If there’s one song that perhaps best sums up the veteran Houston indie rapper Devin the Dude, it’s “Almighty Dollar” from his 2007 album Waiting to Inhale. Over a drowsy, near-somnambulant beat, while alternately crooning and calmly rapping, Devin walks us through a day in the life as he tries to stretch $17 over the course of an afternoon: cruising through town, ogling girls, stressing out over gas prices, picking up beers at the gas station, getting high. He calls it his “average Joe” rap, and it’s been a refreshing, always smooth complement to mainstream hip-hop for over a decade now. With his latest, Suite #420, out today, Devin spoke to Vulture about The Big Lebowski, Detox, and Quincy Jones.
How has your recording style changed over the years?
It’s pretty much the same. Right atmosphere, the right weed, the right people around you, the right positive energy. You need that to even be able to have your ideas come across. You can have a shitload of ideas, you know, bottled in, somewhere, but if you’re not in that right atmosphere, around the right people, smoking the right weed … if you smoke … you can be trapped down in there.
How long have you been singing, and would you ever put out a full R&B-type album?
I’ve been asked that a couple of times. I don’t know if I’d be able … I don’t know! I don’t know if I can pull that off just yet [laughs]. I’ve been singing since I was in the third grade, when I was first getting albums. I was kind of singing along with the records. My grandmother heard me sing, and I kept falling asleep in church, so she put two and two together and had me in the choir.
Is the career you have the one you had envisioned for yourself? Do you ever consider how things would be different if you had landed a crossover hit?
If I had a hit, and it’s a song that I really felt good about, and I have fun with, and I didn’t really have to change what I do, I would love a hit … but if I would have to change, and go to a totally different production, totally different rhyme style and way of doing things, to be able to get a hit, I don’t know … I don’t’ know if I could do that.
Have producers or label execs pushed you in that direction?
We kid around, we kid around in the studio … we come across a beat, like “yeah, get us one of these! We’ll be in!” That type of shit. [Laughs.] It’s a matter of being comfortable with what you’re doing, with how you’re working. If I’m not comfortable with that type of song, I don’t know if I’ll be able to do it for myself. If I was asked to do it with someone, with somebody else’s project, and it’s one of those songs that sound kind of trendy, I’d probably do my best on it.
I know that Scarface helped you come up with your name. What’s the story behind that?
I was in the studio working my first solo album, you know, Face, he was the production coordinator, getting everything together. He was helping me out with the tracks. And we was down to the last couple of tracks that we needed to get done. And he was like, “What’d you used to listen to when you was little?” So I thought about the old-school stuff I used to listen to back in the day … Stanley Clarke, George Duke, uh, Quincy Jones, The Dude album. And he was like, “We got the record?” So I went in the B-room in the studio, where we had all the records, and I just started digging through the crates, and I ran across that Quincy Jones album … we heard the little groove; we had to remake that one. It took us a couple of hours. I started writing, getting stuff together — it started coming together. We just wow, knocked it out. Knocked the track out. He was like, “Man, this ought to be the name of your album!” And I was like, “I don’t know, man. Quincy Jones, man, that’s the dude! I’m not the dude.” And Face was like, “Nah, man, you the dude, Devin. It’s perfect for you.” I had to think about it a couple of hours, and then I was like well ‘fuck it.’
Are you a fan of The Big Lebowski?
I mean, I never really saw the whole movie. I heard about it. After the album, people were like, “Man, did you get your name from that?” I was like, “Get my name from what?” I was always, not against the character, but I just didn’t want people to think I got my name from the movie.
Do you let your kids listen to your music?
I used to let them listen to the instrumentals when they were really small kids. I used to get ideas, not really ideas, answers from them … if they bob their head to the music, it’s pretty much a cool song to work with. If they just ignore it, and play with the blocks or whatever, I was like, this is probably not it. But my kids are a little older now, they can listen to it, they have their ideas and they know the dos and don’ts, and the ins and outs.
You’ve said you were planning on working with Dr. Dre on Detox … did that end up happening?
Yeah, it was a few weeks ago … I had a chance to go out there, and it was a cool experience, man, just to be, a part of the project. Just to give it a shot, anyways. I don’t know if I’m gonna make the cut but, you know what I’m saying, if it’s so, it would be a huge thing. But if not, I’m all right. I’m be behind it, just for him reaching out to me, man. I’m speechless.
Did you get to hear the album?
No, man. He was excited, I can tell you that, about the album, and where it was going, and the names that he brought out, the producers and the other artists that he brought out for the album. It’s going to be well worth the wait, I believe.
Did you name your album Suite #420 after picking 4/20 as a release date, or was it the other way around?
It just came about because since the early 2000s I had wanted to put an album out on 4/20, and we tried to put one out in 2004, and we looked at the calendar and it didn’t fall on a Tuesday. We realized 4/20 wouldn’t be a Tuesday till 2010 and I said, “Man I don’t know if I’ll be rocking then,” so I just kind of gave up on the idea. So it’s a blessing that I could still be a part of hip-hop in 2010. I had to name the album that.