Houston stoner legend Devin The Dude is making his debut on Australian shores at the end of September with a show that promises to be, “Laid back, smooth, smoke-filled and cool.” With a discography that stretches back to 1994, featuring an impressive roster of big names including Dr. Dre, DJ Premier, Scarface, and Nas—Devin has seen it all. We caught up over the phone and took a walk down hip-hop memory lane.
How did you first get into rap?
I was a breakdancer since the fifth grade. Towards the late ’80s, breakdancing was getting commercialised a little bit so we didn’t do that quite as much, but we would still be at the park where we used to breakdance. I used to collect a lot of music too and I eventually bridged over to rapping at the park.
What was your crew called?
I was in a number of breakdancing crews as we moved around. I lived in Houston and I moved to East Texas in 10th to 12th grade and then I moved back to Houston. The Rhythmic Rockers was my last breakdancing crew, but I had a crew with my brother and another guy—we called ourselves 3D.
Who were you rapping with at the beginning?
It was me and my brother Dexter. He used to beatbox in a 40 oz. bottle! [laughs] Me and my other homeboy Little Dexter, we were like a rap group-slash-breakdancers. At the end of the breakdancing thing we eventually got into the rapping part around the ninth or 10th grade. It was fun back in those days, a lot of talent shows and everything.
What was your MC name back then?
My first rap name was EZ-D. Run-DMC was one of my favorite groups, and DMC in one of his rhymes, says, ‘They used to call me EZ-D!’ I was like, ‘Well, they used to call him that. That’s his old name, he’s not using it no more, so I can I have it I guess!’ [laughs]
Can you tell me about the talent shows you entered?
Are you familiar with the group UTFO? Our group was like that. They used to have a lot of breakdancers while they rap at the same time, singing melodies and hooks. You had to do a lot of stuff back in the day, you couldn’t just rap back then.
Do you remember any of the songs you performed?
Oh man! We had a song, self-titled, named ‘3D.’ We had a song called ‘Catherine and Michelle,’ we had a song called ‘Ugly Motherfucker.’
Nice! How did you meet Rob Quest?
I met Rob at a talent show at TSU, a college out here in the Third Ward, Texas Southern University. We had a rap contest out here and Kurtis Blow was supposed to be doing the judging and you were supposed to win studio time and maybe a contract. It was maybe 1989 or 1990. [Rob] was a beast, man! He was working a drum machine called the Yamaha RX7 and he was killing it. He rhymed like Chuck D from Public Enemy! [laughs] I got a chance to talk to him and he said, “I live right around the corner from here.” From then on I started coming to his crib and working on music and just became buddies, friends, and brothers. I got in touch with Little Dexter again and me, Little Dexter, and Blind Rob (Rob Quest), we formed the Odd Squad.
Did you shop your music to many labels?
We started doing a lot of demo songs, recording with the microphone in the closet on a four-track. We were sitting around like, “Hey man, since we’re making all these songs let’s put a demo package together and send it out.” But we didn’t have a name for the group, and the Odd Squad was something I remember my older brother Donnie was saying after he was looking outside and saw a group of awkward-looking people that were walking [by]—this short, fat guy and a tall, long, skinny kid—”Those motherfuckers look like the odd squad!” [laughs]
Why did it take so long for the album to come out?
We finished with the album at the end of ’92 but we had to remix a lot of the stuff and re-do some samples. We finished it in ’93 but Rap-A-Lot sat on the album for almost a year because there was a lot of people coming out of Rap-A-Lot. Our album didn’t come out until ’94.
Why did you have to remix it?
It was Rap-A-Lot. Back in those times, samples weren’t so easy to get. Before then it was pretty easy to use a sample, but to be safe they would re-do the songs just in case they couldn’t get clearance or couldn’t reach out to the people who had the publishing.
I noticed the first single, ‘I Can’t See It’ had more of an east coast sound.
Rob Quest liked a lot of Pete Rock-type production, so that was somewhat of an influence right there. That New York boom-bap stuff.
Your solo album came out four years later. What happened between then?
We always wanted to do another Odd Squad album. Scarface asked me to help him with his Facemob project and then I did a few features with him on The Diary and all that. Eventually he asked me, “Have you ever thought about doing a solo album?” I was like, “I’m more of a group type person.” There was someone in the studio that was saying, “Devin ain’t ready for no solo album, man! It’s not his turn yet.” I was like, “Say motherfucker, why you telling him? I can speak for myself! Actually—yeah, I’m ready! Let’s do one!” [laughs] I got back with my group members to get their blessings on the project and they was real with it. It’s gonna sound like another Odd Squad project anyway, I have all the Squad members on each album and I have a lot of production from Rob Quest.
How did ‘Reefer and Beer’ [‘R&B’] come about? That’s a favorite of mine.
That came about from me being in East Texas for a few years. There’s a place called New Boston, Texas—they’re real country dudes out there, man! They’re real cool, and I get the chance to drink and smoke with ’em and chill out and they love the hip-hop music too, so it’s a trip.
You’re always willing to include self-deprecating humour in your songs. Where does that come from?
When I decided to rap I just decided to be myself. I’m just gonna talk about what actually happened, what I’m actually doing and what I’m actually going through. When I first came out with my solo album my name was just Devin, that’s all I was trying to be. Whatever I’m going through—funny, humorous or misfortune—that’s what you’re gonna hear. The name of the album was The Dude, but people associated that album with me everywhere I go. “You’re Devin? Devin The Dude?”, “Uh, yeah.” Management and other people were like, “You oughta stick with Devin The Dude, it’s got a nice ring to it.” In ’98 or ’99 there was a female R&B singer named Devin, and I was like, “Okay, I’ll be Devin The Dude so they can distinguish me.” [laughs]
What’s a memorable touring experience?
One time, I was on tour in the midwest somewhere, and we were up in the room doing our pre-party thing—smoking and drinking before the show. We had about 20 people in there and there was one guy in particular who was from that actual city, and we were all looking at him and pointing and tripping ‘cos he looked just like the spitting image of somebody that we know in Houston. When we were leaving to get in the elevator, only half of us could get in at a time, so I was with the second half of the people. The first people went down in the elevator, and from the fifth floor we heard some sort of commotion. When we got down to the lobby there were people running around, there was blood all over the floor, glass everywhere, people screaming. It came to be that the guy that we was saying looked like one of our friends—somebody point-blank shot him as soon as the elevator door opened. It was crazy, he died right there in that lobby, right before the show. It was implanted in my mind—anything can happen when you’re on the road. You’ve gotta really be on your toes.
Has your recording process changed over the years?
I get a lot of instrumentals together first and then I jot down or record ideas or hooks or even a line or two. I let everything accumulate until I get in the actual studio. Even if I’m working at home I work about four to eight hours a day trying to get a song in, four to five days a week. I try not to put too much pressure on myself or work too hard because you miss out on a lot of other stuff when it comes to recording.
Are you working on a new project at the moment?
Yessir. I came home a couple of weeks ago and someone had broke into my little studio and kinda put a damper on some of my music. I wanted it to come out in October but now it might not be until the end of the year or beginning of next year.
What three songs would you play someone who hasn’t heard your music before?
‘What A Job,’ ‘Doobie Ashtray’ and ‘Anythang.’
What was your favourite beer when you were growing up?
When I first started drinking we were drinking Schlitz Malt Liquor Bull, then OE [Olde English], then Budweiser, and now Bud Lite.
If you could make your own version of Marley Marl’s ‘The Symphony,’ who would be the three other rappers?
It would be a smoked-out ‘Symphony’ with me, Snoop, Wiz and B-Real, and we’ll call it ‘The Hemphony!’ [laughs]