Just as rooting for the home team is an important facet of sports, it is also one of the cardinal rules of Rap. Yet when it comes to Houston’s Hip Hop scene—which for years has been filled with a large number of raw, quirky rappers—even the backing of the nation’s fourth most populous city is often not enough to launch local artists into the national spotlight.
Known for its chopped and screwed sound, a love for lean and a rapper whose mouth looks something like a disco ball, H-Town’s style has been replicated by few outside of the large Texas city. But just as Houston rapper Chamillionaire’s “Ridin’ Dirty” earned him a brief moment of Rap stardom, the creative lyrics of oddball underground emcee Devin the Dude have helped him reach beyond Houston to attract a fanbase across the country.
Since 1998, Devin the Dude has released seven studio albums largely filled with tracks meant to aid party-goers and those who, like Devin, have a love affair with weed. And while his eighth record, One For The Road, is no different, it exhibits the ever-improving lyrics of a 43-year-old rapper while giving the aging artist a chance to reflect on his 15-year career.
Much like Devin the Dude’s previous albums, One For The Road starts with a track referencing his weed smoking exploits. “‘Cause when I get high I get hungry so I cook / Go get some weed and open a book of papers if I don’t have a cigar / Hold up, wait, I’ve got some blunts in the car,” says the rapper on “I’m Just Gettin’ Blowed” over a beat filled with piano and a saxophone—perfect for a relaxing afternoon spent sunk deep into a couch with a bag of Cheetos.
Unlike later tracks such as “Please Don’t Smoke Cheese” and “Herb The Nation,” the subject matter of the album’s first track isn’t limited to weed, however, as Devin the Dude addresses handling rumors and gossip, showing his growth and maturity. Other tracks like “Livin’ This Life” also show a lighter side of Devin the Dude, parting the overlying clouds of smoke and helping to breathe life into new artists through verses filled with uplifting lyrics.
“Life, they say it cuts like a knife / I know you’ve heard it all before, the struggle and strife,” he raps, before encouraging his listeners to rise above their troubles and succeed. But while Devin may be well intended, such straightforward lyrics often come across as clichéd, lacking the creativity or wittiness to inspire others and instead falling flat.
While One For The Road’s primarily down-tempo beats help showcase Devin’s latest twist in subject matter, they also put too much of the album’s focus on his lyrics, lacking the kind of complexity (or heavy bass) that would win over some fans before his raps even began. The result is an album filled with the type of laid-back, lackluster production suited for a long drive on the open road.
Two of the album’s tracks—“Hear The Sound” and “Stop Waitin’”—attempt to veer from this pattern, momentarily breaking up the monotony with an R&B vibe, but this new endeavor again leads to mediocrity, as Devin’s off-kilter delivery and far-from-polished voice prove to be a risk without a reward.
One for The Road’s title seems to suggest that Devin the Dude is nearing the end of his career, but regardless of whether his latest album turns out to be his last, it follows the trajectory of an underground artist who achieved a cult following, matured and grew into a well-rounded rapper still experimenting with his sound, and cements Devin’s legacy as one of Houston’s most creative emcees.