With carefree spirit, he raps on the high life

Boston Globe, November 5, 2005

For years Houston has boasted as vibrant and creative a scene as exists anywhere in hip-hop. The Boston audience has been slow to catch on, however, whether because of the overweening influence of New York styles or because the viscous beats of the Texas metropolis are alien to listeners deadened by subpar MCs who do little more than scream out instructions for tired call-and-response chants.

Whatever the reason, it was regrettable that the top-notch Houston MC Devin the Dude was not even the headliner for his Boston debut, Thursday night at the Middle East. That honor went to the far more ordinary Royce Da 5’ 9”, making Devin’s set, which itself followed the usual interminable series of local openers, little more than an entertaining interlude in an otherwise pedestrian, if listenable, program.

There was no question, however, that Devin stole the show. A lithe young man with a friendly manner, glazed eyes, and a constant sly smile, he possesses that refreshing rarity in hip-hop today: a style all his own. His flow is relaxed and his agenda unapologetically slack. Guns and jewelry are of no interest to him. What he cares about, deeply, is women and weed. The songs on his three albums, including last year’s excellent “To tha X-treme,” rarely stray from these familiar yet somehow inexhaustible topics.

The Dude is no Boy Scout. He’s as raunchy as they get, but in a happy-go-lucky, storytelling way that’s free of the undercurrent of violence and contempt that so many male rappers exhibit toward women. His music echoes the randy musings of Black Sheep in the early 1990s or Slick Rick even before that. He is also winningly good-natured. At the Middle East, he donned a Celtics jacket and praised Boston effusively, calling out “much love” to the crowd and stopping to croon snippets of love songs for the ladies.

The current wave of Houston rap artists, including Mike Jones, Paul Wall, Chamillionaire, and UGK, are known for their “screwed and chopped” remixes, in which tracks are slowed down till they match the lethargic mood of listeners high on cough syrup, the local intoxicant of choice. But Devin is coming from a happier place, where a little carnal pleasure goes a long way toward soothing the woes of the world.