Devlinbleu’s “Family Business” is a vibrant, collaborative effort

Courtesy of Devlinbleu Chambers ’22

Devlinbleu Chambers ’22 biked to our interview in the Old Bookstore—he’s slightly out of breath but more than ready to talk about how growing up surrounded by music has led him to where he is now. On Aug. 4, Chambers—Devlinbleu on streaming platforms and @devlinbleu on Instagram—released a music video for his song “Family Business,” featuring Niya Athiena and Anastasia. The song is on Chambers’ third release, “The Antidote III.”

The “Family Business” video was a true community effort. The project was directed by Kelsie Milburn ’21, with Chambers as the assistant director. Ian Herz ’23 was the cinematographer for the video, which starred Chambers, Milburn, Anish Kumthekar ’22, Naveen Chowdhury ’22, Ronan Sidoti ’23, Malinda Smith ’23, Tim Nguyen ’23, Michael Feltovic ’23 and Lucy Kuhn ’22. Smith also worked on set design, and costume design was done by Morris Pu ’22. The lemonade stands were created by Onyx Beytia ’22, Caeli Porette ’23, Angus Bernet ’22 and Wyatt Carey ’21.

The video is vibrant and, as Chambers noted, more of a short film than a traditional music video. Centered around feuding lemonade stands, the four-minute long project adds an entire narrative set to Chambers’ flowing, beat-driven track layered with heavenly background harmonies. The video builds on the song’s otherworldliness, pulling viewers into the eclectic pink and yellow world that Chambers and his collaborators have created.

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

The Miscellany News: I’d love to hear about your musical background. When did you start playing? What genres and what instruments?

Chambers: My parents were in a band when I was younger, and I just grew up going to bars with them and watching them perform their own music. I kind of picked up a little bit on a ton of instruments, but was never patient enough to sit down and fully learn. But I really got into the writing aspect of music and started doing slam poetry in high school. I was in the competitive circuit in Cleveland for that and worked with an arts collective there, and then slowly realized that it’s kind of fun to write with music. And slam poetry and rap are very interchangeable in a lot of ways, and it was a medium that I had grown up with and been surrounded by my whole life.

The Misc: Do you have an early memory of when you first started writing?

Chambers: This is kind of funny—I started writing poetry at first because I had a crush on this girl freshman year of high school, and I wrote this little poem and I sent it to her, and she was like, “That’s so cool!” And I was like, “Oh my God.” Yeah, I don’t know—a little bit of a hopeless romantic at the time. But then I started realizing that writing for me was super therapeutic and I always love performing and I was always kind of forced to be on a stage because of my parents. It was nice to really get my thoughts and ideas out, and process a lot of things. So really the first memories of writing are just waking up at like three, four in the morning in high school and just writing full poems. That’s kind of what happens now—some inspiration will come and I have to drop everything and just go for it.

The Misc: Who do you consider to be your musical, and poetic, influences?

Chambers: Most of my influences really came from the community that I was brought up in. Like my parents are a big inspiration. My dad has been writing songs since he was like sixteen. And so that was always kind of something to look up to, and I compared myself a lot to that. And honestly some of the best poets that I know I grew up with. But on a more mainstream level, I’m a big Kid Cudi fan—he’s from Cleveland, or grew up there. And Mac Miller for sure. I think a lot of artists that have influenced me have been ones that have dove into identity issues and trying to figure out where someone comes from, and where they come from, where they fit into communities. I was born in the inner city of Cleveland and in my elementary and middle school, I was like one of three white kids in the school. And then my high school was this private school, that I was lucky to get into, but then it was like a complete switch in demographics. And so with that comes a lot of identity clash, you know? And a lot of artists that deal with that I’ve gravitated towards.

The Misc: Switching to “Family Business,” what was the inspiration for the song? What was the writing process like?

Chambers: I wrote most of it during quarantine over the summer. I was stuck—I was quarantining in my garage at the time, and my parents were bringing me food and stuff, because my parents are old and they didn’t want to risk anything—I had just come back on a plane from L.A. And so I was just stuck in this garage camping out and one of the things that I really missed during quarantine was all the people that I felt connected with, you know?

I knew that my best friend’s sister had just started writing music as well, and I wanted to get her involved—Niya Athiena is the featured artist on the song. And my cousin Anastasia also did back-up vocals on it. So I wanted to really incorporate some of the people that I would consider the closest to family on the record, and then on the album cover as well.

Really the writing process was super quick and weirdly became prophetic, because there was a line in it where I talk about people passing too young. Within the three months that the song had been put out, two of my friends had passed. So yeah, basically it was kind of a call of like, you know, we’re in this tough situation, but at the end of the day, the people that you care about the most you’re gonna be there for. I also wanted to make a song that was really positive in a time when positivity was hard to come by.

The Misc: And what was it like collaborating on a song? How did that work in terms of writing and recording?

Chambers: I wrote separately and I sent Niya what I recorded, and then she wrote her section and came over and recorded after. It was a process of collaboration, but collaboration kind of apart. Because of COVID, it was tougher; we couldn’t really be in the same place writing. And I actually really liked it in that regard. We got to just add what we wanted to the song. And I honestly do think that when artists are just able to take the ego out of the equation and just let the other person do their thing, it pulls some of the best work out.

The Misc: Do you have a favorite lyric from the track?

Chambers: I love literary references in rap—I think it’s always so funny when you’ll hear an artist that drops like Gatsby in a line or something. I wanted to play around with the poem “Harlem” by Langston Hughes, with the line about a raisin in the sun. Niya had just been talking about how some people question your artistic direction, but your family will stand by you in that regard. And so I went in to say, “See ‘em switchin’ up/ ‘Bouta cross wires/ And fry ‘em/ Till their bacon/ Wrapped raisins/ In the bakin’ sun.” It was like an ode to that poem, but then bacon wrapped raisins? I don’t know—I also like the play on words like bacon and bakin’. And then in the next line it’s like, “Uh y’all is just nasty/ In the weeds we find the daisy/ Like Gatsby.” My ninth grade teacher would be so happy.

The Misc: What was your vision for the music video? It’s such a cool concept—how did you bring it to life?

Chambers: That video was crazy. The whole experience was actually really fun. Kelsie Millburn—she graduated last year—directed it. We were saying how we wanted to do a video, and I honestly couldn’t think of any other song to do it for except “Family Business,” because it’s so energetic. The first idea that I had was like, I want to play with the idea of the family business, as in the old Italian mob boss style. It was really just me, Kelsey and Ian Herz—absolute genius with a camera.

The Misc: I remember when this was happening—Tim [Nguyen] and Michael [Feltovic]

were in costume and they were like, “We’re filming a music video all day!”

Chambers: Yeah, it was so hectic. I wanted people in the video that I knew and that could be goofy and really just play themselves, just more stylized. That was kind of the whole deal—if we do this and it comes off serious, it’s gonna be bad. This is gonna be so cringey, it’s not even funny. And so that was the line that we were working with. We wanted good production, but we also wanted to have some type of story line that loosely connects but is goofy enough to just be like—I don’t even really consider it a music video. Ian mentioned this to me, too, after we had finished it. It’s more of a short film than a music video. 

The Misc: What has the feedback and reception of the video been like?

Chambers: I mean it’s funny, one of my friends was like, “Damn, like you weren’t even in your own music video.” When it finally came out, I was so happy that it’s something that we were all proud of. Because I think sometimes when something like that comes out, and especially with music, you’re always like okay, I could have made this little tweak here—sometimes I can be a little bit of a perfectionist. I had a bunch of different interactions with the people involved afterwards, and it was just like, damn this will always be just a little segment of a memory of my Vassar experience with people that I really care about. 

It can get really easy to get caught up in numbers or streaming or whatever, and for me I was like this was a huge accomplishment just in general. It warmed my heart just to even share it with people. It’s cool. At this moment, I think there’s like 400 people who have seen it and that’s amazing.

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