Devin Summers stops looking on the bright side

On ‘Gemini,’ out today, the rapper abandons the toxic positivity of early albums, rapping about everything from long-held anxieties to a childhood assault with which he is still coming to terms

Andy Downing
Columbus Alive
Devin Summers

On early albums, particularly ones recorded under the name Devin XO, rapper Devin Summers tried so hard to remain upbeat in his music that he started to feel like he was playing a character, one who wouldn’t allow the darker aspects of his story and personality to reveal themselves. 

This was particularly true of albums such as Journey to Paradise, which Summers described in the past as “a positivity overload.”

So for new album Gemini, released today (Thursday, March 11), the rapper set out to obliterate this more happy-go-lucky character from the jump, opening with the ultra-aggressive “Out of Pocket,” on which he unleashes a torrent of threats, insults and curses atop a booming mix of sirens and hard-clapping electronic drums that crunch like the weather-rusted compactor in a scrap metal yard. Elsewhere, the rapper stresses over his self-conscious nature (“Honest”), waffles between self-doubt and overconfidence (“Ten Toes”) and revisits the site of a childhood assault, one with which he only recently started to come to terms.

“Assaulted at 11 and I got chewed out/You don’t snitch in a Haitian family,” he raps on the searing, introspective “Middletown.” “Long for someone to understand me/Maybe my mom should have took that Plan B/… All these thoughts just drive me crazy.”

While Summers, born Philippe Laroque, chose not to go into details on the assault in our conversation, he said that the downtime he experienced during the stay-at-home orders of the last year helped force a period of reflection that finally led him to confront the attack, which he had long kept buried, believing at the time that the best way forward was to not look back. It was this idea that fueled his first efforts under the name Devin XO, songs he now views as textbook examples of toxic positivity. Summers said he now understands that these past traumas matter, and the only way to truly move past them is to engage with them rather than forcing a smile and carrying on with his life.

Throughout, Gemini flip-flops between hard-hitting tracks (“Out of Pocket,” “Ten Toes”) and gentler, more reflective turns, a duality that carries through into the verses themselves, which frequently find the rapper wrestling with opposing personality traits. “Heart full of doubt/But I’m still too cocky,” he raps on “Ten Toes.” 

There are also strains of paranoia that permeate a handful of the songs, with Summers struggling to communicate (“I keep getting misunderstood,” he offers on “Honest”), getting so lost in his own head that strangers catch him engaged in an animated conversation with himself (“All Eyez on Me”) and creating fictions that begin to eat away at his mental health.

“What if my girl got someone else? What if I get pulled over by 12?/Trumped up charge/Now I’m stuck in jail,” he raps on “Paranoid” before shifting into the chorus a few bars later. “All in my head/I don’t know what to do.”

While a solution doesn’t immediately present itself, Summers has ultimately hit upon one in the form of Gemini: Confront these doubts head on, get them down on tape and share them with an audience, finally content in the understanding that it’s often these struggles that shape us, perhaps even more so than the successes.