To kick off the New Year right, I thought we’d start with a real heavyweight: one of my favorite hip hop tracks of all time.
Dubbed in 2000 as “your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper,” Devin the Dude has always flown well under the radar, despite many attempts by critics and fans to draw him into the mainstream consciousness. Hailing from Houston but given to L.A.-style rhymes (probably because he smokes an incredible amount of marijuana), Devin’s 1998 debut earned him props from Dr. Dre, who liked it so much he asked Devin to take a verse on The Chronic 2001’s “Fuck You.” Smart money would have been on Devin breaking out after that high-profile appearance, but his next effort, Just Tryin’ Ta Live, came and went without notice, despite blowing the minds between the ears it managed to catch. The Dude’s laid-back flow, gift for storytelling, and tendency to follow hilarious punchlines with insightful bombs should have made him a star. Instead, he spends his time cranking out love poems to Mary Jane while no one notices.
“Doobie Ashtray” may seem like one such ode to the greenery, but actually it’s a subtle critique of materialism from Devin’s unique perspective. On one level, Devin is proposing that, for him, losing his herb is as devastating as the combined loss of the house, car, wife, dog, boat, housekeeper, and “kitty” for another man. But on another, he’s pointing out the fleeting nature of material possessions and thus the foolishness of overvaluing them. He notes the careless, status-driven way money is often spent by those around him (“you just went and got the biggest car you could find, and a couple more just like it so your friends could follow behind”) and counters with praise for the simple things in life, like a five-beer buzz and some nugs of bud. The pure happiness in his voice as he finds a bag of grass in the resolution of the song is priceless (“and it smells pretty motherfuckin’ good”), mostly because it illustrates that, as materialistic as his worship of marijuana possession may seem, as SlackPost’s Avinash Chak says: “in his world, it’s an elemental joy.”
The song is perhaps the most lasting track from Just Tryin’ Ta Live, and rightfully so. DJ Premier lends an absolute classic of a downtempo guitar sample, the kind of timeless instrumental we increasingly forget Premo has been dropping for decades. It perfectly fits Devin’s syrupy flow and goofy-catchy-awesome hook. Maybe this is an overshare, but listening to Mr. Devin Copeland rap always makes me imagine him casually crossing a river, each word like a perfectly timed turtle rising to the surface just under his steps. Every time he gets to the end (“I can’t even sing, I just be in here bullshittin’”) I just have to turn it around and send him right back across.