It’s a bright, baby blue Torrance morning, and Boogie’s son is playing Madden 18 in KB Devaughn’s bedroom. Devaughn, 23, reed-thin and tattooed from proximal phalanx to elbow, grew up in Inglewood, moved to Long Beach, and now lives in a sparsely decorated South Bay apartment. It has a black folding table upon which sits a makeshift recording studio, a lingering cloud of weed smoke, and, most importantly, it isn’t Devaughn’s 2006 Pontiac, which he was sleeping in until Boogie found out he was homeless.
With Boogie’s guidance, Devaughn is putting the finishing touches on an as-yet-unnamed debut EP. He’s an artist of considerable promise–if not considerable productivity–who, after years of aborted trade school courses and low-wage day jobs, is beginning to find himself artistically. Like his mentor, Devaughn seems to enjoy playing the barking, jilted lover, permanently suspended in romantic quarrel; unlike his mentor, Devaughn has, contained in his wiry frame, a roiling, bassy voice that feels at odds with his vulnerability. He’s romantic and pugnacious; he’s a conscious rapper who hates the label “conscious rapper;” and, perhaps most of all, he’s a young man risking impoverishment to follow his dreams. —Torii MacAdams
What’s with the name KB Devaughn—is that your actual name?
KB Devaughn:Uh, my name is KB ‘cause my first name is Khristopher and my last name is Ballard. My middle name is Devaughn, and I just thought it sounded tight. People used to call me KB, and I just randomly came up with the KB Devaughn shit, I guess.
You grew up in Inglewood, right?
KB Devaughn:Hell yeah. My mom moved me away from Inglewood when I was like around twelve or thirteen. We grew up on Prairie and 111th and we moved away, we moved to Long Beach with my grandma and I went to school out there. So I grew up like in both, in both areas—Inglewood, Long Beach and shit.
Where’d you go to high school?
KB Devaughn:In Long Beach, actually. I went to this school in downtown Long Beach called Renaissance High School for the Arts. It was a school of the arts. Yeah, and then, I went, I graduated from Poly.
At Renaissance, did you focus on a particular thing like acting or music?
KB Devaughn:Oh yeah, they have, like, certain programs and shit, like, where you do acting or dancing, and I just did the music. I was in the choir, I was singing and shit. But they had an after school program actually, where you could rap. So I was rapping in the studio after school and shit like that.
You did a mixtape when you were fifteen?
KB Devaughn:Hell yeah. That shit was trash. [Laughing] I forgot what that shit was called. I think it was called Outside the Indo. That shit sounded like a nigga that just started rapping. I was fifteen at the time, I had, like, no bass in my voice or none of that. I was just rapping ‘bout what I was going through. You know, my mom and my grandma, they was getting into it at the time, and I was just rapping about that shit. And I was going through with this girl, so, [a single, loud giggle] you feel me, I was fucking around with that shit, too.
What did it sound like? It was, 2009, right?
KB Devaughn:Yeah. It was pretty cohesive, as far as putting a project together. Looking back at it now, it just sounded like a nigga that was going through a breakup.
Do you come from a musical family?
KB Devaughn:Actually, yeah. My grandpa is James Gadson. He played the drums for Justin Timberlake. Like, a whole bunch of artists I can’t even think of right now. [Gadson, one of the most well-regarded living drummers, was in the original lineup of Charles Wright’s Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band, and has played with The Temptations, BB King, Albert King, Bill Withers, Martha Reeves, Quincy Jones, and Herbie Hancock among many, many others.] He actually was the first person that let me record in the studio. I was probably like, 10 years old. I made my first song over there–he lived on 67th and Brynhurst in L.A..
What was the song that you recorded? Were you singing or rapping?
KB Devaughn:I was actually rapping. Freestyling. And I—yeah, that was my first song ever. I freestyled a song, it was probably like two minutes. Me and my cousin Frank.
So, how many projects do you have that you’ve taken offline? Like, after the first one, I guess.
KB Devaughn:I only did that one when I was fifteen, and I’ve never dropped a project since, I just drop, like, new songs and stuff.
Why haven’t you put out a project?
KB Devaughn:To be honest, I guess I was just being lazy. I was letting what I was going through keep me away from putting out music and try and put a good project together. But the situation I’m in right now, with the the homie Boogie, I’m just at the point where I could drop a tape and everything would be alright. I could keep dropping music, and ain’t no more excuses.
How’d you meet Boogie?
KB Devaughn:One of my homies Swizz is the son of MC Eiht, but his stepdad is Trip Locc. I used to always go over there, and get my hair cut by this dude named Jug. And then eventually, I stopped getting my hair cut over there at the homie Swizz house, so I used to just go to Jug house, and every time I go to Jug house, they would always talk about his stepson that I never fuckin’ seen. And I was getting my hair cut over there for like, shit, like, three years, maybe.
And one day I finally seen this nigga Boogie. And I met him or whatever, but I didn’t even know he was on the rap shit, you feel me? I came back, like, a couple days later with my homies and they was like, “Yeah, this is the homie Boogie that rap.” This nigga living up the street from me for like, who knows how long. [Laughs] I didn’t even know.
Did you ever meet MC Eiht?
KB Devaughn:Nah, I’ve never met MC Eiht. I don’t even think the homie was around in his life like that. So Trip Locc, he’s the one that raised [Swizz]. He’s a part of the group called The Twinz. So, so I only know Trip Locc. That’s my nigga right there. Shout out to Long Beach.
What type of rap did you listen to when you were a kid?
KB Devaughn:Nigga, to be honest, nigga, Ludacris. That was my nigga. Ludacris, Lil Wayne, André 3000. I definitely fucked with Missy Elliott. But I was really on Ludacris. I had this pet fish that I bought for, like, a quarter up the street. I bought this lil’ regular fish bowl on some Timmy Turner shit. And I named that nigga “Ludafish” [laughs]. On everything. I was on Ludacris heavy. Incognegro, everybody had Chicken-n-Beer, Red Light District was my shit. E-40, E-40 heavy. Right now, though, I’m only on that, uh, I’m only on three rappers right now: 03 Greedo, that nigga hard as fuck, AzSwaye, and Rucci.
I guess you kinda came of age during when jerk was–
KB Devaughn:When jerk was…nigga. I ain’t gon lie, I used to jerk, nigga. [laughing] I used to jerk. I think that’s really how music transcended for me. I was really into music already, so, dancing used to help me a lot. Everybody wanted to be a fucking rapper at the time–niggas wanted to make that fucking jerk song, or that dancing single–and I was, I was never on that, I just liked dancing to it.
And then, I don’t know what the fuck happened. I think Drake dropped an album or something and I was like, ‘Oh yeah, this is the shit I’m on.’ I was on that type of shit, then Kendrick dropped, and I started hearing, like, Ab-Soul. And then that’s the type of shit that I was on. I was like, “Yeah, I gotta take music more seriously.” I don’t know if you’ve heard of Buddy—that’s who really who helped me keep doing music. I met him in high school, we went to the same high school, we went to Renaissance.
Were you going out to jerk functions?
KB Devaughn:Definitely going to the jerk functions, nigga. Real niggas know about Club X. That shit was popping in Compton. I was definitely going to all the little jerk events. Action Figures, Rugrats, but…yeah, nigga, real niggas know jerking was popping. It was some other shit, like, once Krumping was dead, niggas was on, like, some dance wave, where it was, it was, it was “Lean wit it, Rock wit it,” it was “Teach Me How To…”
Aaron Boyd, KB’s manager:—Dougie.
KB Devaughn:No—yeah—but before “teach me how to,” I’m talking about like, when niggas was doing YouTube [videos] “Teach me how to Crank Dat,” or “Batman,” shit like that, and then it grew to jerk—I don’t even know who the fuck started that shit. Who the fuck made jerking? It wasn’t the New Boyz, I want niggas to know that.
So do you work a day job now? Or you just trying to rap full time?
KB Devaughn:I was working at fucking Samsung, nigga. Fucking same place Boogie was working at. Lifting boxes. I just quit that shit like what, a month ago? Maybe two months ago. I was tired of that shit, that shit was trash. Now I’m just locked in on the music. Ever since I quit though, I ain’t gon’ lie, I only got to lock in like maybe, like, eight songs, but, it’s a process. I just couldn’t work a job right now. That shit was trash, like…Man, working for somebody else, too, listening to people, and telling you what to do, I couldn’t do it.
How would you describe your style as a rapper?
KB Devaughn:Nigga, I don’t fucking know. That was the question that I always thought about getting interviewed, but I don’t fucking know what my style is, like…As far as the music I’m making, or as far as my appearance?
The music you’re making.
KB Devaughn:It’s for sure not trap rap. I can tell you that much. I’m just saying what I feel. To the close-minded I guess I’m a conscious rapper. Saying what’s going on. Saying that real shit.
Do you think being a conscious rapper has a negative connotation for a lot of people you grew up with?
KB Devaughn:Hell yeah, even [for] myself. Even my favorite rappers that I think are conscious rappers, some of their songs be pissing me off. I feel like ‘Y’all niggas is being too deep, nigga, shut the fuck up.’ I ain’t gon’ say no names, nigga, cause, shit, I wanna feature from some of them niggas one day. It definitely does have a negative connotation, ’cause people are stupid, so they only wanna hear this “gang gang,” and… “Lil This,” “Lil Whatever-the-fuck”… and that’s cool, though, I’m not knockin’ it. That’s cool. If niggas is making money off of whatever, you can’t knock it.
So…I mean, with that, you always gon’ have them niggas that’s gon’ pick that over the conscious shit, because the conscious shit makes them think more. And for some reason, I don’t know, I don’t know why people think like that, but shit, that’s just what it is.
What do you wanna get out of rap? What are your goals?
KB Devaughn:Money, nigga. I really just wanna take care of my mom. Cause she took care of me, you know what I mean? Besides taking care of the people that I’m around, I just want people to hear me. Like everybody else, you know what I mean? I been doing this shit for a long-ass time. So I guess that’s really just what I want.
A lot of your music is about being in relationships. Do you think of yourself as more of a lover or a fighter?
KB Devaughn:I’m definitely both, but more of a lover. ‘Cause I talk shit all day, ain’t nobody gonna see me looking like I’m a lover–even like, with my girl, the homies ain’t gon’ see me all cuddled up with her all day. You know what I mean, I’m not finna be calling her every second every day, none of that shit, but when I’m with her though, I’m definitely like, on her, letting her know how I feel and shit like that. And especially if a bitch hurt me, oh my god. It’s gon’ be so many songs [laughs]. Like it’s a different girl, but it’s really only one girl that all them songs is about. I probably made one other song about a different bitch, but…
So the whole EP–or at least the stuff I heard–is about one girl?
KB Devaughn:Yeah, pretty much, yeah. It’s about this girl named Jenae. It pretty much led up to where I’m at today. And this one song that’s about this girl named Olivia that I lived with in Colorado, and she was basically like the pinnacle of my life, ’cause after I left Jenae, Olivia was supposed to be, like, I don’t know I guess, my…I don’t know, I can’t find the words, she was supposed to be like my savior or something. Then she wasn’t, she ended up being the same, so that’s just where that tape went. Leaving Jenae and going to Olivia, and now I’m just still by myself.
How was living in Colorado?
KB Devaughn:Cold as shit because I’m skinny as fuck, in negative 13° weather in California clothes, so I got on sweaters and fucking shorts and shit. Had to get the fuck up out of there. But it was cool, though. The people are nice. Cool getaway from these LA streets.
Do you worry about staying in LA? Are you trying to leave?
KB Devaughn:Nah, I really wanna stay in LA. Ain’t no place like home, shit. I mean, if I become rich as fuck, then yeah. Fosho, we outta here [laughs]. But right now, I don’t see me leaving LA. So I can’t even think about it. But hell yeah, we already know. When we get this money, we outta here.
I’m actually staying with Boogie right now. You feel me, I was struggling for a bit, I was sleeping in my car. And when I told Boogie I was sleeping in my car that nigga got hot. So, that nigga got mad, he told me to stay up in here, so, staying up in here for a minute, we been making music ‘bout like every day.
Were you sleeping in your car after you quit your job, or you just couldn’t make the finances work?
KB Devaughn:Nah, I was sleeping in my car when I was working the job. In the fucking 2006 Pontiac. That shit was funny, ’cause my homie stayed up the street from the job, but he stayed with his girl, and you know, him and his girl stay with her moms, so it wasn’t like I could stay there every night. I was sleeping in the car, parked around the corner from their house, and then I would go inside and take a shower when the momma not there. Shit was crazy, man. Shit was crazy. Shout out to my nigga Epic and Tiff ’cause them some real niggas right there. They was the niggas that helped me do all that.
You couldn’t stay with your mom at the time?
KB Devaughn:My mom actually stay in Louisiana. And…she stays with her, her boyfriend, and…that’s just not where I wanna be, you know what I’m saying, she stay in Mangham, it’s like nothing right there. I just went to visit her like three weeks ago, though, I just out there. I flew to Texas and I drove from Texas to Louisiana. And she live in a nice house, it’s just, I just can’t live out there…it’s just nothing but grass and dirt and…
Have you thought about making music about being homeless?
KB Devaughn:Oh, I definitely got some of those. I got this song with Buddy that’s gon’ come out. I got some more songs about the struggle too. I just been in a space where I’ve been struggling so much where I be trying not to talk about that, I be tryna talk about some love shit, that’s why. That whole thing is about basically love.
But within that came the struggle, so that’s why the outro was a song with Buddy, where it’s gon’ be: This is everything I was going through while I was talking about the love, so don’t get it confused, nigga, we talking, we going through some real shit over here. That’s what’s fucked up, too. The perspective that people have of you when you make songs about love, it’s like you’re not a real nigga or you not going through some things. And I was just watching some shit with SZA and she was saying a year ago she was still struggling. And she been making good ass songs for a long ass time and I’m like, what the fuck? So this shit real. Shit is real.