Devin The Dude: The Last Laugh
The Houstonite’s casual-yet-purposeful tone when speaking is similar to his sly style on the mic. Over organic, sample-free production that clever, comedic, Slick Rick-level storytelling, along with his hiccupping mouth-made cuts, and soulful singing has made the weed-smoking everyman one of Hip Hop’s true treasures in a sea of unoriginal contemporaries.
Over the last dozen years since Devin launched his solo career, the Coughee Brothaz (formerly known as Odd Squad) front-man has blessed fans with conceptual classics like the folksy-guitar guided tribute to rappin’ for a living, “What A Job” (featuring Snoop Dogg and a standard standout performance from Andre 3000), the Bluesy ode to bucket rollin’, “Lacville ’79,” the slinky smooth homage to chasing out-of-your-league chicks, “Too Cute,” the Jazzy jab at females who let themselves go that any post-high school man can understand and relate to completely, “She Useta Be,” and maybe most notably the elegant keep-ya-head-up in the face of adversity gem, “Anythang.” Along with new notable creations like the mellow drunk-driving tale “I Can’t Make It Home” and the funky lament on stalkers featuring Snoop Dogg, “I Don’t Chase ‘Em” , (both from Devin’s last long-player, 2008’s Landing Gear), The Dude is showing and proving that he hasn’t lost a creative step, even after losing his longtime label home, Rap-A-Lot Records.
Now he’s aligned with major-indie E1 Entertainment for his sixth solo effort, Suite 420 (due of course on the smokers' holiday of April 20th). So with a new album on a new label, and with new work with the legendary Dr. Dre forthcoming, Devin is about to have the last laugh in the face of any detractors doubting he could still succeed without the powerful Rap-A-Lot brand behind him.
HipHopDX: Let’s start off with a sorta business-related question. I understand Koch tried to get you to put out your last formal album, Landing Gear, through them but you chose to roll with Razor & Tie instead. So what made you circle back around to Koch/E1 for Suite 420?
Devin The Dude: Well it was just a matter of either or at the time [of the release of Landing Gear]. I didn’t want a...like a long contract with anybody, more than a year or two… And then Koch wanted a few things that I didn’t really have for ‘em at the time, as far as clearance papers and stuff like that… It was obviously clear that I was off Rap-A-Lot but they wanted some other stuff to go with it. And then Razor & Tie was ready to roll. And it was a pretty new company that never had like a urban experience, as far as Hip Hop or R&B. So they was trying something new, man, and I was doing the same. I was just trying to test the waters as far as going out on my own, as far as a solo album… I don’t have any regrets of it [at] all, man, ‘cause everybody just tried what they could at the time. It was…I guess it was a learning experience too. [Laughs.]
DX: Since you said your aim was to keep these deals short, is this a one-album deal with Koch?
Devin The Dude: Yeah, it is… They work with the radio and the video department, and the marketing and promoting [while] they [also] really leave it up to you to do the same too as far as your independent label – bring it through them, they’ll help you out and you help yourself out at the same time too. So it just works pretty cool with them and how they do things.
DX: Speaking of that bigger push, is there gonna be a video for the first single from Suite 420, "What I Be On" ?
Devin The Dude: Yeah, actually we already did one. I did one. I just [came] outta pocket… I had my homeboys come through, a guy named Patrick Cassidy…and Adam [Jaroszewski] and Andrick [Deppmeyer]. They did a movie called Self Helpless, and I did a cameo in the movie, man, when I was out there – did a show in D.C. and they just wanted me to come do a cameo with them and I did that… And they said if I ever do a video or I have an idea [for something film-related], they said bring ‘em down [to Houston] and they would love to shoot it. So, they just [came] down a couple of weeks ago. I flew ‘em down and they came down, man, and chilled with me. Then we worked on the video for two or three days – the in and out grindin’ and having [different shooting] locations, and having Coughee Brothaz and [my friends] come through and people really helping me out with it. So it’s been a lot of fun. [Laughs.]
DX: In that movie were you playing yourself…?
Devin The Dude: Yeah, pretty much. I play Devin, and I sold coffee. I was a coffee peddler. [Laughs] One of my homeboys [in the movie] was going through problems, [and] he came through with a bag full of clothes and archives that he had when his girlfriend kicked him out. And he was going through problems, so I just gave him some advice.
DX: You planning on expanding the acting career?
Devin The Dude: Aww man, if that door opens, man, if it’s cool, man, it’s cool. I always thought about it, but it was always [just] a thought. I’m pretty sure everybody thought about being on TV or whatever once in awhile. That would be cool, but I love music. [But] if that door opens I’ll probably peek through it and see what’s happening.
DX: Now since we talked about the new label situation, let’s just go ahead and get the mandatory questions about the old label situation out the way. First, I’m just curious why you decided to keep things civil when you split from Rap-A-Lot? Why didn’t you just call up Big Mike and have him bring over his gas can and lighter? [Laughs.]
Devin The Dude: Aww man, why would I do that, man? [Laughs.] Being with Rap-A-Lot, that was a pretty cool thing - nice experience, man. I don’t think I would have the know-how and the…I guess the thick skin and all kinds of stuff that I kind of learned throughout this journey here with Rap-A-Lot. They was pretty much the model for any independent record label that was coming out at the time. They set a lot of standards, a lot of things, a lot of good things actually, man. It was a nice family, a real big family too full of a lot of brothers and sisters that really cared about each other. So it was real cool.
DX: J. Prince wasn’t trippin’ about you wanting out the contract?
Devin The Dude: I mean, no, nah, he wasn’t trippin’, man. It was already – It was in the contract that it was just so many years that I was there. And those years was over with, and it was just – It was a cool run.
DX: Again just out of curiosity, were those years that you were obligated to Rap-A-Lot dating back to the Odd Squad deal in 1992, or was that like a solo deal obligation from the late ‘90s on?
Devin The Dude: The solo deal. I think it was like a four or five album deal or 10 years or something like that. It was real cool, man. It was like the big eagle of the independent record companies, and you just was lucky and blessed to be on one of the wings and just to be carried that far to see that far down and around so when you do get let go, or when you do decide to be free about it, it’s a wonderful thing, you know how to coast and float and flap and all kinds of shit. [Laughs.]
DX: It seems like you got everything in a real good perspective now, but I gotta ask, you told HipHopDX back in early ’08 “It’s been a long rift…” between you and Rap-A-Lot, and that the decision to leave the label was made even before your last LP for Rap-A-Lot, Waiting To Inhale, was released. So without going into every grievance you had with the label, can you give our readers an overview of what - You talked about what went right, but what went wrong between Devin The Dude and Rap-A-Lot?
Devin The Dude: I don’t think I said “rift.” I don’t even say rift. [Laughs.] I don’t even use that word.
Devin The Dude: Nah for real, I don’t. I don’t use rift. That don’t even sound like me really. I never had no hard feelings towards Rap-A-Lot. I know there was times, ups and downs during the process where you’re not knowing [what’s going on]. Not knowing was part of a whole bunch of problems. But I think that’s with any label anywhere, you’re not gonna know all the specifics and details that you would wanna know being just an artist. [So] you gotta dig deep in yourself and just really take control of your creative path. A lot of people wanna probably try to have an idea for you, or an idea that it might work if you do [it] this way or do it that way, but I never did really get that from Rap-A-Lot. They was always [like], “Be as creative as possible. Do you.” And it was always cool. But when you’re an artist, a young artist at the time, and you going through financial things and you’re trying to get your family together - you’re just now having kids and getting nervous and worried about this and that, and you’re trying to hold a job while you’re rappin’ at the same time - it’s stressful in the beginning. And that’s probably what I was trying to say [in that interview] maybe. But, they always been real cool, as far as the outcome of any situation.
DX: So you was working a day gig at some point during your time with Rap-A-Lot?
Devin The Dude: Aww yeah, [during my time] with the Odd Squad and Facemob and all that. [Laughs]
DX: Oh word?
Devin The Dude: [Laughs.] Yeah man. [Laughs.] [Starts speaking with Jamaican accent, mimicking the In Living Color sketch "Hey Mon"] Me wasn’t lazy bwoy. Me work three, four job. [Laughs]
DX: [Laughs]. Any big-name spots? Was Devin at the Costco…?
Devin The Dude: Aww nah... Shit, I did security work. I’d get high and write rhymes at the job. [Laughing] With a gun on my side. [Laughs]
DX: [Laughs.] That would be crazy to walk into some office building and see Devin The Dude at the security desk. [Laughs]
Devin The Dude: [Laughs] But you know…a lot of rappers I know do the same. It’s like that. That shows hunger too, man – if you can pull it off [and become successful].
DX: Well let’s get off that label stuff and on to a much more important topic. Is it true what Mike Dean told HipHopDX recently, that you guys are “going to do a song with Willie Nelson”? [Laughs]
Devin The Dude: [Laughs] That’s what we always talk about. Me and Mike Dean been talking about that for like 10 years now, or more – trying to land a nice song with Willie Nelson. Hopefully, it can happen. I believe as soon as the powers-that-be make it go through, [and] we get in touch with the right people that get in touch with him… Man, it would be cool. I would love to though.
DX: You think it’d be something like “Nothin’ To Roll With” from Waiting To Inhale that you did with Dean?
Devin The Dude: That’s probably where it would go, depending on how far Will would want it to take. Sometimes he’s obvious about what he’s doing and sometimes he’s very subliminal. So whatever he wanna do, man, is cool with me.
DX: So did you and Dean do another mellow metaphor for trees disturbingly disguised as an ode to pedophilia like “Cutcha Up” for the new album? [Laughs.]
Devin The Dude: Uh…no, but we did do a song [together]. It’s a song that he did like in ’95. He revamped an old Isley Brothers [song]. He just re-did all the stuff – we don’t sample anything. He had it for [years], and I don’t know if you familiar with the Menace Clan, they was with Rap-A-Lot? Dee and Assassin from the Menace Clan, them my partners too, man, out in L.A. But um, Assassin was working on his solo project at the time. It was like ’99-2000, something like that, 2001 maybe. But anyway, he had the beat from Mike Dean, it was an old Isley Brothers “[Let] Me Down Easy” [flip]. He wanted to [do] a tribute to like his gang brother or somebody who died close to him, who got shot up and died. And he wanted me to sing the hook, the “[let] me down easy.” [And I was like], “Oh no man, I don’t wanna sing no death hooks and shit.” [Laughs.] So I kept the CD, the instrumental, I kept it around for awhile. And I had it in one of my old CD cases for archives. So when I started doing this album, I was going through what music I should use [and] I was like let me take it back to some of the old stuff, man. So I went through the old CDs and grabbed that song. And mind you Assassin, he said he was gonna chill with the rappin’ thing, he didn’t rap anymore. So the beat was still there and open so I was like [I’ll] do something like a slow groove to it, like a grown-folks type jam to it. Hopefully somebody make a baby off of it.
DX: What’s the name of it?
Devin The Dude: Uh it’s called uh…uh what the fuck did we call that? Uh…man, what did we call that song? Uh… [Laughs.] Hold up, let me look at the titles, man. I’m trippin’ ‘cause uh…Man, you know I smoke a lot of weed, man. [Laughter] Nah, no shit, man, I wish I could just remember everything I’m supposed to remember. [Laughs.]
DX: Do you remember if you like – You saying you sang the whole joint?
Devin The Dude: Uh yeah, pretty much, man. I kinda sang it, man.
DX: So you couldn’t remember the title of that one so I don’t know if you can answer the next question, if you can give our readers any early insight into the…conceptual gems you have in store for them on Suite 420?
Devin The Dude: Okay well cool man, let me go back to the last question, man. Yeah, it’s called…it’s called “I Can’t Handle It.” And okay, alright, the 420 question, what was that again?
DX: Well hold on a second, let me go back [now], “I Can’t Handle It,” that sounds like it's about a big girl? [Laughs]
Devin The Dude: Nah, it’s [saying] I can’t handle just being next to your woman, and she don’t really just wanna give in or give it up right then at the time. I can’t stand being so close but yet so far type thang.
DX: So then the next question, what other concepts you giving the people on the new album?
Devin The Dude: Uh well like…other concepts I guess ‘bout like having a chick over and she like to leave brushes and combs and pieces of hair and shit around, and set up traps and stuff.
DX: [Laughs] You remember the name of that?
Devin The Dude: Uh it’s called “What’cha Trying To Do?” Oh nah, “That Ain’t Cool,” that’s the name of it. [Laughs] I guess another concept is a song about like when you trying to enjoy yourself at a club, and it might be like a little strippier club than normal, but you trying to have fun, and a lot of cats really wanna get involved in the business and they wanna ask you a whole bunch of questions while you there with your thing almost hard looking at this fine chick. That’s called “Pick My Brain.” It’s like…you not really concentrating at all and you’re trying to just feel free… I don’t get out often, so when you do go out I guess people wanna just have fun and look at what they wanna look at, and it’s hard to talk business or think about business when you’re drunk and looking [comically speeds up voice] at a lot of pussy.
DX: [Laughs] Landing Gear seemed much more focused on the broads, so is this kinda like the same sort of heavy female focus this time around?
Devin The Dude: Uh, not really. It’s more of… I got a song [on] there with my homeboys Ced B and Corey B. They sing and they’re a writing team called The Pen Masters. I got them on a song with my homeboy Tony Mack, and it’s more of a grown-up song called “It’s On You.” And it’s letting a girl know that she’s trying to play not only just me, but she got at least one more other man that she’s trying to use… Not really use, but she’s involved with somebody and she wanna get with another dude, and we’re just trying to face – It’s cool if she just choose either or…something’s got ta give to stop all this black-on-black crime. [Laughs.]
DX: So the title then, Suite 420… Are you going more green this time out? [Laughs]
Devin The Dude: [Laughs] Yeah man, it’s that time, gotta go green, everybody’s going green now. Suite 420, it’s a little weed involved, of course I’m gonna be smoking and rapping on it and doing both at the same time. But it’s more of a suite, like a room where everybody’s invited no matter your color, creed, whatever, man. And weed is kinda like a bridge of all of that sometimes. It connects people together who normally wouldn’t be in the same room. And everybody’s partying and chillin’ and just conversating, not really concerned about status and everything.
DX: I gotta say though, Goin’ Green woulda been a dope title, with you sitting in a smoke-filled Prius on the cover. [Laughs]
Devin The Dude: [Laughs.] Goin’ Green, yeah. [Laughs] Maybe [for] the mixtape, man, so I can hurry up and do it. That’d be cool. [Laughs]
DX: So we mentioned some of the topics on Suite 420, but just out of curiosity, either on this album or anytime soon, are we gonna get another “Just Because?” That troubling Cool-Jazz classic still gets routine rotation from me. [Laughs]
Devin The Dude: [Laughs] Aww man! I don’t know, I got a lot of frowned-faced questions about that song. [Laughs] [Says in angry female voice] “What did you mean you was…?” I’m like, “Oh baby, look, no, no…” ‘Cause a lot of people really don’t understand. Like, “Cutcha Up,” whoa a lot of people thought I was really talking about a young girl, but no, no, I would never do anything like that. It just sounded crazy to say [that].
DX: I just never thought I would hear a song that could make Eminem blush. [Laughs]
Devin The Dude: [Laughs] Oh man. But yeah, “Just Because,” when I heard that song - my homeboy Davey D out of [California], he produced the track – I was like, “Man! Damn! I like this track.” I wanted to use this track, but I didn’t know how to because it sounded so beautiful and lovely. [Laughs] It sound so much like [LL Cool J's] “I Need Love." And I was like, “Damn, they wouldn’t dare accept nothing like that from me I don’t think.” “I Need Love” [coming from Devin], c’mon. [Laughs] So I just did like the flipside of love, or what people think about it in my eyes when they actually love a person. Sometimes you’ll do some crazy things if something was to go wrong with the person you love, or something was to come between it.
DX: So is any of the production on the new album any curveball stuff like that, any Cool-Jazz or any like leftfield stuff…?
Devin The Dude: Uh…something like that. I got a song called “Where U At?” that was produced by my homeboy C-Ray – he also did “El Grande Nalgas” on Landing Gear. It’s almost a Devin-in-love type track. [Laughs] But it’s kinda Bluesy, kinda reminded me of something [Bill Withers might do], so I just had to [starts talking in a blues singer’s voice] put a little more feeling in it I guess, baby.
DX: As you have since To Tha X-Treme you worked with almost all lesser-known-nationally producers, cats in your immediate circle. But I gotta ask, when are Devin and DJ Premier gonna finally get it in again for a follow-up to “Doobie Ashtray?”
Devin The Dude: I talked to [DJ Premier], man, about a few weeks ago. He got a cat down here he’s working with, a cat in Houston named Kalil… And yeah, we trying to get something together right now, as we speak, man! So we can probably help each other out on projects. But I would love to have another track and do some more music with Premier – one of my favorite producers, man.
DX: That would be lovely… I wanna end by just asking you – I don’t wanna give away your age or anything but I wanted to ask you about where you see your future, and if you’re gonna be putting out albums 10 years from now or you’re gonna leave the game to go open up a coffee shop? [Laughs.]
Devin The Dude: [Laughs] I think I’ll probably do both, man. I’ll probably open up a coffee shop, with a studio in the back of that muthafucka, man. [Laughs]
DX: [Laughs.] Or you could go back to security work. [Laughs]
Devin The Dude: [Laughs] Or in my security suit [in the] coffee shop. As long as I’m doing something, man. [Laughs] See if I was a Blues singer, man, I would still be young.
DX: Yeah that’s true, Hip Hop ages everybody way too quick… Alright, well that’s all I needed man, I don’t wanna keep you too much longer. I’m sure you got plenty more to do today. [I know] you gotta go catch a flight [to see Dr. Dre].
Devin The Dude: Ah nah, fin to roll up some more weed. [Laughs]