Devin The Dude: Da Ha, Da Ha!
As fate would have it, the gangsters respected it. The biggest influences on gangsta rap, Dr. Dre and Scarface, both took a liking to The Dude, and put him on center-stage on their biggest projects (2001 and My Homies respectively). Devin's become more of a Hip Hop household name, but nearly anybody who understands his creativity and message realizes that his lack of mainstream success remains a travesty.
With four solo albums and an Odd Squad group effort under his belt, Devin The Dude formally announced his departure from Rap-A-Lot Records last week - after a staggering 17 years there. Despite a hot album every three year average (I can divide), Devin says he's using his independence to make more music than ever, and welcomes extended opportunity for feature-work. With a handful of laughs, recollections and mild-mannered honesty, the Dude is doing anything but riding into the sunset this early in the movie.
HipHopDX: Congratulations on the independence. As far as not renewing your Rap-A-Lot Records contract, how tough of a decision was that to make for you?
Devin The Dude: Its been a long rift man, so it wasnt really that tough at all. I knew it was time to do something independent-wise, as far as the state of my career and who I have alongside [me], thats been helping me out and [its about] not only helping not only me, but them too. That was like the really only alternative, just branch off independently and make moves and get avenues open in other places.
DX: Even as we talked right when the album was dropping last year, you kind of alluded to moving on. Because you were with Rap-A-Lot since 1992 or 1993, were you shopping for a deal, or did it just kind of happen?
DTD: It just happened within the last year or so.
DX: But as a teenager trying to get a deal, were you sending demos elsewhere?
DTD: Yeah, yeah, I sent demos out. As Da Odd Squad, we sent a whole bunch of cassettes out. [Laughs] Back then it was cassettes. But yeah, with bio packages, pictures and everything. We started really shopping in like 91, and we got interest in 92. In the end of 92, we signed with Rap-A-Lot. We had the album done in 93, but it didnt come out till 94.
DX: Going back to 1991, were there other labels of note that were interested?
DTD: Uh, not really. [Laughs] Our music wasnt [the normal]. Back then, there were a lot of gangsters, and that was, for the most part, what was going on. You had groups like Pharcyde and Lords of the Underground and stuff like that who wasnt really with the gangsta stuff, but it was hard for groups like that who didnt do the hardcore stuff. We just tripped out. We call our method of doing things the trip chip. We would just be trippin, sayin funny things [that were also] serious, and just being ourselves. It was kinda hard to get a deal like that then.
DX: Sixteen or seventeen years later, as a seasoned industry veteran whose always been with Rap-A-Lot, how is the process of looking for a deal?
DTD: Actually, I dont just got out and look. I actually came to realize with how much work I put in, and how much good performance you do in front of people that can help you, youre helping yourself. Theyre most likely gonna reach out and try to give a hand and do what youre trying to do too. Its a matter of not necessarily looking, but just working as best as possible. Then, when opportunity comes, with a cool budget and some space behind the project, we can roll with it.
DX: Whether its the biggest album in the last decade, Dr. Dres 2001 or projects from J-Zone or CunninLynguists, youre renowned for your feature work. Being on a label, were there ever opportunities in this area that were denied to you?
DTD: Yeah, when they didnt have avenues to go through, then yeah, it could be a problem them. Theyll have their misunderstandings about how to do it or getting in touch or whatever. Being independent, if you have the right contacts with these people, you can get in touch with them directly.
DX: Before we move on to new material, how much of this decision had to do with the handling of Waiting to Inhale, which was critically boosted but struggled with sales and marketing?
DTD: The decision was made before the album was even release. It wasnt a matter of the content or the appreciation of the album. It was a matter of what I was gonna do two years from now and what I was gonna have in store for me. It wasnt like I was searching for some huge major deal that will have me rappin for the next five or six years, I wanted to have the freedom to choose. The next deal I get will be a one or two album deal with the option to do what I want to do, whether something with movies or writing or any other thing that may come my way.
DX: How are the Coughee Brothaz different in personnel or style from Da Odd Squad?
DTD: Theyre one and the same actually. The Coughee Brothaz are nothing more than the friends that Da Odd Squad had associates that also do music that might come and sip a little coffee with us, come vibe with us, whether they do music or not, and just sip coffee. Back in the days with Da Odd Squads first album, we would always mention. Theyre our friends. Our partners. My homeboys. My smoking buddies. [Laughs] It turned into kind of a group thing because we would always mention it and claim it. It kinda stuck. I just always figured Id do my independent thing with my Coughee Brothaz.
DX: Thats cool. For the Coughee Brothaz that arent musical, theyre still there when the music is made though, and having a hand in it?
DTD: Of course. Correct. Most definitely. The album itself, most definitely. Weve got an album out now with Select-O-Hits in stores called Waitin Our Turn. That was all Coughee Brothaz. We was all vibin and people were doing beats. Friends that have talent.
DX: Whats the Smoke Sessions Volume 1 project?
DTD: Its with BCD Records, its just a mixtape. Its newer songs and older songs too. Theyre songs that, quite frankly, we just put out for mixtape purposes.
DX: This is getting treated like an album. It seems more experimental. What kind of attitude did you bring to the table with it?
DTD: Its carefree. Enjoy your craft, have fun with it, but when its time to do vocals and lay the music, youve got to have some sort of seriousness with it too. Its gotta be really focused, yet have fun. Thats how I went to it. Lets have the best fun ever. Lets make new memories. Lets do what we gotta do. It wasnt really no pressure or anything.
DX: Recently, I saw a great video of you going record shopping in The Bay at Amoeba Records with the staff at XLR8R magazine. Coming up with a deejay background, do you dig for records when youre doing spot-dates?
DTD: Wellnot exactly. When I get a chance to, I do it, and I really indulge in it. For the most part, I really just try to stick to what we do in the studio and get new vibes and not get too, too involved with whats really hot or really new. If I do go record shopping, itll be for older songs or other songs that I used to listen to or dont have anymore or something like that. It kind of effects the way you do things in the studio sometimes. After a project, when Im done with it, I just go on a record binge new and old.
DX: So its about being careful what influences you?
DTD: Yeah. Most of the time, the influences are the older music. You dont want to pressure yourself to write a hook that sounds just like a song from last year. [Laughs]
DX: I remember Easy Mo Bee telling me that 2Pac would hand him records to sample, and hed do it. With you, although youre a producer, with your knowledge of records, do you ever hand Domo records to break down? I remember you telling me that the lyrics to Anythang were inspired by James Taylors Shower The People. Does this happen musically too?
DTD: Yeah, that has happened. [Laughs] That happened with a song called See What I Can Pull. I got a Hall & Oates breakbeat One On One, [Anita Wards] Ring My Bell and mixed three songs in my head, chopped em up, and made one song out of it.
DX: The mixtape is called Smoke Sessions. As an avid music fan from way back, whats the most smoked-out record ever?
DTD: Themost smoked out record thatsever been releasedjust fulla weed, I guess. [Laughs] Maybe that album Cheech & Chong put out, Lets Make a Dope Deal.
DX: Are you doing a lot of performances this year?
DTD: Oh yeah, man. A lot of spot dates. Just promoting. Rob Quest and Da Odd Squad is making another album. Im working on a solo. Theres a lot different projects that were juggling around.
DX: Have you considered aligned with one of these festivals, like Rock The Bells?
DTD: I would love to be involved with any of them. Theres a South By Southwest convention thats coming up in Austin. My homebody Matt Sonzala really put that together, and looks out for us every year. I would love to join a tour or get on a showcase and bring my brothers with me. Make moves and network, thats what its all about.
DX: When you tour, what city is Devins favorite, or the one that suits your lifestyle the best?
DTD: Its hard to say where Id live, but the vibe is so cool in places like D.C. and Seattle. Id have to say Seattle. Theres just so much love in Seattle, and they ask for me to come out so often. A lot of times, Ill go back and see the same faces in the crowd. They appreciate the arrival. I get overwhelmed with that right there.
DX: Lastly, you list on The Coughee Brothaz Myspace Reggie Miller as an influence. Is that the ball-player?
DTD: [Laughs hysterically] I guess that would be Reggie Miller the schwag, the Reggie, the not-so-good weed that we used to smoked a long time ago. [Laughs]