Rapper Devin Arnold, who performs as DNA Picasso, has had a strong start to 2018. He has released three music videos, and he plans to drop more throughout the year. On Saturday, February 24, he'll be performing at Lincoln Station Bar. We caught up with Arnold to talk about Denver's hip-hop community, his passion for rap, and the importance of visuals in music videos.
Westword: I noticed that you were born in New York, then lived in California and then came to Colorado. How did you get to Colorado?
Devin Arnold: My brother and I lived in New York. We were in the foster-care program in New York City. When we were five years old, we were on the Maury show on a special segment on kids getting adopted. It was asking people to reach out their hearts for these kids. My brother and I were among those children and ended up being seen by my [soon-to-be] parents, who were living in Los Angeles at the time. They [saw the show] on a rerun on TV, and they had been wanting to adopt twins, so it was a coincidence. Then they adopted us, and we moved to California. We lived in Riverside. I lived there all the way up to ninth grade, and then I moved to Denver after that. I finished high school out here, at Cherokee Trail High School. Then I got a track scholarship to Hastings College in Nebraska, and that’s where I started making music, while I was running track. I went to college for two years and left college to pursue music. In college, I was in broadcasting, photography, journalism and into the media arts. So I picked up photography when I came back out here, as well as making music. That’s how the move transitioned.
What do you like about rap?
I’ve always been a creative writer. That’s why I originally went to college as a journalism major. But I didn’t have a voice in journalism because I was doing sports journalism. It was tedious — going to games, collecting stats and all that kind of stuff. I ended up switching to communications. I didn’t really like the curriculum they were teaching, and I didn’t feel like I had much of a voice there, either. I [switched my major my sophomore year to advertising and PR with a minor in media arts. I was still heavy into music and was dropping stuff. I probably released two or three music videos at that point. This was in 2014.
So you enjoyed the creativity?
The creativity and the fact that I had a voice — mainly the fact that I had a voice. That’s important to me. One day I want to get to a platform where I can influence [others]. ... I felt like I was held back by doing certain things.
How would you describe your voice or your style?
Because of my past, I want to seek change in those types of areas like adoption, foster care, foster homes, and help kids get adopted. I care about the homeless, I care about the youth. Having creativity being implemented in more programs and schools. The youth is our future. They need to be financially literate and know things [to] be at a level we weren’t at, that our parents weren’t at.
I was talking with my friend the other day who is a high school teacher about how tough it would be if you aren’t being invested in as a kid, in school or otherwise. ... It’s hard to be receptive to what you’re learning — or anything, really.
Most definitely — and to be driven. It’s hard to be driven if no one is pushing you like that. You think the norm is the most you’re going to get. And I want kids to know there is more out there than what they tell you.
Is there anything unique you’ve noticed about Denver’s hip-hop scene? What do you like about it?
What I like about it is that it’s undiscovered. There is a lot of talent here. What’s unique about it is that there’s not one specific culture, and the youth specifically are coming here and moving here for better opportunities. The culture is taken from other places — like I’m from California and New York, and a lot of people that I know aren’t from here. The people that are from here that make music don’t have a culture anyways because...I don’t know…Denver is weird in terms of trends and style and culture. Predominantly in the music and the hip-hop industry, too — it’s just starting to grow. It’s at the ground level right now, and there is a lot of talent, which is good.
Is there a story behind your name, DNA Picasso?
DNA are my initials. The N comes from my biological name, Nyshawn. ... I like Pablo Picasso, and what I feel I have in common with him is that my style, you can’t really put your finger on it. I can’t put my finger on it still. I keep people on their toes with my work; you don’t know what to expect next. I like doing stuff that’s different.
I noticed visuals are important to you.
Videos and photography and everything you see. I feel like you can tell a certain story when someone only has specific information. I’m kind of careful what I put on Snapchat. I don’t put my whole life on Snapchat, but I put the things that will highlight me and build my brand. I care about my visuals, and I like to be strategic with them. I like to have purpose behind the things that I do.
What do you look to create with your visuals, either in your photography or music videos?
It’s a whole different realm being behind the camera or in front of the camera. Being behind the camera, I just like people to see my vision and how I see things through my eyes. Being in front of the camera, I like people to get to know who I am, what I look like, how I move. That’s why I feel like visuals are important, especially in today’s age. People want to see the artist; people want to know who they’re listening to.
DNA Picasso at Man on the Moon Festival, 5 p.m. Saturday, February 24, Lincoln Station Bar, 776 Lincoln Street, 303-885-8589.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.