Your favorite rapperƒ?TMs favorite rapper

By Jordan Selbo

In the annals of Hip Hopƒ?TMs greatest rappers, once in a great while there exists an eMCee thatƒ?TMs dope based on sheer personality alone (Redman, Method Man or the self-proclaimed ƒ?oeBlack Elvisƒ?? Kool Keith come to mind). Lacking the technical innovation of a Rakim or the prophetic message of a Chuck D, these cats grab your ear almost in spite of (or maybe because ofƒ?” big up NORE) the less-than-divine delivery or subject matter theyƒ?TMre spitting. But coming across as vividly as Pacino in Scarface and releasing albums over time that show their struggle, triumphs and ultimately evolution, certain lyricists are less lyrical than spiritual, less larger-than-life than oddly familiar, less comfortable on world tours than in the local hood. Straight out of Houston, Devin the Dude is just such a rapper. His sing-song delivery, a weird but nonetheless dope mix of laidback rhyming and 70s soul crooning, is heavily unique but hardly has the command of a Tupac or a Scarface (his fellow labelmate at Rap-a-Lot, dummy). In addition, his subject matter could (more or less) be summarized in three words: women, wine and weedƒ?” not your typical crowd-pleasing fair, especially in the current rap culture of soap opera drama and bling-mania (but does anyone actually listen to G Unit for the lyrics anyway?!?). Despite allathat, the Dude remains my favorite rapper, the one whoƒ?TMs albums stay in the 5-CD changer long after the newest joints are collecting dust in the corner. Why is this, you ask? The reasons are as simple and as complex as my relationship to this rap shit.

Simply put, the Dude is just real in the best way possible. Not in the silly ƒ?oekeepinƒ?TM it real!ƒ?? sense of your typical studio gangsta, but real in the way you feel his pain, share his small triumphs, and ultimately leave out feeling like you know something of the man. And in a hustle where to reveal your true self on the M-I-C is as common as Reverend Run in Nikes, you gotta believe that candor is a special quality in rap. So when Devin raps about getting picked on as a kid for his busted-ass sneakers, or sings the praises of his broke down Lacville ƒ?TM79, the urge is not to point and laugh, but smile and shake your head right along with him.

The Dudeƒ?TMs released three solo albums thus far, each of which sticks to the formula of syrupy Southern homegrown beats and personal and humorous narratives of struggling, striving and celebrating. And peep game: Devinƒ?TMs worked with damn near everyone dope in the last eight years. You like west coast? Check collaboes with Dre (a show-stealing turn in Chronic 2001) and Xzibit; how ƒ?bout the East? Try De La Soul, The Roots, J-Zone and Premier. And that doesnƒ?TMt account for his work down south neither. Yet what makes the Dude so compelling to me is the subtle progression (both musically and lyrically) within his simple framework of seemingly unrivaled vice. Wherein his first platter from 1998 might be accused of being ignorant and misogynistic (sample lyric: ƒ?oeI smoke weed/ I drink brew/ thatƒ?TMs all I rap about ƒ?cause shit thatƒ?TMs all I doƒ??), his second album, 2001ƒ?TMs Jus Tryin Ta Live, found him grappling with new-found changes but still essentially the same man (ƒ?oeWe need to change our ways/ƒ?Ýmaking beats, getting high/chasing freaks, feeling fine/its just the same old shit/but I think we ainƒ?TMt gone quit/ƒ?Ýjust tryinƒ?TM ta liveƒ??).

Things came full circle, though, on 2004ƒ?TMs To Tha X-treme, which finds an older, wiser and deeper version of the Dude, without losing any of those so-called ƒ?bad habitsƒ?TM that we all secretly (or not so secretly) get down with. Here the subject matter is still female-centered, but now the songs deal with problems involving long-term relationships and miscommunication, not so much about various body fluids. Other songs like ƒ?oeCooter Brownƒ?? and ƒ?oeSheƒ?TMs Goneƒ?? deal with everyday struggle honestly and are singed with regret, while the album ender, appropriately titled ƒ?oeUnity,ƒ?? is straight up soup for the soul. And yes, he still provides a handful of undeniable weed anthems for all your buddha-related functions (once again you wonƒ?TMt find any gun or drug dealing references hereƒ?”sorry young thug).

In conclusion, Devin is probably your favorite rapperƒ?TMs favorite rapper because heƒ?TMs got that slow-cooked gumbo that bubbles, simmers and boils but never gets tiresome (ƒ?specially if you smoke like I do…). So next time youƒ?TMre combing through the stacks at Cheapoƒ?TMs, check under D in the Hip Hop aisle and donƒ?TMt be a dummy: cop that!