Devon “Devi Dev” Brown is deep, and she has a knack for bringing her interviewees to the depths of transparency with her.
The famed radio and television personality consistently gets some of hip hop’s most glorified names, such as Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar, to share life experiences, such as personal struggle, behind-the-scenes stories and family matters, that you don’t hear in other interviews involving those type artists.
We caught up with Brown to discuss how she prepares for interviews, how Karma Bliss, her new venture, has helped her mature tremendously and her favorite and worst interviews of all time.
George Kiel: You’ve interviewed a ton of people in the music industry. What were some of your favorite convos throughout your career?
Devon “Devi Dev” Brown: One of them, for sure, is an older interview I did with Warren G. That interview means a lot to me to this day. It may not connect and resonate with some of the younger people who don’t know that era of Death Row and West Coast music, but it was exceptional to chat with him. I would also say an interview I did with Kanye West in 2008, an interview I did with Kendrick Lamar in 2014 and an interview I did with Taraji P. Henson back in 2012. Oh, and I can’t forget the one I did with Common in 2015. These interviews may not necessarily be my most popular ones, but they’re the ones I feel really connected to.
Kiel: Do you prepare for an interview a certain way when dealing with people of that magnitude?
Brown: It kind of depends on two things: if I’m already fan of this person or have interviewed them before, my setup is super easy because I’m already familiar with their music. So I kind of already know what I want to talk to them about, and I am already familiar with whatever they’re trying to push in the interview, like an upcoming album, movie or whatever it is. Those interviews are pretty simple to prepare for in that I’ll jot down a couple of bullet points that feature some substantial things, like the neighborhood they grew up in or facts about their discography, to have things concretely in front of me. But for the most part, I go off the top of my head and with the flow of conversation. Now if I’m not plugged in to the artist or it’s someone I haven’t interviewed before, then that takes a little bit more work. For those type of interviews, I usually take the time to live with their music for a few hours to see how I connect with it and write down specific songs and lyrics that I may want to tap into during the conversation. I’ll do a lot more research and maybe call a few people in the industry and ask questions like, ‘What do you feel when you listen to this artist’s music?’ I like to get a gauge on how well they’re being received because I try to be really respectful and cognizant of the fact that, even though I may not be a fan, I don’t want to come across as not giving that experience to my listeners.
Kiel: What about an interview, at its completion, makes you feel like you did a hell of a job in engaging with the interviewee?
Brown: I gauge that on if the interviewee said things in the interview that I haven’t heard before. Because now, when an artist does their video run or press tour, they’re hitting three stations a day and going to every city so now you’re hearing the same stuff and answers said in each interview. So if I have a couple of questions that breed answers that I’ve never heard before, I feel amazing when I leave that interview. Or, if I feel like I’ve learned something in the interview, that’s always a good feeling. In the Common interview that I referenced earlier, we talked about a lot – the city of Chicago’s violence, his favorite J Dilla beats, why he was excited about the movie Selma and his part in it at the time. I left that interview high on life because I really got a true understanding of him as a person, and he’s one of my top 5 ever. I felt ecstatic for days.
Kiel: You’re known for getting more out of your music artist interviewees more than a lot of other interviewers out there. What’s your advice to aspiring journalist on getting the most out of your interviewee?
Brown: Well, you have to be into the content that you’re asking about, first and foremost. Right now, where I’m at as a woman and where I’m at spiritually, I’m not into run-of-the-mill questions; I’m not interested in, ‘Who’s featured on your upcoming album?’ or ‘What was it like being on tour?’ I don’t want to bore myself to death. I rather ask stuff that I really want to know and hope it resonates. I want to know the deeper sh*t. I think we do a disservice if we, as interviewers, don’t take the time to try to peel back the layers when we can. Not everyone is gonna be open to it, but the ones that provide another level of depth to their fans is great. It’s not even about, ‘Oh, let me figure out a question that’s gonna be deep’ because people feel more comfortable when you genuine. With interviewing, we all know there’s certain questions you have to ask that are gonna be asked by a bunch of people, and that’s fine. But think of what you’re true passions are and how they can identify with the person you’re interviewing.
Kiel: Is there one, specific interview that finished up and felt like you could’ve done a much better job in handling?
Brown: To be 100% honest, I haven’t felt that way about any of my interviews. I feel like I’m prepared, and I feel like I’m very connected when in that space. So I’m very good at being intuitive about who I’m talking to – when I’m taking it too far, when I’m not taking it far enough – and I try to adjust while also being respectful. I’m not an investigative journalist. I don’t need to necessarily catch someone up or break them down to get a headline moment. I am really about trying to connect my listeners with who’s in front of me at the moment. If ever I don’t get as much out of an artist, it’s usually because they have certain boundaries up, and I don’t feel bad about that because that’s what they’re doing to make themselves feel comfortable. That’s not something I can change in a way that can serve either one of us. There have been times where I have been surprised at how closed off people have been, but I don’t take that personal because they do this all day, everyday, you know? They may not have been in the mood, or maybe they just weren’t feeling it.
I have one interview that sticks out to me as one of the worst experiences I’ve ever had, and that was with Timbaland. I was so disappointed in him. We did a private thing with our fans, and everyone in the room was so excited to be in the same space as him because, you know, Timbaland is a legend. We had some of the fans submit questions in to me to ask him, but he wouldn’t answer any of the questions. The entire time, in a small room with 20 listeners, he did not look up from his phone once. I’d be like, ‘Rebecca wants to know who’s your favorite artist that you’ve worked with?’ And his response would be like, ‘I don’t know’ in an agitated tone. It was super awkward and horrible. I was pissed. My thing is, if you’re in a bad mood – and we’ve all been there and had bad days – then just cancel. But he made people leave work early in the middle of the week, fight traffic to get here, wait an hour for him to show up and acted that way. I was so disgusted.
Kiel: Name one deceased person you wish you could’ve interviewed, and one person, alive, that you wish to interview before you end your career.
Brown: That’s easy; Tupac, without a shadow of a doubt. He’s my favorite artist, actor, entertainer and human being ever. Living-wise, I’d like to interview Eminem. I think he’s one of the most talented lyricists alive. I haven’t always been able to connect with his content, but I would love to talk to him about it. I think he has an incredible way of emotionally connecting with his listeners.
Kiel: Now tell me about your new venture, Karma Bliss. How did you get into meditating and what has it done for your career?
Brown: I got into meditating because I was just very stressed out. I’ve been in the radio industry since I was 18, which is pretty young, and I went full-force right away. It was a lot of luck meets opportunity; meets work ethic. I kinda got in an internship and all of a sudden got my shot to be on radio, but and I was still a kid. So I got burned out really young and really fast. Society teaches us to get the job, get the house, get the promotion, get married – all things that equate happiness. I was checking these things off my list, but I was like, ‘Why don’t I feel as happy as I was always told I should be?’ Not that I was sad, but I was so restless. It made wonder what else life had to offer besides fame, consumption and titles. I discovered something called a Chopra retreat, and it literally changed my life. I learned how to meditate, I did a lot of journaling and just, overall, a lot of self-care. It left me wanting more out of life. I started meditating every day; I started doing a lot of retreating; I started visiting a lot of workshops; I started traveling a lot. It just took over my life.
Kiel: What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in your life, as it pertains to work, since you launched Karma Bliss?
Brown: The more self-knowledge you get, the more self-love you have. I used to be the person that would show up before I was booked to be at an event, leave way after the event is done, you know, Team No Sleep. That’s cool, and it’ll get you some places at first, but you run the risk of completely ignoring yourself. I then realized that I have to go as hard for myself as I do for everybody else’s company or every job that I get that I could be let go from at any moment. I work hard, but I’m not going to work myself to death. Now, I learn to say ‘no’ to various things. The word ‘no’ is one of the biggest and best gifts you can give yourself. You have to really strategize and see if it’s even necessary for you to say ‘yes’ to certain things because what’s next for you is next for you. Your destiny is going to happen, but in the process you have to take care of yourself. We invest so much in our career – time, money and emotion – but we don’t invest half of that in our spirit.
Kiel: How do you find the balance of working hard and taking time for yourself?
Brown: It’s a gift and a curse, but like with everything, you must have balance. Take social media for example; it’s great. You have people that can see all parts of the world without getting a chance to travel, but at the same time, you’re more plugged in and invested to watching people’s lives then you are at building your own. Before you know it, life can pass you by – you have not moved, you have not accomplished, you have not fulfilled your life. It’s really important to take breaks. Every once in awhile, I take a break from social media. Guess what? The world keeps moving. People might think they’ll miss out on something by doing that, but you should have peace that knowing your destiny is what it is. You can’t miss out on life. If you’re like, ‘I could never do that whatsoever,’ then you might have a problem.
Kiel: So with Karma Bliss, disconnecting from life is kinda the message you’re sharing with people, right?
Brown: There’s a lot of power in disconnecting, physically, that should not be taken for granite. There’s a beautiful feeling with the vision board we have on the site when your mind can get to moving in a different direction. It’s like you’re taking a moment to connect at a different pace than what you’re used to with what’s in front of you. It helps you to be far more creative. It’s a more grounded, deeply-rooted way to put your ideas in front of you.
Kiel: How has the response been so far?
Brown: The response has been so amazing. It’s crazy because I’m getting responses all over place. I just did an interview with a UK publication about it. I just want young people to try it, and see if its works for them. I really want people to live their whole lives in full. People always post positive quotes on social media, but if you’re not living that out, you’re really missing out on an opportunity to grow yourself.
Photography by Kyle Hamilton.