It’s hours before he’s set to play a show in Atlanta, and Devin Copeland is sitting in his hotel, smoking a blunt as he flips through the playlist on his computer. He’s offered to give a sample of what he listens to when he needs inspiration. It isn’t Hip-Hop, but classic soul that pours through the speakers. He smiles.
“I don’t really listen to a lot of new music,” he admits with a shrug and a laugh.
Listen to any of Devin The Dude’s albums, and his soul influences are obvious. His music has soulful energy, and his unfiltered, witty perception makes him relatable. One of the most creative artists in Hip Hop, there isn’t anybody like Devin The Dude. The Houston bred rapper/crooner’s sound is all his own, instantly recognizable and nearly impossible to emulate.
Starting out as a member of The Odd Squad (now known as The Coughee Brothaz) alongside producer Rob Quest, and Jugg Mugg, the experimental group’s 1994 debut album Fadanuf Fa Everybody!! dropped on Rap-A-Lot Records. Odd Squad pushed the label in a fresh direction, causing it to deviate from the wisdom-laced street sound it was known for with their innovative lyrics and song production. Although their debut didn’t receive the promotion it deserved, the album served as an early foundation for southern avant-garde rap, as illustrated by singles like “Coughee.”
After Odd Squad’s debut dropped, however, one thing was certain — Devin’s distinctive voice and approach to vocals made him a favorite for features, and between 1994 and 1998 he stayed busy. He joined Scarface’s newly formed group, Facemob, and they dropped their debut, The Other Side of the Law in 1996, immediately marking himself as the notable talent in the group, alongside Face. Devin also threw assists on several notable rap classics including crooning the hook on Scarface and Ice Cube’s “Hand of the Dead Body” in 1994, and singing the chorus and dropping a memorable, wildly detailed verse on “Fuck Faces” from Scarface’s compilation album, My Homies.
By the time 1998 rolled around, fans were eager for his Rap-A-Lot solo debut, The Dude. They weren’t disappointed.
Throughout The Dude it was obvious Devin was better than ever; able to key in on the aspects of his talent that make him great — his agile songwriting and vivid storytelling. The result was arguably one of the best, if not under-appreciated, debuts in Hip-Hop. His zany, self-deprecating, smoked-out and sexually explicit stories earned him the label of "Hip-Hop’s Richard Pryor." The label is understandable — like Pryor, his vivid storytelling is witty but its rooted in keen observations about people and life.
Musically, the album’s sound was uniquely Devin: crafted mostly by Domo and Rap-A-Lot’s regular producers N.O. Joe and Mr. Lee, with additional contributions from Scarface and Devin himself. And the soul-drenched, slow-grinding sound remains fresh, over 20 years later. The Dude is relatable to anyone who’s lived a little bit. You can hear a homegrown wisdom on tracks like “Do What You Wanna Do,” which plays like almost like an explicit sermon; or on “Boo Boo’n,” when he weaves three separate tales about drama-prone people, comically declaring he’ll just be in the bathroom “boo boo’n” instead of participating in their shenanigans.
For all of his brilliance, the album wasn’t a huge commercial success — an indicator for much Devin’s solo work. Still, his unique talent was undeniable, and following his debut he once again was being called upon for a steady stream of high-profile features, including a standout appearance Dr. Dre’s “Fuck You” from 1999’s Chronic 2001 and De La Soul’s 2001 track “Baby Phat" from their album AOI: Bionix.
By 2002, Devin had refocused on his own music. Over the next five years, he had a great three-album run with Just Tryin’ ta Live (2002), To tha X-treme (2004) and Waitin to Inhale (2007). All three albums remained true to the sound he’d cultivated on his solo debut, while still expanding in scope, partially because of who appeared on the projects — legendary singer/producer Raphael Saadiq on Just Tryin ta Live’s “Just a Man,” East Coast icon (but Texas native) DJ Premier on one of Preemo's most genre-bending productions, “Doobie Ashtray"; and legendary rappers Snoop Dogg and Andre 3000 on Waitin to Inhale’s rap tour-de-force, “What A Job.”
The truth is if Devin is on a song, it’s probably going to be better, and artists recognize that — from Andre 3000, Nas, and Lil Wayne, to CunninLynguist and De La Soul. With a career that spans decades and eleven solo albums under his belt, he’s comfortable with himself and what he brings to the table musically. He does it with such an easygoing demeanor, it's easy to take the sheer genius of it for granted. But always remember: Devin The Dude is easily one of the most talented, distinctive artists in Hip-Hop.