Whether grumbling about skyrocketing Cigarillo and gas prices on “Almighty Dollar” or the disappearance of weed after a party on the DJ Premier produced “Doobie Ashtray,” Devin the Dude has built a legacy for laying down mellow and relevant tracks since 1992. Known for collaborations with Dr. Dre on the classic “Fuck You” and Andre 3000 and Snoop on “What a Job,” the Houston rapper has managed to become known as one of the rap game’s most underrated MCs.
As a former b-boy who listened to Slick Rick and Too $hort, the up-and-coming rapper sat by his radio every Saturday recording new songs off of college radio. The frequent talent show contestant grew up idolizing Scarface, and after graduating high school, Devin Copeland was blessed with the opportunity to become a member of his group Facemob while also forming the Odd Squad aka the Coughee Brothaz.
After being hesitant about going solo, he decided to go through with the decision in 1998. The MC, whose named derived from one of his favorite Quincy Jones albums, The Dude, was invited to join Rap-A-Lot records where fellow H-Town legends the Geto Boys were also notoriously signed.
There, he released four albums centered around marijuana including Waitin’ to Inhale, but it was his knack for singing infectious hooks and his comedic, laidback storytelling that set him apart from other ganja loving rappers. With hilarious tracks about meeting an old crush whose looks fell victim to a big appetite or recounting nearly getting a DUI after partying at the club, it’s no surprise why he has become the toast of the underground.
Though lack of radio play kept him hidden from the mainstream, listeners discovered and embraced his work loaded with everyday topics that the average fan could relate to. Now on label Razor & Tie with a distribution deal through E1 Entertainment since 2008, Devin has kept fans at bay with the release of last year’s 6-track Seriously Trippin’ EP and his latest single “Probably Should Have” in preparation for his latest project, One for the Road.
Calling in from his Houston home, the pleasantly lighthearted Devin converses with a relaxed and welcoming tone that assures me his vibe is as delightfully chill as the records he produces. As we begin to discuss his first solo album since 2010′s Gotta Be Me, he reveals its lyrical content will be more seasoned. “So you’re going to stray away from the weed songs then?” I ask him. “Well, just a little bit now. I’m still gettin’ high on this mothafucka,” he replies bursting into laughter.
Andrea Aguilar: It’s been a minute since you had a solo LP. How would you describe One for the Road’s sound?
Devin the Dude: Smooth. Laidback. Not really clubby or radio type things. More of a riding, smooth, chill out type music.
AA: What type of topics or content can we expect from this album?
DD: Well, on this one – I bet you hear this a lot, but this is a more mature album. (laughs) That’s kinda cliché or something nowadays, but as you get older in the business, you kinda calm down, you know what I’m sayin’? So it’s not really about that…It’s a more knowledgeable album compared to just a smokefest or what have you.
AA: What producers did you collaborate with on the album?
DD: Mostly in-house or guys that I’ve been working with for the past few years. Rob Quest from the Odd Squad. He’s on there. Reggie Coby. He’s from Austin, Texas. He did a track called “What I Be On” on that Suite 420 album. He’s on there. Tha Bizness. They’re on there doing their thing. iLL Faded. You know, a local cat out of Houston. Putting it down. We share studio warehouses right down the hall . He came up with a hot track for ‘em. Chuck Heat. The guy who did “What a Job” with Andre 3000 and Snoop. He got a heater on there too. I have a producer named Garrett Brown from Houston. I did a couple tracks myself.
AA: I was gonna say I know you also produce and read you try to do a few tracks each album. You did the joint with Bun B and Lil’ Wayne.
DD: (smiling) Yeah, I do a couple tracks here and there.
AA: “Probably Should Have” is about losing a girl because you weren’t treating her right.
DD: Well, a girl that I almost had. Not really my girl. I could have made her my girl, but I was moving a little too fast for her I guess.
AA: Do you have any regrets in your love life?
DD: No, not really regrets, but I been through a lot too. I don’t wanna get personal. I try to have fun with it on a personal level too. People look over the personal side and look at the funny side, so I’m cool with that. I try to write something that everyone’s pretty much familiar with or been through.
AA: So it was based on some truth.
DD: Yes, but I’ll take a little of my experience and then I’ll put other stuff in there too. That song was kinda arranged in a different way and had a different hook and gradually became that right there. It came out pretty cool.
AA: “What a Job” with Snoop and Andre 3000 is one of my favorites. Can you please give me a behind the scenes on how you got Andre on the track? He seems particular about who he collaborates with.
DD: Yeah, that’s right. It was just a blessing to get him on that song. Actually, that song was just…It was a hook, my verse and then a hook. It was just like a commercial or a skit or a little break in the album. And we were wrapping it up. The guys from Rap-A-Lot, were like, “Man, that oughta be a song, man.” We only had a couple of weeks before we had to turn the album in. I didn’t know what to do with it. I don’t know if I’d wanna do the whole song, you know what I’m sayin’? They was like, “Well, hold up.” They start looking for features. They start reaching out to people. I got in touch with Snoop, and they got in touch with Andre 3000. Aww, man. I’m just blessed to have it come together like that. That was real cool to have them. It was a group effort. Rap-A-Lot kinda helped make that song to be what it is. That’s really cool too ’cause they liked to have input sometimes on some of the stuff as features.
AA: That’s history in the making right there…You’re considered one of the most underrated rappers in the game. Who have you been most surprised to find out is a fan of yours?
DD: Dr. Dre told me that Woody Harrelson is a fan of mine. (laughing) I was like, “What? No shit? Alright. That’s cool. The feeling’s mutual.” Kinda crazy right there.
AA: You grew up taping the latest songs off of the radio on Saturdays. What songs got you hyped hearing them for the first time?
DD: “Sucka MCs” (by) Run DMC ‘cause I was recording off KTSU in Houston in the early ’80s every Saturday morning. I was one of the first guys who had “La Di Da Di.” You know, Slick Rick and Doug E. Fresh. What else? There were a whole bunch of different records that I was excited about. “Planet Rock” ’cause we used to breakdance and stuff. That was one of the killer songs.
Hmmm. One of my most memorable songs was when I was recording on Saturday at 10 o’clock. I had my recording and the pause button already ready. Had my cassette cued up. I’m ready, and I’d like to get the very beginning. As soon as they turned on the new song, they’ll announce it and all that. They didn’t really talk over it a lot, so I’d get the whole song, and I’d make a lot of mixtapes like that. On one song in particular they threw on, and I had my pause finger on the button, and I didn’t really like the way it came in. It didn’t really excite me. It came in, “Duh da duh da duh dah duh. Duh da duh da duh dah duh da. Duh duh duh duh,” so I didn’t do it. I didn’t press pause. The bassline comes in. The beat was killin’, and then “Now the party didn’t start till I walked in…” (referring to Whodini’s “Five Minutes of Funk”) I’m like, “Woooooooo!” and I called up there. I called and called and called, and they finally answered. I was like, “Pleeeease play the song again! Please! One more time! I meant to record it!” He said, “Okay. Okay. Just gimme another minute or so.” I was like, “Please! Please! Please!” He announced on the radio somebody called and requested a song, and I was right there too. Got it. I recorded him talking and everything. I wanted to make sure I got all that. (laughs)
AA: Hell yeah. That’s so dope that they actually did it for you. You had to perfect the mixtape. I was the same way.
DD: Yeah, had to get the beginning of the song
AA: To the end of the tape. The last song had to end right as the tape ended.
DD: Right. Right to the fade.
AA: You said you used to breakdance ’cause you mentioned Afrika Bambaataa.
DD: We were poppin’ before breakdancing actually.
AA: What were some of your former b-boy names?
DD: My biggest crew was the Rhythmic Rockers. Yeah. (laughs)
AA: What was your individual name?
DD: I was Easy Dee. I got it because DMC said, “They used to call me Easy Dee.” They used to call him that, so now I could just take it now (that) he (didn’t) have it anymore. I’ll take it.
AA: You consider Scarface one of your mentors. Have you two ever thought about doing a collab album together?
DD: Actually, we was just talking about that.
AA: Shut up!
DD: I promise. He actually came to me with it like, “We need to go ahead and put something together. Let’s just record.” I’m like, man. “Hell yeah. That would be real cool.” So yeah, man, that would be real nice too.
AA: My site is called beautifulstruggles.com. Can you talk about the most difficult time you endured in your life and how you overcame it?
DD: Well, there’s been quite a few of those times. (laughs) I’ll just say that in each of those times, it took more than just me to overcome it. It took positive people around me. If they see me drooping or falling or failing, they would ask and get concerned. They wouldn’t just go behind my back and ask, “Man, what’s wrong with this mothafucka?” You need people to stay positive around you. And first and foremost, you need to just stay prayed up. That’s really gonna have you where you need to be and have you balanced to be able to just take these punches whatever comes your way, you need to have just some sort of balance. As far as keeping you going, you have your family and close friends and people who are a positive influence to you. Creative and constructive criticism versus talking negative about what they feel you should do. I dunno. You can’t do it by yourself. You gotta make sure you have people around you that can help you.
AA: What’s your family life at home like?
DD: It’s kinda difficult. Not difficult, but it’s cool. I have quite a few kids from a couple different baby mommas. It wasn’t like that all the time. Recently, it got crazy. (laughs)
AA: How many kids?
DD: Six kids from 9 months to 21 years old.
AA: How do your kids feel about your music?
DD: They love my music. The older ones especially. They help me mold my music. They used to listen to my instrumentals and kinda groove to the ones they thought were really hot. They help me pick my songs.
AA: Random: If you could have a spread of anything to eat while high, what would it include?
DD: (Starts harmonizing and then laughs) It would probably be…mmmm mmmm mmmm. My dinner would probably be turkey wings. Turkey wings smothered with dressing. What else? Collard greens. Maybe a little ham hocks in the collard greens. Ooh, and some macaroni and cheese. That’s how I’d probably do it.
AA: No broccoli and cheese?
DD: No broccoli and cheese. (laughs) Maybe some lima beans.
AA: (laughing) Sorry. I had to do it. I love that song…What are the best stoner movies of all time?
DD: Aww, man. It would probably be Cheech and Chong. Anyone you pick. I’ll just throw one out. Night Dreams. Up in Smoke. Friday is up there too. There’s so many. There’s so many. I didn’t think Half Baked was that funny the first time I saw it. Then I saw it again, and I thought it was crazy. (Dave Chappelle) did an interview and said they made him water it down a whole lot. That’s why he was like, “Man, we made a weed smoking movie for kids.” (laughs)
AA: Anything else you wanna add?
DD: Just wanna say much love to the fans. Me and the Coughee Brothaz, the Odd Squad are looking forward to this album to come out and to hitting the road in January. We love to travel and do our music. That’s what we can’t wait for, so beware. Much love.
One for the Road album stream: http://www.complex.com/music/2013/10/devin-the-dude-one-for-the-road
Devin the Dude feat. Snoop Dogg & Andre 3000 – “What a Job”