high time that hip-hop artists talk about more relevant things.
THC: And you’re distributing this album for free?
DRW: I know that’s kind of unconventional. I’m not distributing it for free because I don’t think I could sell it—I think I could—but even if the number of people listen to my music is only 10 times greater, that’s still a huge gain.
THC: Can you talk about taking two semesters off and the reason why you did it?
DRW: I was originally Class of 2010, and halfway through my senior year—three semesters into my computer science major—I realized I [didn’t] know what I [wanted] to do ... so I took a year off. The first half [of the year] I spent doing computer science work ... but I realized that even though I enjoyed it, my true passion is music. One of my best friends, my roommate, said “you know what, Devon, if that’s your passion, you just need to suck it up and do an album and have it ready when you get back to school.” The past six months I’ve spent working my tail off on this album, and here we are.
THC: How did you become interested in music?
DRW: I came from a musical background—I was raised in church ... a different vibe than hip-hop. Getting here as a freshman I started doing more acoustic stuff. I got into hip-hop by doing a satirical song: the “My House” video for housing day for Mather House. I realized hey, I’m actually not that bad at doing hip-hop.
THC: How has being a computer science concentrator helped or hindered your musical projects?
DRW: If anything, it’s helped with the marketing. Now I design my own website, I design my own artwork, I design my own flyers. It’s nice to not have to shell out money for that.
THC: Who are some of your favorite artists that you draw inspiration from?
DRW: Kanye West is a huge influence. People can go on and on about his character ... I don’t like to be involved in people’s characters, as far as stars. I really appreciate the musicality that he introduces to the genre. As far as lyrically and content-wise, Lupe Fiasco is another huge influence because he talks about real things. He’s built an audience who appreciates what he does and that’s what I hope to do.
THC: Do you think it’s necessary to adopt a stage persona or an alter ego to perform in this business?
DRW: I think they are very important. I don’t want to box myself into one per se, but a lot of people ... assume that the music is speaking from personal experience—that it’s autobiographical. That’s fair because that’s the precedent. But when you look at poetry or writing or just prose in general, it’s taboo to assume that the narrator is the same as the author. I didn’t really do it much in this album, but one of my goals as I develop into a better artist is to be able to take on different personas in different songs. It would be nice to stretch the music and be able to be an artist who, in the song, [may not] actually be Devon Ray.
THC: What are your goals with regard to your music, both short and long term?
DRW: It’s only a couple of months until I graduate, so I don’t expect for this to take off like crazy. That’d be sweet, but it doesn’t happen like that. My goal is to get to a point at the end of this semester where I know if I can pursue this or not.
THC: What’s your advice for anyone trying to make it in this business?
DRW: My advice for anyone trying to get into this is honestly just love it. Love it completely. You’ve gotta still pursue important things like school. There’s definitely a way in this business to have your cake and eat it too, at least for a little while.