Devin Tracy exudes a persistent aura of quiet confidence that defines the music he makes. A Soulection alum, his distinctively high vocal register and funky boom-bap production have made him a long-time favorite of future R&B-heads and soul classicists alike. After moving from Florida to New York to study jazz and vocals, his recent relocation to sunny Los Angeles has allowed for another chapter of the acclaimed future-R&B singer to be written. Tracy recently sat down with EARMILK for an exclusive peek into the process behind his most recent EP, Don’t Take it Personal, as well as a conversation about his influences and future goals.
“Solitude is the best because you learn so much about yourself,” Tracy confides. “I learned that through the process of making this EP and working through a breakup. I had to take time for myself and be alone, even though as a Cancer it’s really hard for me to be alone,” he laughs. For Tracy, Don’t Take it Personal represents a tumultuous time in his life as he faced moving to LA in the midst of the pandemic and more recently going through a breakup. “The EP is really a cohesive story of a breakup that ends with therapy. And it’s a story that hasn’t really been told before in the LGBT community. I mean it has, but every time I see stories that are similar to mine, it’s never fully been explained or registered with me. I wanted to show that there are different sides in this community; different colors, different ups-and-downs, just like every relationship.”
Don’t Take it Personal is a true sonic journey of pain, acceptance, and ultimately growth. What starts with the harrowing yet angelic “personal intro” gives way into the comfortably boisterous “goofy ass” that sets the tone for the remainder of the EP. The REO-produced “easy” is a soul-dripped vibe-check wrapped in lush chords driven by a plucky bassline that delivers something of a moment of clarity during a storm of conflicting emotions. Lead single “nlm” returns the project to its previously exuberant tone and ratchets the self-confidence up to 11; an all-around soul-hop banger that scintillates with distorted synth bass and Tracy’s infectious enthusiasm. Concluding track “therapy” is exactly what it sounds like, a reminiscence on the rising and falling of the now-defunct relationship upon which the project is centered.
“As you get older you go through a lot more shit and have more stories to tell, so I feel like my music has matured but it’s still stayed fun. You can hear that in every song on the EP like it’s me being more mature but I’m still having fun in the studio; doing my harmonies, writing, working with different producers, it’s hella fun.” Tracy enlisted long time production collaborators REO and J.Robb for his new EP as well as working with some new names that have allowed him to stay fresh while still maintaining his distinctive sound. “J.Robb is like a big brother, every time we record a song it sounds very timeless. Even though he only has one song off this EP (‘goofy ass’), every time we make something together it’s magic.” The Soulection production influence is palpable on the project, with bouncy drums and pulsating basslines reminiscent of early house music fused with the old-school boom-bap of J Dilla and Pete Rock, two of Tracy’s biggest influences.
“9th Wonder, Flying Lotus, Pete Rock, J Dilla,” he starts reeling off his influences, “Before I even met J.Robb I was putting my vocals over J Dilla beats because I knew that was the sound I really wanted.” In fact, Tracy derived much of his vocal inspiration from female soul and R&B titans such as Chaka Khan, Erykah Badu, Gladys Knight and Phyllis Hyman that more accurately lent themselves to his higher vocal range. “Women have paved the way for me because when I was growing up it was women that had the dynamics and the range to be able to have a certain cadence that really inspired me” he relates. “When people listen to my music now sometimes they’ll ask me like who is this sexy ass female singing over this track? and I just say, shit, well at least they think I’m sexy!”
“I want to continue to create timeless music, like the songs that I’m releasing today you’ll still be able to hear 10 years, 20 years from now,” he relates as his primary goal for his career. “I’m still going to have my particular sound because it really is just me doing me. In the past I was still trying to find my place in the industry, but now that I found my sound people are gonna hear that and say that’s Devin Tracy, that’s Devin Tracy’s sound.” With Don’t Take it Personal, Tracy accomplishes just that; 5 tracks of something that is indisputably his. An ultra-groovy, no-frills musician that cultivates an impeccable vibe is who Devin Tracy is inside of the studio and out; a truly unique voice in neo-soul that is so unmistakably himself that he couldn’t possibly deliver anything less than a timeless classic.
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