DEVIN THE DUDE: BUT HERE WE ARE
With stoned space-aliens, Pepe Le Pew-like panting over the opposite sex and a seemingly endless jungle of the world’s finest cannabis, Devin The Dude has built a legacy of charming debauchery that’s now six albums deep. But, the Houstonian explains, his jovially soulful and dry-witted rap isn’t just about blunts, babes and beer. This interview by Paul Glanting.
I’ll start by saying I think ‘R&B’ may be my favorite Devin song ever!
Devin The Dude: Good looking out, man!
You mentioned that your last album, Landing Gear, had a consistent theme of necessities. Is there any sort of guiding theme that inspired your new album, Suite #420?
Devin The Dude: Actually, back in 2004 when I was working on my third album, To Tha X-Treme, I had wanted to release the album on 4/20 because it fell on a Tuesday. [The traditional new-release day—ed.] But when I was checking out the calendar, time just wasn’t going to let us do that. Anyway, my DJ, Domo, was looking at calendars from the future and he saw that in 2010 there would be another 4/20 on a Tuesday, so he was like, ‘Do a 4/20 album in 2010!’ Back then, I didn’t even know if I’d still be rapping in 2010! But here we are. The stars just kind of lined up for us to do Suite #420 this year. We just had a lot of fun doing the whole thing. I’m looking forward to the whole album dropping. The one song we just put out as a single, ‘What I Be On,’ was really a fun song to do. Overall, I’m just excited about the whole thing—been getting some cool reviews of the album so I’m looking forward to getting this one out.
Is there a deeper concept behind the idea of Suite #420?
Devin The Dude: It’s just like an idea of all people gathering—all races, people of all kinds of economic status and religions. Weed is the bridge between all of that. It allows us all to let our hats down to have fun and chill and that’s what the mood for this album is.
How big a part of the creative process is weed for Devin The Dude these days?
Devin The Dude: You know, it isn’t a must. But to have it on deck and to be able to consume and well, I guess you could say ‘indulge’—it’s nice, man! [Laughs] It helps me broaden my mind and expand my creative outlook. The other thing about weed is that it always helps me get over the writer’s block when I’m writing songs and having trouble getting it started.
What would a weed-less Devin album sound like?
Devin The Dude: Man! It would probably be a gospel album. I love gospel music! I was raised on it. My grandma had me listening to gospel from a very young age. She didn’t like soul music but she had a bunch of gospel records around the house so the first music I was listening to was from her record collection.
You’re equal parts singer and rapper—it seems like soul music is such a big part of Devin The Dude.
Devin The Dude: I guess during my younger days, I was into soul records so I’d listen to the radio a lot. There were a few stations I really liked and they didn’t play strictly R&B. They had all types of music. I was into lots of classic light rock, too. I got into getting records and when the lyrics weren’t written in the liner notes, I used to just put the needle down on the record and write down the words myself. Writing down the words to all those rock and soul songs influenced how I began writing my own songs. Then, as I got older into the ’80s, I began to listen to Blowfly and Sugarhill and all of those early hip-hop guys—and all of those musical influences came together.
What would a date with Devin The Dude be like?
Devin The Dude: Man, I’ll probably come pick her up early, go do the movie thing early—you don’t want to hit the movies too late. Then we’ll go out to a little pub or something—order maybe a martini or a glass of wine for the lady. But for me, get a couple of beers … We can hit the nightlife for a little bit but you don’t wanna be out too late. And then, it’s time to relieve the stress of all the activities of the day.
Your albums have featured some hilarious alter egos—like Zeldar from Beldar, a stoned alien.
Devin The Dude: [Laughs] Zeldar from Beldar just came from having a good time; in my younger days when we’d be high and there would be an awkward silence, I would always break the silence and say, ‘I am Zeldar from Planet Beldar’ and man, it would make everybody laugh! It was an ice-breaker. When I recorded that song [‘Zeldar’] there had been an artist who had been using the same studio the previous night. When I got there the next morning I had planned on recording a different song called ‘Killer’ which was about some really good weed. Anyway, the guy who’d been there the night before, Seven, had left this weird vocal effect on the mic. While we tried to turn it off, I noticed it made my voice sound like an alien. I just started freestyling—you know, goofing off and pretending I was Zeldar from Beldar. I was just fooling around but my producer, Domo, who was recording it was like, ‘That’s it! That’s your intro right there!’ It took some time and everyone in the studio to convince me but it ended up working out. Although I still wonder what ‘Killer’ would have sounded like!
You’re certainly one of the more versatile hip-hop artists—you’ve done songs with mainstream guys like Lil Wayne and Snoop Dogg, but also with underground guys like Dilated Peoples and Yukmouth. What do you think it is about you that allows you to traverse virtually all of hip-hop so efficiently?
Devin The Dude: Man, I don’t know what it is but it’s really a blessing. I love and respect hip-hop so much. I guess with all those guys, they see how much I love hip-hop and how much fun I have in the studio. I could never ask for anything more; I’m just so blessed to be loved and respected for what I do. It’s really great. All those guys you mentioned and so many more have helped me get on and I’m just grateful to the end, man.
You like talking about partying and girls and whatnot but there’s definitely an underlying humble aspect to your music—you often muse on things like being lonely and being poor, especially with songs like ‘Lacville ’79’ and ‘Doobie Ashtray.’ Is this a conscious decision or is it a natural reflection?
Devin The Dude: I guess it’s a conscious reflection. A lot of that comes from stuff that’s troubling me and then me thinking about how I’m going to deal with it. Sometimes I have to ask myself questions but I don’t have the answer. ‘Doobie Ashtray’ came from a time when my doobie was pretty much all I had, and then even that got taken from me and it was like, ‘How you gonna do me like that?’ You know, I don’t like to get too emotional on tracks, but I always wanna do songs that aren’t just about weed and partying and I want to have a message somewhere down the line. My message may not be the answer to life’s problems, but it is a message of some sort. You know—I always got bits and pieces of advice from Richard Pryor. He was hilarious but he would also share his knowledge which taught me how to act, and he did all of that while he was on that bumpy road.
Medical marijuana dispensaries in California are almost a norm and in November the state gets to vote on weed becoming legal for all adults. Do you think that if weed becomes legal it’ll still be a fun topic to rap about?
Devin The Dude: You know, that’s a good point. For example, sometimes when I’m out doing a show in say, Nebraska or Louisville, I’m up on stage and when I light up a joint, the crowd goes wild! They love it! But then I was up on stage in Amsterdam and I lit a joint and I looked towards the audience ready for some applause and … nothing! [Laughs] I guess they see that stuff everyday but that little move has always been my thing! Anyway—I guess the legalization may water it down a little bit, but I think it’ll work out for the better in the end.
Would you ever consider doing any political campaigning for legalization?
Devin The Dude: Yeah, if wasn’t too strenuous and if it wouldn’t take too much time from my family or my work. But I just see a need for change in the way the government treats it; they’re ruining people’s livelihoods and breaking apart families by locking people up and just costing taxpayers way too much. And for what?
If you could tell the world anything about Devin The Dude what would it be?
Devin The Dude: I love them and that I respect it all. I’m glad that weed and music has nothing to do with color or class. And … Suite #420 drops on 4/20, and I hope—hope!—it doesn’t disappoint you!
DEVIN THE DUDE ON SAT., MAY 1 AT THE ROXY, 9009 SUNSET BLVD., WEST HOLLYWOOD. 8 PM / $22 / ALL AGES. THEROXYONSUNSET.COM. DEVIN THE DUDE’S SUITE #420 IS OUT NOW ON E1 MUSIC. VISIT DEVIN THE DUDE AT MYSPACE.COM/DEVINTHEDUDE.