If Too $hort and Madlib's Quasimoto were to have an overachieving son, he'd probably sound like Devin The Dude, which helps explain why the cult rapper with the otherworldly falsetto and girlish singing voice tends to fall through the cracks commercially. The Rap-A-Lot contingent that might be attracted to a Dirty South type probably has a limited appetite for surreal songs about pot-smoking aliens who shop at Wal-Mart, amiable hillbillies bonding with Devin over their shared love of reefer and beer, and bewildered children traumatized by the rapper's crotch-grabbing antics at concerts. The ostensibly more adventurous Definitive Jux crowd, meanwhile, probably isn't inclined to check out a Houston rapper who throws around Too $hort's favorite epithet like it's the secret word on You Bet Your Life. It seems the only people clued in to Devin's idiosyncratic genius are the rap icons who've recruited him for major tracksamong them, Dr. Dre, The Roots, De La Soul, J-Zone, Scarface, and Dilated Peoples.
Not even stellar contributions from Dre, DJ Premier, Nas, and Xzibit could keep Devin's fantastic 2002 album Just Tryin' Ta Live from slipping under the radar, which makes it depressingly unlikely that his less star-studded 78-minute opus To Tha X-Treme will earn him the attention he deserves. X-Treme is Labcabincalifornia to Just Tryin' Ta Live's Bizarre Ride IIit's a mature, searching, lush, rambling, and musically complex follow-up to a hilarious party album. Devin is still a confirmed hedonist, but the undercurrents of sadness and paranoia underlying his cross-addictions sound even more pronounced. He's moved from viewing women largely as a limitless supply of blow jobs and one-night stands to pondering the complexities of adult relationships predicated on more than just casual sex.
Musically, To Tha X-Treme matches that complexity, trafficking in everything from light psychedelia to heart-wrenching hyper-soul to vocoder-laden deep funk to the almost new-wave keyboards of "What?" Devin, who (unlike Madlib) doesn't need studio trickery to sound like a chipmunk from outer space, even pulls out a Bee Gees impersonation on "Motha," a loving tribute to marijuana that doubles as a warm character study of fellow stoners. At the same time, Devin cops to pawning "17 sewing machines" to support his weed habit, a line that perfectly illustrates his gift for injecting familiar subject matter with unexpected shades of loopy humor and weird innocence. A performer so stunningly original that he resembles a one-man movement, Devin The Dude uses To Tha X-Treme to evolve his unique style in weird, wonderful, and unpredictable ways.