Music News & Reviews

Rapper Devine Carama says if he can make it in Lexington, 'I've got cred anywhere'

Devine Carama says Lexington is a more difficult place for a hip-hop artist to succeed than many bigger cities. Carama's performance Friday at Al's Bar will double as an album-release party. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff
Devine Carama says Lexington is a more difficult place for a hip-hop artist to succeed than many bigger cities. Carama's performance Friday at Al's Bar will double as an album-release party. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff

Devine Carama

10 p.m. April 13 at Al's Bar, 601 N. Limestone. $5. (859) 309-2901.

Forging a voice, much less a local fan base, for hip-hop music in Lexington has never been a cakewalk.

You might blame that on the lack of exposure, the scarcity of appropriate venues or even audience demographics that seem to favor country, arena rock and indie pop over anything rap-related. But that hasn't deterred Lexington resident Devine Carama.

A leading hip-hop stylist for nearly a decade, he is responsible for organizing a monthly musical summit at Al's Bar. This weekend's installment will double as a record-release party for his new indie album, Heart of a King. Carama sees the frequency of the Al's shows as a way to raise the visibility of hip-hop in Lexington and the artists who work within it.

"I think Lexington is learning," Carama said. "I think they are learning to appreciate indie hip-hop. They are learning to appreciate something alternative, because the hardest thing about a smaller city where they get used to the same things is getting them out of that mentality. The more we do these shows, the more the support will continue to pick up.

"But it's tough to get heard. Honestly. It's really, really tough. We probably have some of the most talented hip-hop artists in the country right here in Lexington. But because the support and venues aren't there like they are in some of the bigger cities, artists aren't able to really thrive. But I think that has all just made me stronger. I feel if I can generate the buzz that I have in a place like Lexington, then I've got cred anywhere."

To prove the point, Carama gave a pair of performances last week in New York and New Jersey. Next week, he heads to Chicago for a concert.

Helping spread the word on Carama as much throughout the country as on home turf is the narrative makeup of his music. His songs express themes that are urgent but upbeat, making Heart of a King stand out from a rap pack consumed by violence, sexism, materialism and self-importance.

"My style of music is more socially conscious and a little more positive, a little bit more lyrical. Audiences seem to gravitate more toward that now in the bigger cities, especially in New York, where that style kind of originated from. It has been overwhelming, the support I've gotten up there.

"I wanted the album to present another side of hip-hop because I think hip-hop gets such a negative perception sometimes. I wanted to express more soul, more of the positive on this album, but I also wanted it to be more honest. With a lot of music, everything is all good or all bad. And that's just not reality. I'm not a perfect person, so I really like to show the struggle of good and bad in my music and how I'm trying to do good and how sometimes I fall short. I think I get that message across on the album."

But as an indie artist, Carama has discovered a grass-roots means of cultivating an audience that is decidedly modern in design.

"With the Internet being so big, there are a handful of blogs that are really, really large. ... So I've been blessed enough to get my music on some of those bigger blogs. That's what has allowed my music, and the music of a lot of really big up-and- coming artists, to branch out."

Among the blogs that have featured Carama are 2dopeboyz.com, Hiphopdx.com, Kevinnottingham.com and Djbooth.net.

With followings in New York and Chicago, is Carama readying himself to move out of Lexington?

"I have two daughters (both of whom are 11). They're a big part of my life," he said. "So until I'm in a position where I can really support my family with my music, I don't want to leave. Besides, I think it would be great for the city if someone from here could kind of make it in hip-hop from the ground up, you know?"

Friday's show will feature Webb, Cazz Wonder, Alex Zayne, Yung Lex, Decypha, Scoupe, Just Me, Ntelligent and Starks.

Back Outside

Returning to active duty next week will be the Outside the Spotlight series of improvisational music and free-jazz performances.

Tuesday brings a new trio to Embrace Church, 1015 North Limestone, consisting of cornetist Josh Berman, saxophonist Christoph Erb and veteran OTS cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm. Sharing the bill will be the duo of trumpeter Greg Kelley and guitarist Bill Nace. Experimental songsmith Matt Krefting will open. (7:30 p.m. $5.)

On Wednesday, percussionist Tatsuya Nakatani returns for a performance with the local chapter of his Nakatani Gong Orchestra at the Tuska Center for Contemporary Art in the University of Kentucky Fine Arts Building on Rose Street. (8 p.m. Free.)

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