Known more for blunts and beer that bullets and bling, Devin the Dude has kept a smile on Hip Hop's face while most of his peers have opted for a menacing scowl. Possessing the rare ability to inject humor, sex and substance in each of his rhymes, Devin has carved his own unique niche in rap music, becoming everybody's favorite guilty pleasure in the process. Devin, who has worked with blockbuster artists like Jay-Z, Snoop Dogg, Andre 3000, Dr. Dre and Raphael Saadiq, will release his fifth studio album, LANDING GEAR, in October 2008.
Born in St. Petersburg, Florida and raised in Houston, Texas, Devin literally lived next door to music as a youngster. Living in a house in front of a radio station, Devin found that one man's trash was another man's treasure when he'd discover and collect old records the station threw in the trash. Before long, he and his brother started pulling out their mom's record player and throwing parties in their front lawn. When he finally stumbled across Hip Hop, Devin found his first calling as a pop-locker performing for friends, family and even his elders at the neighborhood nursing home.
But, it was one (literally) trashed record in particular that would have a life-altering effect on the young Devin, the obscure 1965 song "Rap Dirty" by outcast songwriter Blowfly. Just like any other child exposed to grown folk talk, Devin took to the record, memorized it and would go on to adopt the musings into his own rap style when he started hopping on the mic in the mid-80's. He got fans instantly.
"I was doing security and working at the grocery store," Devin remembers. "I would go on break, read magazines and write my raps. When I let someone at work hear my first rap, he brought a friend the next day. By the end of the week, there was a circle of 15 people standing there listening to me spit the same rap."
It wasn't long before Devin would find others who shared his new found passion. He formed his first rap group, 3D, with his brother Dexter and his best friend, ironically also named Dexter. After graduating from high school he befriended producer Rob Quest (also affectionately known as "Blind Rob"). The crew would pass time freestyling to Rob's beats, moonlighting as a rap crew without a name. Jokingly, Devin's older brother Donny likened the rag tag outfit to a fat woman, skinny man and a midget he'd see walking down the street that he liked to call "the Odd Squad." The name stuck.
After sending out over 30 demos to record labels, and getting absolutely no response, Rap-A-Lot Records producer Crazy C stumbled across their humble, light-hearted recordings that stood out at a time when rappers either had dance moves like MC Hammer or street reps like Eazy-E. Impressed with what he heard, he took the tape to Rap-A-Lot CEO James Prince. By the end of the week Prince was knocking on Odd Squad's door with a contract that they agreed to sign in 1992.
Their debut album, Fadanuf Fa Erybody would come two years later. The group's unique style, flow and themes made them an underground favorite. It even made a fan of their labelmate, rap Godfather Scarface who would often recruit Devin for guest appearances on his classic tracks including "Hand of the Dead Body" and "Money Makes the World Go Round." With his crew's blessing, Devin broke away from the group to join Scarface's FaceMob and appear on their 1996 album The Otherside of the Law. While the album, just like Fadanuf, was considered an underground classic, it didn't achieve mainstream success.
In 1998, Rap-A-Lot approached Devin with the idea of recording a solo album, he scoffed at the idea initially. "I never wanted to just be solo,I loved the group thing," he says. "I have brothers, played basketball, played football and was in rap and dance crews, I always thought there was strength in numbers. But when I was debating with myself I heard a dude say I couldn't do it, so that gave me the fire to do it."
After show-stealing appearances on Scarface's 1998 My Homies compilation, Devin dropped his solo debut The Dude to rave reviews including a coveted 4-mics rating in The Source, a rarity for Southern Hip Hop artists at the time. Inspired by the Quincy Jones album of the same name, The Dude introduced Devin as a unique voice that made you feel at ease instead of threatened. The cover image of Devin "relaxing" while reading the newspaper immediately let you know that for every potty-mouthed rhyme, there was also one talking about current events and neighborhood happenings.
"I was carefree and had very little responsibilities back then," laughs Devin about the album that had content that was far from the church songs he sang in the choir as a child. "My mom liked some songs, but some stuff she didn't. She just said as long as I wasn't hurting anybody she was cool with it. After that I just went buckwild, saying anything came to mind."
Though the album didn't sell through the roof, The Dude won the hearts of both rap fans and rappers themselves. Devin found unexpected fans in Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre who not only invited Devin to appear on "Fuck You" from his Chronic 2001 album, but had him join them on their widely popular Up In Smoke Tour as well.
Devin would capitalize on the exposure by appearing on songs with De La Soul, UGK and then releasing his second and perhaps most critically acclaimed album Just Tryin 2 Live in 2002. Backed by production from longtime collaborators DJ Domo, Blind Rob, N.O. Joe, Mike Dean as well as Dr. Dre, Raphael Saadiq and DJ Premier with appearances from Nas and Xzibit, the album would be considered Devin's best yet.
"We had a bigger budget too," laughs Devin. "Things were just coming together and it was a big blessing. Everybody thought the album was gonna be a hit, but the promotion and marketing wasn't there like it needed to be. I felt bad about it, but you can't be selfish because there were a lot of people involved in the project."
Devin didn't have much time to get down on himself as he became even more popular on the cameo appearance market. He was soon to appear on tracks with a bevy of artists including Too $hort and a feature on "P***y" from Jay-Z and R.Kelly's Best of Both Worlds collaboration.
In 2004, Devin would return with his third album, To Tha X-Treme, a somber album compared to his previous works. Battling bouts of depression and withdrawal, the usually jovial Devin recorded some of his most vulnerable songs.
"To Tha X-Treme was just that," Devin remembers about a time that included a lot of partying amongst other things. "It was a wild period of time. A select few around me told me I needed to slow down. I was kinda neglecting myself and my family. So I had to slow down, I liked the album, but I can't even listen to it right now. It was a very emotional time in my life."
After that release, Devin came to a crossroads in his career and started moving towards taking his destiny and work in his own hands. In 2006(?) he established his own label, Coughee Brothaz Music and began releasing music directly to his fans via the internet. He followed those efforts by bolstering his tour schedule performing everywhere from Vancouver to Amsterdam.
Then, in 2007 Devin recorded and released his fourth and final Rap-A-Lot album, Waiting to Inhale. As usual, Devin's unique accounts on relationships and economics made the album a cult favorite and featured high-profile appearances from Snoop Dogg and Andre 3000 of Outkast.
Now, closing a 15-year chapter on his life with Rap-A-Lot, Devin will be releasing his fifth studio album through his own Coughee Brothaz imprint via Razor & Tie Entertainment. Now grown with four children, Devin isn't the same carefree Dude who was Just Tryin To Live life To Tha X-Treme. More mature, Devin is aiming to produce some of his most balanced work yet. Reuniting with his Odd Squad brethren Rob Qwest, collaborating with DJ Domo as well as many long time acquaintances and new friends will ensure that his newest effort will be one to remember.
An avid reader and even better BBQ-er, Devin, who still breakdances a little, deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as LL Cool J and Scarface in terms of musical longevity and integrity. With this album, don't just expect Devin to continue doing "what the f**k he wants to do," but to do it the best way he knows how.