Devin the Dude loves collecting and racing remote-control cars. Houston’s laid-back, stoner-rapper luminary has explained the hobby in many interviews over the last decade. Around 2009, he was being interviewed by a woman who asked him about his interests outside of rap. After first answering that he likes “to chill out and listen to music with friends,” the interviewer pushed back. She was like, “no, other than dealing with family, friends, and music…” Awhile later the rapper told Noisey that he “don’t have nothing to do! And I got mad at her. I thought, I should be mad at myself because I didn’t have any hobbies.” Feeling the spur of laziness, he bought an RC helicopter, practiced flying it—first to just bring him a package of blunts—and eventually graduated to cars and racing on arena tracks. A stray challenge to a random interview question led Devin to not only self-analyze, but also adopt a new interest that now dominates a part of his life, which is now frequently brought up in interviews. It’s the details like this, and how he presents them, that make the Dude’s music stick to the listener the way the green sticks to his fingers.
Originally from St. Petersburg, Florida, Devin moved to a small town in northeast Texas after the third grade. His mother couldn’t take the isolation of a town with less than 200 people though and they quickly moved south to Houston. In his late teens, he formed Odd Squad with Rob Quest and Jugg Mugg. The group signed to Houston’s Rap-A-Lot Records and released Fadanuf Fa Erybody!! in 1994, now considered a humid, insert classic in the city’s traditionally twisted and lethal canon. Devin branched out into solo projects in the late nineties and in 2002 gave us Just Tryin ta Live, the first entry in the Classic Stoner Album series.
Just Tryin ta Live is Devin the Dude zany and self-aware. He started formally adding ‘The Dude’ to his name for this album. It was the name of his favourite Quincy Jones song, in which a mythical space “player” talks about being a “piggy bank shaker.” Devin pays homage to this alien personality on the album’s opening song, “Zeldar,” where he actually assumes the role of an alien who presents weed from Earth at a “show-and-tell” on Mars. The alien’s name is Zeldar and Devin peppers his story with small, precise descriptions that make the narrative ridiculous and immersive: his planet, Beldar, is eight million “chooty beeks” from Saturn. He keeps the “green, leafy stuff” away from his family, he warns the crowd at the end, “I call it kill”. Devin builds many of the songs on concepts like this one. On “R&B,” an abbreviation for “reefer & beer,” he plays a redneck for half the song and musters his “good ol’ boy” East Texas accent. While on “Who’s That Man, Moma,” he takes on a child’s perspective, asking his imagined mother about the rapper on stage drinking, smoking and grabbing himself (his former character).
Most of the album’s production sounds are paced and methodical, like the slowly dissolving Swishers Devin prefers. That can be used for ridiculous means or for light, but precise, introspection. “Lacville ‘79” is a meditation on his car and how he’s thankful even if it’s a piece of shit. The DJ Premier-produced “Doubie Ashtray,” perhap the album’s most remembered song, explores his loneliness as a stoner over classic Preemo scratching and a funky guitar sample from South African Miriam Makeba’s “Quit It,” an ironic flip of a song about curbing drug use.
The joy of “Just Tryin ta Live” is its relatability.
You hear the bumps and creaks of Devin’s bucket (beat up old car) as he tells you about them and feel his sting when he talks about coming home to an empty ashtray. It’s the perfect listen for split cigars or bong rips. It was made for the open skies of Houston’s 610 freeway loop, but plays well anywhere.