Dev Hynes on the Queer Black Poet Who Helped Him Find Himself

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AN35_AT3_Dev_Hynes Ted Stansfield AnOther
Dev is wearing a leather coat by Ludovic de Saint Sernin. His own t-shirt and jewellery. And oversized wool trousers by Marni

“If I’d met him I guess I’d have just said thank you,” says the musician and producer of the late Chicago-born poet Essex Hemphill

“Essex Hemphill was a poet who lived in Philadelphia. He was from Chicago originally. His work dealt with being black and gay in the world. He worked a lot with film-maker Marlon Riggs, who made Tongues Untied and then Black Is ... Black Ain’t, which I sampled on Freetown Sound. His work is amazing – he had Aids and would talk about it at a time when not many people would. I’ve always found it super-inspirational. I didn’t really delve into it until my mid-twenties, but when I did, it was definitely a turning point. On one level, in terms of exploration of self, it helped me try to put that forward in a way that is beautiful. And on another, I just enjoy his writing and, yeah, it feels warm to read, like there’s someone there. Essex died aged 38, in the mid-Nineties, from Aids-related illness. If I’d met him I guess I’d have just said thank you.”

Dev Hynes is one of the most intriguing musicians working today. Better known by his moniker Blood Orange, the English singer-songwriter’s music embodies a wholly unique take on R&B – approaching his songs like tapestries, he weaves lyrics, drums and keys together, creating beautiful melodies. While Freetown Sound, his critically acclaimed album of 2016, explored themes of family, migration, Christianity and black masculinity, the artist’s latest offering, Negro Swan, sees him reflect on his childhood in England and how it formed the person he is today. Also dealing with the “unspoken sadness” of black depression, the album features appearances from the activist and author Janet Mock, R&B singer and Hood By Air collaborator Ian Isiah, and Solange Knowles.

Hair: Pawel Solis at Artlist Paris using Oribe. Make-up: Adrien Pinault at Management Artists using MAC. Photographic assistant: Charlotte Krieger. Styling assistants: Rebecca Perlmutar, Camila Paiva and Georgina Craig. Make-up assistant: Marie Tritsch

This story originally featured in the Autumn/Winter 2018 issue of AnOther Magazine, which is on sale internationally now.