Devin The Dude
To Tha X-Treme
arijuana’s influence in hip-hop has never exactly been understated. It is pretty amazing, then, that two hip-hop artists this year have released distinguished, exceptional albums that rely on ganja for inspiration. MF Doom and Madlib’s Madvillainy is awash in lyrical and musical allusions to the power of weed, with clipped song structures and stream-of-consciousness wisecracks. Devin the Dude’s To Tha X-Treme also reeks of herb, with rapping that celebrates and draws inspiration from marijuana with charisma and humor. Where Madvillainy seemed like snippets of thoughts not fully realized thrown together in a collage of images and ideas, To Tha X-Treme is stripped down and spare, an album where one simple idea can drive an entire song. The vast majority of these songs succeed perfectly.
Devin’s singsong delivery is the key to this album’s success; his voice is musical and floats sublimely over the beat, riding gently above the groove. Lyrically, Devin fits right in with the idiosyncratic and lighthearted rapping of an MC like De La Soul’s Posdnous, although Devin’s music is more rooted in his own day-to-day experiences—relationships, hanging out with friends, and, in particular, smoking weed. The songs roll by at a medium tempo, riding bass-heavy g-funk production that seems in no hurry to arrive at any destination—like smoking, the experience is an end in and of itself.
Devin’s inspired moments are numerous; in particular, his languorous take on the parable of Brier Rabbit, “The Briar Patch”, which certainly sounds as if it was conceived in a cloud of weed smoke. There’s also a hilarious tale of miscommunication, “What?” which ends after Devin loses his girlfriend to a muscle-bound Jamaican. In “Go Fight Some Other Crime,” Devin is pulled over and tries to convince a police officer that he was just drinking coffee, not smoking the herb. And of course we can’t forget his tribute to weed itself, “Motha”, a moving moment in which Devin’s melodic singing seems to perfectly capture his reverence for his own laid-back lifestyle. The only moment that breaks the relaxed tempo is “Party”, a positively jovial old-school style MC cipher that sounds as if it could have been recorded in Devin’s living room.
While it may be a holding pattern for one of hip-hop’s most underappreciated MCs—2002’s Just Tryin Ta Live captured the rapper in a very similar mood—To Tha X-Treme remains one of 2004’s finest moments. The album is nearly 70 minutes long, but its relaxed disposition and down-to-earth atmosphere envelope the listener in a warm bubble. It was impossible to turn off this CD without a contented smile plastered to my face; the funky, laid back grooves are unbelievably languorous, like a fat comfortable armchair, or, appropriately enough, spending some time under the influence.
Reviewed by: David Drake
Reviewed on: 2004-11-11