You can almost picture Devin The Dude blunted out on a black leather couch somewhere rocking out to The Commodores, reflecting on a life filled with women and weed when listening to Gotta Be Me. The Odd Squad rapper’s seventh studio album (and second this year) is laced with mounds of cannabis-appreciation and hilariously crass commentary on females and fornication and -- excluding “When Will I Win,” a pensive ode to the traps of hustling backwards -- nothing else.
Normally, such contextual limitations signal the onset of redundancy, but in Devin’s case it’s an asset that never depreciates because of his honest contradiction. He proudly accepts being a “dick for hire” on “Come & Go”, because, as he says, “both of our schedules are kind of busy but we manage / Ro scratch that itch and then we leave” then reassures that the relationship is more than just a convenient quickie on the sublime “I Like What U Do”: “You’re my queen to be / and you deserve the best...and everywhere we go / they’ll know you’re not a hoe." The times have changed, but this is the same Devin that was Rap-A-Lot Records' best-kept secret for nearly two decades before going independent.
“Excuse my behavior but right now I need / That other good stuff / I already have weed” he delivers over “No Need To Call’s” breezy backdrop, deriding women that call only to talk. “You’re the reason why I’m leaving my old ways / My black book is gone and I forgot where them hoes stay,” he confesses on the sultry “Gimme Some,” pleading for something more significant. Devin exalts self-assured women who know exactly what they want and are honest about who they are on the mack-mode ready “You So Real,” and holds no regrets against a relationship marred in equal infidelity on “Aint Goin Nowhere.” Then on the thumping “Fuckha” he hilariously informs her new dude about his girl’s scandalous past:
“I’m glad that I had it / You flabbergasted / You got it / You bring that bitch around like I might get mad about it / I doubt it / I’ll admit that bitch fine than a muhfucka / But I hit a few times / So did my other brothers / Don’t let her trick you like she’s gonna let you keep her / Don’t be surprised when you realize that pussy’s getting deeper / Then the freak hit the streets / You search and you look / Now you wish that pussy came with a Blue Book / To let you know how much it’s worth.”
At every turn, Devin The Dude approaches relations and relationships with a crude candidness that grows more endearing with each listen. And while “Jus Coolin’s” synth injections and subtle flutes make for suitable smoke and ride music, the cut is not nearly as potent as title track’s, “Gotta Be Me,” hazy affirmation of his marijuana affection or the faded ramblings on “It’s Going Down” and “I’m High” -- both of which serve as the album’s intro and outro, respectively.
Gotta Be Me is sleek and consistently honest. It’s simple yet introspective, unruly yet refined. As Devin embraces his many contradictions, he stays true to self. However, from an artist that's worked with the likes of Dr. Dre, DJ Premier and his successful self-production, this album lacks the musicality to complement Devin. Instead, the listener gets a lot of G-Funk. The production is solid, it matches Devin's mood, but it does not have the engagement with the music heard on April's Suite 420 or 2002's underground classic Just Tryin' Ta Live. However, music aside, Devin's themes and whimsical nature are on par with his expansive catalog, and he ain't changin'.