The acrid grandpa smell of cigar smoke is heavy in the air. It hovers in dense clouds above the mirrored marble tabletops and polished dark-wood surfaces of Silver Leaf Cigar Lounge downtown. Several people tightly packed around the bar grip their stubby stogies awkwardly in inexperienced fingers. They puff and gnaw on the damp and misshapen ends between laughter and too-loud conversations. As much as the smell is unpleasant, cigars are admittedly in order for rapper Kevin DeWayne. He has much to celebrate.
“I’ve had about enough of that,” he says as he stamps his own cigar into a thick glass ashtray. “I get about halfway, then I just can’t do it.”
He waves at the smoke in the air, shaking his head.
DeWayne is seated at a small metal table next to his longtime manager, Cedric Felder. Behind dark sunglasses, DeWayne is all smiles. The Fort Worth native has just signed his first real record deal. That alone is a significant milestone for any artist, but it’s who he’s signed with specifically that has him beaming. This August will see DeWayne release a four-song EP through 313 Entertainment, the latest record label of famed Eminem hitmaker Jeff Bass, who will also produce the record. That’s the same Jeff Bass who produced the Grammy- and Oscar-winning Top 10 all-time bestselling rap single “Lose Yourself.”
“It hasn’t really hit me yet, to be honest,” DeWayne says. “It’s just amazing, man. I get to say that my producer is the same producer that did ‘Lose Yourself.’ You know, you watch the Grammys and see that stuff happen, then I’m there [at Bass’ studio] holding the actual trophy in my hands. I still don’t believe it.”
The cut was the main song featured in Eminem’s autobiographical flick 8 Mile. The now iconic palm-muted guitar line that opens the track is a signature element of Bass’ production. It’s this blending of rock elements with rap music that DeWayne is especially excited about exploring.
“I was part of a lot of groups growing up, trying to find myself as an artist,” DeWayne says. “A lot of it was street stuff, street rap. I been in the streets but never really considered myself a street rapper. I never really fit into that box. I want to be more Top 40. I want live instrumentation, overdriven guitars. My music, it’s different. I call it ‘hip-rock.’ ”
“Hip Rock” is appropriately the title of the first single DeWayne will release ahead of the EP later this summer. With its uptempo EDM percussion and harmonized guitar leads, the head-bobbing club track has all the potential to be a crossover hit.
Last week, I contacted Bass’ office, where Marni Saar, the vice-president of artist relations, verified the working relationship but did not comment further.
For an artist more than 15 years in the game, to finally receive some concrete validation for his talents is encouraging, DeWayne said. He’s proud of the work he’s put in over the years, but he largely attributes his recent accomplishments to faith and quite a bit of help from fate.
“It took a literal hurricane to make this happen,” he says.
He’s referring to Hurricane Harvey. The record-breaking storm that struck the southeast coast of Texas last fall is as responsible for the 313 signing as anything else in his career, he said. It brought about a chance meeting between DeWayne’s manager and someone with an avenue to Bass.
In addition to artist representation, DeWayne’s manager Cedric Felder manages real estate properties. After Harvey hit the Houston area, the manager took a trip down to nearby Rockport to survey damage and line up insurance claims and repairs for a few properties he oversees. While there, he developed a friendly rapport with a contractor he was working with on some of those repairs. The two began talking about music, and Felder mentioned a few of the artists he represents. The contractor’s wife, Felder was surprised to learn, happens to be Bass’ cousin, and through her, the connection was made between Bass and DeWayne. Six months of phone interviews and in-studio auditions later, Felder and DeWayne left Detroit, where 313 is based, with a contract in-hand.
Still a few months away from the release, DeWayne says he is just trying to take in every moment. He senses that something big is about to happen, but he exists in a sort of limbo between his imagined future and old life. Though he’s excited, he’s remaining humble. With his late mother watching over him, he says he’s doing his best to stay grounded.
“A week ago, we took a trip to the beach to celebrate,” DeWayne says. “And Cedric and I were standing there looking out at the ocean. I turned to him and said, ‘You know, this thing is really about happen. It’s about to pop off. You ready?’ And he just laughed and said, ‘Pssh, are you ready?,’ and all I could say was, ‘Yeah, man. I’m ready.’ ”