Devin the Dude's warbly croon has graced songs from luminaries like The Roots, Dr. Dre, and De La Soul, but he's also established himself as a beloved solo artist and a core member of cult favorites Odd Squad and Facemob. Devin's big break came when Dr. Dre tapped him for "Fuck You" from his comeback album, 2001. Devin has subsequently released three well-received solo albums—most recently, the stellar Waitin' To Inhale—in addition to contributing guest vocals for everyone from Dilated Peoples to J-Zone. The A.V. Club recently spoke with the affable marijuana enthusiast about working with Dr. Dre on 2001, his nickname, and what his mom thinks of his boozy, X-rated, self-deprecating, weed-glorifying lyrics.
The A.V. Club: The new album features a song where you employ a sort of good ol' boy hillbilly voice. Is that based on someone you know?
Devin The Dude: Well, actually, he appeared on another album of mine, man.
AVC: On "R&B?", from Just Tryin' Ta Live?
DD: Yeah, yeah. I'm from East Texas, New Boston, Texas, man It's kind of country out there. So I had a lot of friends out there, and you know, we'd gag around. When we'd sip coffee [Slang for smoking pot. —ed.] and just tell stories, man, everybody gettin' their own character, you know, their own self, you know what I'm sayin'? And they just say words differently, man. We just get amused off some of the words. I give a big shout-out to New Boston, Texas.
AVC: Are you a fan of country music?
DD: Actually yeah. I'm pretty well rounded with music, man. You know, I like [Randy] Travis. Yeah, he's pretty cool. Uh, who else? Willie Nelson's pretty cool. There's a lot of country songs that I grew up listenin' to, but I never knew the name of the artists. But the songs always stuck.
AVC: In the Odd Squad, you were billed as "Devin." So where did "The Dude" come from?
DD: It actually came from my first album, man. Scarface was helping me out with a lot of production, and most of the album actually came out on Scarface's Interface Label. We was in the studio, and he was going over all the tracks and windin' it down, and we only had, like, one more track to go, and he was like, "What did you like to listen to when you were little, man?" And I went, "Quincy Jones' The Dude album, that's one of my favorites." So I went to the back and grabbed it, and we did a revised version of "The Dude." And when we was finished, he was like, "Man, that's it, man. You The Dude. You gotta name the album that." So I named the album that, ya know? We went on the road, and I would be asked, like, "Are you Devin?" "Yeah, I'm Devin." "Devin The Dude?" "Yeah, I guess." And I couldn't get away from it. I always wanted to be just Devin, but there was a girl called Devin also. And she was also into music, and she was doin' records and stuff, so I was like "Okay, well, 'Devin The Dude' sounds cool."
AVC: You have good chemistry with Dr. Dre, both on 2001 and the song he did for Just Tryin' Ta Live. Will you be working with him on the Retox album?
DD: Aw, that'll be real cool, man. I got a call, actually, from one of the assistants. He was lettin' me know that Dre wanted me to be part of the project, and he'll be back in touch with me with future details and everything. That would be real cool, man.
AVC: What was it like to get the call that Dr. Dre wanted to work with you in the first place?
DD: Well, ya know, I didn't believe it at first. I thought that somebody was just playin' a joke, ya know. But I got a call from my road manager where he said, "Man, stay by the phone, man. Dr. Dre said he's gonna give you a call. He wants you to be a part of this project he's workin' on." I'm like, "Man, I'm going home." And he was like, "No, seriously, man." So I hung up the phone and an hour passed, you know, two hours passed, three hours passed. I just got out of my mind. Checked the calendar to see if it was April 1st. So after three hours or so, I got a call, and I didn't even think about Dre callin' again, and I picked up the phone and said, "Hello." And he was like, "Is this Devin?" and I'm like, "Yeah," and he was like [Starts singing the lyrics to Scarface's "Do What You Want."] "Do what the fuck you wanna do." So I was like "Hit 'em, Dre!" It was a trip, man. He let me know the details, man, I went out there, and it was real cool all the way, man.
AVC: From a career perspective, how important was it appearing on 2001?
DD: The Up In Smoke tour? Well, it was a blessing, man. It was a blessing just to be a part of Dre's project, whatever he has goin' on, definitely is a big thing in the hip-hop world. You know, to get that call, it was awesome. And then to get another call to be a part of the tour itself, even though I only had like a small part in it, ya know—oh man, I can't explain. Every time I finished my part on the stage, I would walk out to the crowd and just look at the show.
AVC: After 2001 and the incredible heat it produced, was there a lot of pressure on you to come out with an album and capitalize on the success of "Fuck You" and the Up In Smoke Tour?
DD: No, I think the pressure was before I was actually a part of that. You know, I was goin' through a stage where I was like, ya know, really tryin' to work hard, and I wasn't really seein' a lot of benefits comin' from it. Besides the fans, you know, the respect and appreciation for what I did. You know, I was at a time when I knew I loved the music, and I wasn't just gonna give up, but I was slowin' down a whole lot, so when I got that call right there, it really put an "umph" in me. You know, gave me a little bit more gas. I felt the pressure really before that.
AVC: Are you happy with the new album?
DD: Oh, of course. My friends, my family, my momma likes the album. She says, "I love that album. That's a good album. Some of the words, you know, I might not be able to listen to all the songs, but that's a good album."
AVC: Are you comfortable with your mom listening to your work?
DD: You know, at first I wasn't. In '93 I wasn't. You know, with the Odd Squad album, she was very supportive. Very supportive. Before I let her hear some of the first songs, I was tryin' to keep them away from her. There was a song here or there that just had too many words But when the album come out, she was forced to hear it. She would call and say, "You know what? That number four, I like that music. That's some good music right there. You keep on doin' somethin' with some of them boys, but I didn't know you talked like that." And so that's been cool. I've been out for quite a while now, and it's great to still have a mom that supports me. She still brags on me and everything, wears my T-shirts and everything. That makes me proud.
AVC: Considering all the appearances you make on other rappers' albums, why are there so few guest appearances on your albums?
DD: Well, I guess that's probably the case. I've been part of a lot of other albums as a featured guest, which is real huge for me, man, I love that feeling, when somebody just asks you, "Hey, get on this song." So on my albums, I kinda keep it where I don't have a lot of features, so I pretty much won't sound like all the other work I'm doin'. But pretty much my homeboys, my friends, my co-workers, my friends that I grew up with, they're here. That's where we come from, really, the squad type thing, the family type thing.