Devin The Dude Explains DJ Screw's Importance & Working With Dr. Dre
Houston's Devin the Dude also details recording for "2001" with Dr. Dre & Snoop Dogg, while detailing his love for remote control cars & providing advice to up and coming artists.
Devin the Dude smiles easily. He shakes hands earnestly. He moves with a natural gregariousness more commonly seen in Wal-Mart greeters than rappers rocking classic songs. In a sense he’s just a regular guy who happens to have crafted one of Hip Hop’s most respected careers. Oddly, it’s somehow simultaneously soothing and intimidating.
On this day, the Houston, Texas legend unassumingly clomps into H-Town’s spacious Trakksounds studio. He’s here to lay a hook for a song on Roosh Williams’ EP, Drobots: The Reboot—presented by Simple Mobile. The track will eventually be titled, “Anotha Sucka,” and in quintessential Devin the Dude fashion, the chorus is equally raunchy and relatable. “Oh shit I had to get another lover,” croons The Dude. “Fucked her so hard that I bust the rubber / Pussy was good than a motherfucker / Now the bitch treat me like anotha sucka”
Whether bawdy or otherwise, the once Rap-A-Lot Records rapper has proven to be a master of making music that brims with a simple complexity and resonates with regular folks. There’s an inescapable honesty to his 2007 common man anthem, “What A Job” (featuring Snoop Dogg and Andre 3000), for example. As he explains in this interview, the song “Makes just as much sense right now as it did then.”
“In Rap, you're not going to start off with a lot of money,” he continues. “You always spending money to get money. You always in the studio. You always hustling. Somebody is always going to have a baby mama that don't understand, or think your lying. ‘You up 'til three in the morning huh?’ It's going to always be that. It's going to always be some people out there that understand and give you credit too and give you that push, like Andre's verse. That's the incentive to keep you going, too.”
There’s a similar simplicity to Devin’s guest appearance on “Fuck You” from Dr. Dre’s classic, 2001, which he details extensively in this conversation, along with the importance of Houston luminary, DJ Screw and in the way he explains his newest, or possibly first, hobby: remote control car racing. The Dude is serious about it. In the back of his SUV sit five different remote control cars of various sizes and speeds. The fastest in his fleet can top 80 miles per hour. Is it odd to think of a former Odd Squad member and Hip Hop national treasure RC racing in his down time? Whatever the answer, the thought alone is absolutely awesome. Devin the Dude is not an avatar or a caricature—never has been. In this industry of cool, somehow, that's the oddity.
Devin the Dude Provides Advice To Upcoming & Coming Artists
HipHopDX: When you start thinking about the different eras of Houston Hip Hop—Rap-A-Lot or Swishahouse—and then now with new artists like RiFF RaFF or Kirko Bangz who are getting different types of attention, what do you think about this new class?
Devin the Dude: Man I’m just glad there is a class, and there is something new that's coming out. You know what I’m saying? And inevitably everything is going to change—the music is going to change. Hip Hop is everywhere, actually. It's in every other music that you can name. There’s some Hip Hop within some country music, some beats, hooks...some Rap chants almost now. In every kind of music... Blues, there’s Hip Hop in there—the new Blues and Gospel. There’s Hip Hop in everything you can think of. You can even hear it in Jazz. So it’s not going anywhere; it’s just getting more broad actually.
DX: What piece of advice would you give an up and coming artist coming out of Houston, in order to help them make it to the next level of their career?
Devin the Dude: Okay, it really, really, depends on what level that they are on right now. Because there is always some stuff you can do, and there is always stuff you can overdo. So it just depends on where they are at. If they are just at the very bottom, you need constructive criticism, somebody to check your stuff out and somebody to believe in you enough to get you some studio time. If they like you enough to say, “Man, this kid is raw,” somebody is going to find you a studio to get into and help you with it. As long as you trying to help yourself, there is going to be people around you that’s going to help you.
When you stop doing that, that’s when it’s kind of going to stop. So have people around you that give constructive criticism, and be honest with yourself, too. You have to take the good advice with the bad, and if it’s not really happening like you want it too, you know, there’s a lot more talents that each individual has. It ain’t just one. There’s so many jobs within the Hip Hop industry, too, so you can always find something else that you would like to do. There’s so many things now like engineering, counseling, executive work…you know, all kinds of stuff. People need help with their publishing and copyrights, so you can learn about that and help people get their stuff established. You can do all kinds of stuff, and it’s just so broad. So if you like it, there’s probably a 75% chance that there’s something else within the Hip Hop industry that you can do besides rap, if that’s not your niche.
DX: We asked OG Ron C the same question, and he said the most important thing is, your hustle. You got to go outside and you got to meet people, especially now, because the Internet is so crowded...
Devin the Dude: Of course, and that’s good…that’s good. See, Texas and Houston, period, they just so big that there is room to get your hustle on too. When I go to different cities, I hear this and hear that, but sometime people say that but that’s not really true. Everybody's been eating around here. There’s been so many independent Rap record companies around here doing good that everybody is getting their moment to shine. If they got a hot song or some stuff behind them or their group is hot, or the whole organization period is hot… If they’re on their toes, on their Q’s, doing their thing, it’s going to be people that let them eat, because they play that stuff on the radio station and in the clubs. We support each other. It’s all about having roots and getting your nourishment from the core fans, especially at the base of where you from.
Devin the Dude On Recording “Fuck You” With Dr. Dre & Snoop
DX: What do you remember about the the 2001 recording session? Were you actually in the studio, back then? What was it like working on that project?
Devin the Dude: That was crazy, man, because it was actually like a dream come true. I needed that to spark my career at that time, because I was doing pretty cool and some people knew me, but they ain’t really know the face. I didn’t do too many videos, or whatever so, they just knew me from being with Scarface. What’s up big Scarface? That’s my homie, and he looked out for me. He did a whole bunch for me. [Scarface] took us as Odd Squad to different studios and different shows with the Geto Boys to tour with them. So for The Chronic 2001, [I remember] going into the studio and Dre and them came. When I came into the studio, I saw Dre, his man and a couple cats around and he was just like, “Yo man,” they just greet me. They welcomed me and came with a nice sack of coffee, and it was real good. I was like, “Oh yeah,” then I rolled one [and said], “Here you go, thanks.” [And he’s like], “No, no, no that one’s for you.”
They had a DAT tape machine. And after they put it in, they gave me a sheet of paper, with like a 107 numbers and names on it. It was like skeletons of different songs on that DAT, and they was like, “If you hear anything you like, just say somethin’.” I’m like, “Oh shit, okay,” but it was a minute of each one. I was thinking it was going to be a long day, because I got all this shit to choose from. I was just like, “What the fuck?”
They start playing the first couple, they sounding really cool, and Dre would tell them, “Move to the next one.” I’m thinking, “Oh shit,” because he wouldn’t even let 30 seconds play. He would look at me, see what I was doing, and it kept on going and going. Hittman was like, “Go back to number 12, man,” because he saw me doing something to it. And when it went back to number 12…[hums, “Fuck You”]. I did it again, and he’s like, “You like that?”
I was just there to do the hook, so I just started writing the hook title. I kind of finished the hook, but I didn’t just write that entire hook there, because I was trying to find something to go to it. I thought about an old hook I had, but it was slow. And it was like, “I just want to fuck you / No touching and hugging girl, you got a husband who loves you.” It was like a break up song, so the melody was different.
With the melody, I just chipmunked it; I like, Alvin’d that mothafucka. But the lyrics were still, “I just want to fuck you / No touching and rubbing girl, you got a husband who loves you.” And I was like, “Okay, yeah…okay,” and Dre asked if I had something.” I was like, “Umm…yeah, I think so,” but I was high as fuck, man. So at that moment, everything was like slow motion from there. Everybody looked at me and shit, but I got in there, put the cans on, and I kind of felt it.
They had some cool ass shit up in there too. [They] must’ve had some Dre headphones back then; I don't know. But it was some shit, so I did a couple of rips and started feeling good. I don’t know if you can hear it in the song, but it was when I was almost finished. I did like four tracks over it, and I was about to leave. They was like, “That’s it?” But I ended up doing one more track, because I was feeling good. I said, “I just want to fuck you” [in a high pitch], and if you listen to it, you can hear that track in the back. I was like, “Yeah, that’s all I wanted to do.”
DX: So wait, was that the only joint that you recorded that session?
Devin the Dude: Nah, that was it.
DX: Were you nervous? You sound like you were kind of nervous, the way you describe it.
Devin the Dude: When I first started, yeah. But they made me feel at home. It was, go in there, smoke, chill and have fun. They told me, “Have some drink, man…whatever you want to drink, man. We got some beer, whatever—just do your thing, my nigga.” So it was all comfortable until that slow motion moment.
Afterwards, I laid the hook, and everybody was like, “Okay. Yeah, that’s pretty cool.” So, boom, they start writing, and Dre start getting his verse together. Him and umm… Who is that? Hittman? I forgot who wrote it, and I don’t want to say the wrong name. But they was over there working on his verse. So while they was working with it, the music just kept playing and playing and playing. I was just there to do the hook, but I just turned over, got my pen and just kind of started writing. Dre saw me writing like, “What’s that? You got a verse too?” And I’m like, “Umm… I mean, yeah. We can try something.” Dre said, “Well shit; what's up?” So I went in and did that. They was trippin’ on that, and I got out the booth like, “Oh shit.”
After that, Dre says “Man, don’t worry. Snoop is on the way, and in about 15 to 20 minutes, this is going to be crazy. You watch. He going to come in here and lace it, I’m telling you.” Sure enough, 15 to 20 minutes pass, and Snoop came in with some purple ass weed. It was the first time we all saw some purple ass weed back then—some real purple, purple. He came in, and we just dapped and hugged. Snoop is real cool, and that’s no doubt. Sure enough, he went and laced that mothafucka, and came out with a pretty cool classic on that one. It was a blessing to be a part of that.
DX: Was that the first time you met Snoop?
Devin the Dude: Uh, nah. Me and Snoop met more than 10 times.
DX: Before that?
Devin the Dude: Nah, just more than 10 or 15 times altogether. We did four to six songs together over the years, so we real cool. That’s my brother.
DX: What did you think, when you first heard about Snoop Lion?
Devin the Dude: Ah man, I knew it was just the beginning. I actually saw Snoop before all that, and something told me to tell him, “You know what? This is just the beginning for you, dog. I’m telling you, this just the beginning.” I had a feeling to say that, and I don’t know why would I say that. He’s been doing all kinds of big shit, and something just told me there was going to be something new about him. It’s some PR he had already envisioned, because you have to change at some point. You change yourself, unless you’re going to let the media change you. If you don’t change yourself, somebody else is going to change you, but you’re going to have to change either way. There’s always something new, and he will never cease to amaze me though. He can always do something out of the ordinary to most people.
DX: That’s really interesting that you say that, because last year, Scarface said the secret to longevity was to keep making the same album. He said when you start switching it up, you alienate your core fan base...
Devin the Dude: As far as music, I think that's pretty much true. You know, you create a lane and make it for yourself. As far as Snoop Lion becoming something different, that’s more of a spiritual thing to me. It’s a whole new lane that he can probably create if he wanted to. The Hip Hop, Rap, Reggae—that's always been there—but it’s how he does things that doesn’t make the difference. You can do all kinds of reality shows, but if you don’t stand out a certain way, then that’s not going to stand out to the rest of the world. But he’s going to do whatever he put forth…either be a little league football coach or whatever. He got people going into the NFL from his little league football team.
How Devin the Dude Started Racing Remote Control Cars
DX: Do you record here at Trakksounds?
Devin the Dude: I have before.
DX: Have you heard of Roosh Williams?
Devin the Dude: Not exactly. No, I haven’t heard of him, but I haven’t been in the scene that much myself, man, I’ve been kind of out of it. I need to get up on my Pop scene again, because I’ve been in to RC Cars and shit.
DX: RC Cars?
Devin the Dude: On the RC circuit—remote control cars.
DX: Really? You’ve been racing remote control cars?
Devin the Dude: Yeah.
DX: I didn't know that. How's that work? You build your own car and then race it?
Devin the Dude: Yeah, they come as kits. Sometimes you can buy them, and they call them “RTRs,” ready to run. For the most part, the racer gets them as a kit and builds them up. There’s all different kind of brands.
DX: Is that what you been doing? So you’ve been building your own...
Devin the Dude: Yeah, yeah. I’ll get them, re-modify them and make them fast and make them better or whatever.
DX: How long have you been doing that?
Devin the Dude: Three years now.
DX: Is it an escape, or is it just something you do for fun?
Devin the Dude: Well, actually, it’s both. What led me to that was that I started off with helicopters. I was in an interview with this chick—a pretty little white bitch saying, “Devin, what do you do besides sitting in the studio, chilling, and your day to day thing? What do you like to do?” And I told her, “Well, I listen to music with my friends. You know, we smoke and shit.” And she said, “No, no, no. What do you do other than smoke and chilling with your friends? What do you like to do?" And I’m like, “Well, I chill with my family…you know what I’m saying? My family is cool.” Then she asked me again, and I’m like, “Bitch, I just told you I like to smoke and drink! What’s the next the question?”
I got mad at her, and I should’ve been mad at myself, because I had nothing else to do besides fuckin’ drinking and smokin’ and shit. I’d go through an ounce of weed, and just have nothing to show for it. I remember thinking, “Yeah, I need to find a hobby or something, man.” So I thought about it a couple weeks after, and I was like, “Maybe if I get a helicopter to bring me some cigars right now from over there, that’d be real cool.” I start thinking about some shit, but with the helicopters the Houston weather is so crazy. It’s windy here and too hot here sometimes. There’s a lot of trees here, so a helicopter is kind of consolidated into a box inside. Indoors, a helicopter’s real cool, but that’s just inside. So after going to the hobby shop all the time, I eventually started getting into the cars. I go outside, and they won’t break as easy, if I have a little accident, whereas any slight thing will burst a helicopter.
Devin the Dude Explains The Importance Of DJ Screw
DX: That’s wild. I would've never guessed that, and I don’t think most people would have. I want to kind of transition to a Houston staple—DJ Screw. Do you ever think what he might be on now had he not passed, unfortunately, 13 years ago.
Devin the Dude: You know, I think a lot of people thought that too, man. Who knows, man? I believe, [he’d have] a record company. He had so many options and avenues to do so many solo albums within that group. And with him as a leader, I think it would have been crazy. It would have been crazy, man.
DX: What was he like?
Devin the Dude: Ready to work. I come from the group, Odd Squad. We did that in 1994, and Screw was actually the DJ who helped us on our demo tape. From day one, he would come by every morning. We hungover and shit, and he’s saying, “Man, come on y’all. It’s time to go to the studio…it’s 12 right?” He was up and at them, ready to work. And he worked with a lot of different groups and different things too. He knew exactly what he was supposed to do.
DX: Where were you when you heard the news, unfortunately, that he passed?
Devin the Dude: Ah man, I think I was at the crib. But wherever I was, I remember not believing it until the next day. But it wasn’t like, so much of a social network thing happening back then, so it was just, word of mouth. I think it was maybe something back then, but I’m not for sure what it was. What was it back then…the first social thing?
DX: Black Planet?
Devin the Dude: Ah, that Black Planet was a mothafucka—all kinds of pussy. But back on a more serious note, yeah, I don’t remember exactly where I was. But I remember the next day, I heard about it, and I just remember getting with all the rest of the fellas. We was just trippin’ and mourning with the rest of the South Side and every side of Houston actually. And then all of the world actually mourned, because there’s a lot of people who really dug his sound. Man, it's crazy. And I don't really sip lean or whatever, but I used to a little bit every now and then. Then I remember at his wake, me and Too Low—who is another Houston artist—I sipped with him. We just kind of talked about what Screw meant, how he is going to be missed and what the next step is going to be. That was the main thing, what's happening now? There was plenty of Screw shirts and Screw parties, and still to this day man, ain’t nothing like it. Like, you said, it was so innovative, and next to scratching, that’s big.
DX: They’re not that far off in terms of years. It’s like, four years between the two, five years? You guys talked about what Screw meant. What does Screw mean? What conclusion did you guys come to? Do we really get it?
Devin the Dude: I don’t know. One of the homeboys that was close to him—my homeboy Warren Lee—is Scarface’s brother too. Much love to Warren Lee. He was kind of close to Screw, and he talked to Screw back in the day. He was a kind of street dude, but he was always around everything in Houston. He just loved Screw, and that’s all he’d do is bang Screw everywhere we went. When he first started, Screw used to take everybody’s music, and certain Rap was kind of fast. He slowed it down, so that communication could be understood so we can really understand each other from whatever coast that we're from—especially in Houston.
We kind of slow down here in Houston anyway. We didn’t really pay attention to a lot of stuff in the East Coast, because it was kind of fast for us…we didn’t really get it as far as [lyrics], but there’s East Coast fans here. Just the form of lyricism, because lyrics mean a lot for the average person from the East Coast and in the Rap game. So a lot of people here wasn’t really concerned about lyricism, and a lot of people just liked slowed-down music with bass in it. But when Screw do it, he put that Spice-1 in your ear, and then slow it down where you can hear every word he saying real clearly. He put that Twista in your ear, and you really heard what he saying. He screwed up all kinds of stuff like Redman. When Redman really flipped it, you’d hear it slowly, and everybody is like, “Oh!” It made us come together even closer to the people that he was letting us hear, because a lot of them were songs that you didn’t really hear as far as being commercialized. These were album cuts from these cats. It was just the underground stuff that he wanted people to hear, and they probably couldn’t hear it. They probably wouldn’t be able to understand it if they played it any other way.
DX: In terms of album cuts versus commercial singles, Trae tha Truth was talking about the aftermath of the Trae Day incident, and how he got banned from The Box, 97.9. For some artists, it can cripple your career. The other thing we always heard was that everybody says, leave Houston, build a name for yourself, then come back in order to really make it here. Do you agree with that?
Devin the Dude: I mean, to a certain point. You have to create yourself here. Now if you have talent here, somebody is going to recognize it. And I’m a strong believer in just creating some roots. As soon as the roots are planted, you cool, and you can go venture off and get that respect somewhere else. But when somebody says, “You’re such and such from Houston,” and they call back to Houston to try to get some cred or whatever, you can say, “Oh yeah, such and such from where? Oh, yeah. They used to play at the café.” Whatever the case may be, somebody is going to know you from there and remember that you had talent. It’s not like you have talent, and leave as soon as you figure out you got talent. No. You create yourself, and you create your roots from somewhere—wherever the talent is found. Wherever you feel it. When you got it, and you feel the talent is there, start planting roots and let people hear it. Go here, and go there. Let your momma hear it. Let your auntie hear and your cousins hear it. Let your friends hear it. Let everybody hear it, and do your thing. And if they think you can do it, you can make it. That gives you the incentive to go somewhere and try to make it. But yeah, some places kind of got you boxed in, and within that box, if everybody is around you giving you the thumbs up, you going to do your thing. Yes, I would advise you to go somewhere and see what you got.
DX: You said something interesting a second ago. Where you said, “It’s Rap, so you got to have some lyrics.” I don't know if we give credits to lyrics holistically throughout Hip Hop, no matter where you’re from right now—at least, over the last decade. Kendrick Lamar dropped that “Control” verse, and everybody in Hip Hop was talking about it because he was talking about competition, and how he is competing with these new guys. Do you think that Hip Hop is still competitive?
Devin the Dude: I think the fans make it competitive. I’m from a generation where a song—a nice song, especially if you had features—you would hear, “Man, did you hear that song with Scarface and Ice Cube on it? Oh yeah, that mothafucka jammin’.” They going to make some classics, and it was all about coming together to make classic songs. Somehow, it came to the point where the features started becoming a competition, on that same song. Somewhere around Canibus and LL Cool J and all that. It start becoming like, y’all competing on a song. That song is supposed to be a good song and competition—like a house divided between itself. You create a song and you going in there trying to beat somebody. Rap is competitive, and you would want your verse to shine just as well as the next man. But it’s more like a 4 x 400 relay, going back and forth, pushing each other. You give them that stick and like, “Run nigga, run!” You know what I mean? We win as a team., but the public hear the song and they chop it like, “Oh, I like this one. Oh, I like that one. I like that verse. Oh, he chopped him up on that verse.” I’m just like, “Is the song cool?” What about the song as a whole? Is it a good song, or is it a great song? I don’t get them rating within the song.
Devin the Dude Reflects On “What A Job” With Andre 3000 & Snoop Dogg
DX: What do people say about your collaboration with Snoop Dogg and Andre 3000 on that song, "What A Job?" I know you have to hear about that song all the time. It's a phenomenal collaboration?
Devin the Dude: It makes just as much sense right now as it did then. When it comes to a genuine Rap artist who’s really trying to get his stuff together—working hours in the studio, putting up with ends not being met from the beginning… In Rap, you’re not going to start off with a lot of money. You always spending money to get money. You always spending money. And even when you start making money, you have to make some more to stay afloat or whatever. You always in the studio, and you always hustling. Somebody is always going to have a baby mama that don’t understand, or think your lying.
“You up ‘til three in the morning huh?” It’s going to always be that. It’s going to always be some people out there that understand, give you credit too and give you that push, like Andre’s verse. That’s the incentive to keep you going too.
DX: Do you know if that’s a true story?
Devin the Dude: I’m pretty sure it was, but probably in another way…another form.
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