You can tell by the look on hip-hop star Devin The Dude’s face what he is waiting to say is important to him. His mouth is full from biting his sandwich just a second before the question was asked, so he can’t answer as quickly as he’d like. Devin chews vigorously, swallowing just enough, enabling him to speak. “Bootsy Collins, Blowfly, Isaac Hayes, Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson…,” says the Huston, Texas native born Devin Charles Copeland. He swallows the rest then continues, “…they all left an impression on me that I still feel today.”
Devin made his first impression with the group Odd Squad before taking his chances as a solo artist. Seven albums later the New York Times-acclaimed rhymer/singer continues to strive for a mark many would argue he’s already made musically. Devin sees things differently. He sat down with SoulTrain.com to discuss impressing, being impressed, and why he can’t accept being considered a legend.
SoulTrain.com: Devin, you mentioned some legendary artists who’ve impacted you. Of all those guys you named, which of them to you made the most significant impression overall?
Devin The Dude: Isaac Hayes. I think he was one of the frontrunners on political-type music. You didn’t know it was political until you really listened to it, something like a Curtis Mayfield.
SoulTrain.com: That’s a good comparison. I think like Mayfield, Isaac Hayes could be very cryptic.
Devin The Dude: You have to really listen, go in his archives to get a good understanding of him.
SoulTrain.com: Hayes was one of those writers who saw the world ahead of his time. It’s always amazed me how certain artists can be prophetic.
Devin The Dude: Certain artists are like that! I definitely think he’s one of them. I don’t think his death is really going to be felt until years from now.
SoulTrain.com: With all his gifts, what about Hayes do think will be missed most?
Devin The Dude: People are going to miss his essence, that old school essence of how he creates music and creates songs. He could do it from the mind on a whim. When it does finally click with people I think it’s going to be something real big for him after his death. Immediately though, I think it’s going to take some time for a lot of people to get an understanding of what’s gone.
SoulTrain.com: Tell me about the first time you felt a great loss of someone you respected artistically.
Devin The Dude: Oh man…Roger Troutman! I got a chance to meet him. He was very, very down to earth. He was like a jokester, almost. He would say funny things. He spoke in a Donald Duck voice when I first met him! It was real, real cool; he was like a crazy uncle I’d never met! I’ve always respected him. He helped me out before I was rapping with “Do I Ditty”.
SoulTrain.com: Oh, really? Was there something more to it than just how much you liked the song?
Devin The Dude: I was with this dance group and that song won us so many contests and earned us so much money. But I got a chance to meet him and let him know the influence and impact he had on me. I had him saved on my answering machine. When you called my phone it was one of his songs playing. Wow…it was a big loss for me.
SoulTrain.com: Several recording artists rely on Auto-Tune for a similar effect and sound Roger is famous for, but no one is paying him homage. Does that offend you?
Devin The Dude: Well, it’s a more digital way of doing it. His way was more intricate. It took engineering with the talk box Roger used. I know a cat named Uno Blast who helps me out on my tracks. On my album 2 The Xtreme I used the talk box. It’s something totally different about that. Auto-Tune is easy access, it’s what’s in right now. It’s trendy. I can never say it’s bulls–t because that’s what’s in. If I do something like that it would be the talk box, closer to the Roger feel. I respect him that much I would go the route of the sound he was one of the creators of. And I’d at least give shout outs or something! And what they’re doing now is a more digital thing. They tweaked that sound.
SoulTrain.com: More digital…let’s go with that. It’s pretty common for music fans, via social networking and other resources, to spark conversations about who is the king of this, the best of that, and where they rank among other artists. Do you care to be mentioned in these discussions?
Devin The Dude: I would never call myself a king of something, or the best of something! I can’t name myself good! When I dropped my first solo album I was just Devin. The name of the album was The Dude. After that people would be like, “Hey, aren’t you Devin? The Dude?” I guess so.
SoulTrain.com: Intentional or not, to me it’s one of those simple but dope names.
Devin The Dude: And I got “The Dude” from one of my other inspirations–Quincy Jones. He had a record called “The Dude”. I listened to every word. It was so real to me! I was on the hunt looking for this dude. He was a bad mutha…! Then finally I understood the man behind the music was the dude. But the legacy I would like to leave is just the appreciation for the music. That’s pretty much it. Everything else, they can just have it, I guess.
SoulTrain.com: But Devin, you’re often referred to as a legend. You don’t embrace that at all?!
Devin The Dude: No! I could never do that! I’ve said it before; I would never put myself on a pedestal or say I’m above anybody else. There’s so much I still want to do as an artist and as a person. But I’ve been blessed. I’ve worked and toured and done shows with a so many artists people consider legends whom I admire: Scarface, [Dr.] Dre, Ice Cube, Snoop, [DJ] Premier, Rapheal Saadiq and De La Soul, Odd Squad and Coughee Brothaz. These are personal experiences I’ll cherish forever.
SoulTrain.com: Speaking of considered-legends and personal experiences, your song “What A Job” featuring Snoop and Andre 3000 was almost immediately labeled a classic, and it’s been heralded as one of the greatest Hip Hop songs ever since. Do you think hip-hop needs more songs with that type of honesty?
Devin The Dude: Actually, it was just going to be a skit, like a public service announcement. I only had a verse and a hook. When we started mixing the album people were saying it needed to be a whole song. I had two weeks to finish the album and we started reaching out to people. We got in touch with Andre 3000. He was real cool, and he just knocked it out. At the same time it was shot over to Snoop. He did his part on the track but didn’t know Andre was going to be on it too. It came together real cool. Everybody nailed it, as far as the subject matter. Being a recording artist looks so easy and glamorous to a lot of people on the outside, but it’s a job. It’s really, really a job. You don’t have a off day, really.
SoulTrain.com: Devin, the last conversation you and I had, you told me you’d just reached the point where you were starting to contemplate your legacy – where you career is now and what’s out there for you in the future. You’ve built a loyal fan base. What do you think their response would be if you passed on?
Devin The Dude: Right now I’m at point where I feel at ease about what’s going on. I feel respected as far as the game goes. I feel appreciated by music lovers. That’s all I can expect. That’s all I got into the game to do. One day I said a verse to one person, the next day he brought a friend over to hear it and they asked me to do it again. The third day it was about five people who wanted me to do the same verse. The appreciation was first and foremost. Somebody said they liked the last stuff, so I tried to do some more. And that’s cool. If for some reason I’m not here… [Pauses] I don’t know… I don’t have a statement that I can leave to people to say remember me as such-and-such. It’s a matter for the people who appreciate me. They come up with statements and slogans.
For more on Devin The Dude visit CougheeBrothaz.com, and connect with him on Twitter @therealdevin420.
–Mr. Joe Walker
Mr. Joe Walker, a senior contributor for SoulTrain.com, is an acclaimed entertainment and news journalist published thousands of times regionally, nationally, internationally, and online. Former Editor In Chief of both XPOZ Magazine and The Underwire Interactive Magazine, his work has graced the pages and covers of Hear/Say Now Magazine, Notion Magazine, Kalamazoo Gazette Newspaper, MLive.com, and AllHipHop.com. He loves to create, loves that you read. Follow him on Twitter @mrjoewalker. Also visit TheGrooveSpt.com and ByMrJoeWalker.blogspot.com.