Devin the Dude raps about vices, but his tight set is a virtue
Houston's Devin the Dude has the same relationship with sloth that more enterprising rappers do with greed -- it's a virtue, and the rest of us have just mixed it up with vice. His beats are languid, muddy; when he's not singing about drugs, he's rhyming about fast food, sex, and the fear of having no drugs at all. (It's something like living in a mansion with a disconnected phone, he reports.)
His attitude toward fame is less clear. Last month, Devin, who is signed to Texas label Rap- A- Lot, released his fourth album, "Waiting to Exhale." The single is called "What a Job," and it's an ode to the ambiguity of success: There's "mixin' " and "spittin'," but then again there are the endless production costs, and "sometimes it's like a pigeon coop."
There's also, though he doesn't mention it specifically, the relentless touring schedule. In recent weeks, "Exhale" has garnered near-universally favorable reviews, and after more than a decade in the business, Devin is finally in high demand. So how does a career slacker muster the energy to hit the road?
With alacrity, it turns out. On Wednesday night, well past midnight, the Dude shuffled into Great Scott, wearing an oversize T-shirt, jeans, and the kind of perma-grin engendered by prolonged exposure to chemical substances.
But the happiness was genuine. In a short, tight set, Devin sailed from the smoker's lament "Doobie Ashtray" to the motivational "Do What You Wanna Do," in which he advised that "there'll finally come a time for yourself, you must decide."
Later, on the graceful ballad "Anything," he exhorted the crowd to value that moment, because "anything is plenty man, and it's better than nothing at all." Live, Devin has the space to give homilies like this poignancy: He tells his best stories with his face, and with his hands.
Even his more indelicate rhymes -- like the Dr. Dre collaboration "[Expletive] You" -- which often sound fatuous on disc, gain some ballast onstage. Devin has made a career of singing about drugs, food, and sex, but the important part, he suggests, is that he's made a decision to have a career singing about drugs, food, and sex.
A different message permeated the set of Jake the Snake, who was celebrating the release of his new CD by opening for Devin. The Boston rapper drops art-tight, raucous verses beside understated choruses; his primary topic is his hard-won and backbreaking fight to succeed.