ATLANTA — It’s tough to pinpoint what Devyne Stephens does to take an artist’s promising career to the next level.
That’s because he doesn’t specialize in just one thing. He can negotiate record deals, teach trendy dance routines, see if a song is hot or not, determine whether a certain career is heading down the right path and run two record labels.
Performer Akon says he wouldn’t have reached his full potential if it wasn’t for Stephens.
“Devyne taught me how the (music) game actually works,” says the multiplatinum singer, songwriter and producer.
“I would just be around Devyne, watch him and that’s how I developed,” he added. “I got in because of Devyne.”
In almost two decades, Stephens has gathered a long list of high-profile clients.
He’s worked with Usher since the Grammy-winning singer was 12, choreographed for Diddy, and helped Mary J. Blige transform her street fashion style into a more sleek and glamorous look. From wanna-be-superstars to the real thing, artists rely on Stephens’ personal hand to help guide their careers.
“It’s all about seeing the process of change and making ideas come into fruition,” says the 39-year-old Stephens, as he sits upstairs at The Complex — a development facility he started five years ago.
It’s a one-stop shop where novice acts can go through a 30-to-60 day program that includes media training, a vocal coach, choreography, a fitness program and an overall evaluation before being shopped to a label for record deal.
R&B singer Ciara trained at Stephens’ facility before she became a one-named sensation back in 2004 with “Goodies”.
It’s also where some pro athletes work out.
In addition, Stephens owns Dreamland — a sprawling 1,672-square-metre mansion on almost eight hectares in suburban Atlanta — which is a hotspot for exclusive and upscale events.
The Atlanta native has spent most of his career behind the spotlight but, when he first started out, he was the one seeking fame. He was signed in the early 1990s by LaFace Records with his own group, Devyne, featuring 90 Miles Per Hour. But they broke up before releasing an album and he started working in artist development for the label.
With LaFace, Stephens groomed Grammy-award winning group TLC and Pebbles as a choreographer.
“Michael Jackson is the best dancer I’ve ever seen and Devyne is my second favourite in the world,” says T-Boz of TLC, who attended high school with Stephens. “So many, like Ciara, Diddy, Mariah Carey, all want something from him. He pulled stuff out of me I didn’t even know I had inside me.”
While Stephens was helping acts reach their peak, he learned more about negotiating record deals and teaching artists how to interact with the media. He decided to retire from choreography five years ago to concentrate more on The Complex and guide the career of Akon, who was a struggling musician when they met 10 years ago.
Stephens started working with Akon, taking almost five years to help the then-rapper grow as a songwriter and producer.