DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Despite a nearly two decade career, guest spots on high-profile Dr. Dre and De La Soul tracks and co-signs from some of the genre’s most outspoken talents, Devin the Dude continues to carry the moniker of “the-best-rapper-you’ve-never-heard.”
Normally in the genre, those sort of tags tend to wear off, either fading as the artist’s talent wanes or dropping once they’re welcomed into the mainstream. But Devin Copeland is a strange case: His career doesn’t fit into either of those categories.
So, for the 20th straight year or so, the Houston rapper somehow still fits that bill.
In 2005, when the Houston rap scene drove its candy-painted Cadillac at its own pace onto the national stage behind Mike Jones’ “Still Tippin,’” Devin was off to the side, making the music he always had, expertly melding words and phrases about women, marijuana and alcohol on top of reconfigured, airy funk beats.
In fact, when the New York Times flew south to Houston that year to chronicle the “strangest sound in hip-hop,” Devin showed up in the third-to-last paragraph of the 1,700-word article. The reporter painted him as the city’s most talented everyman, who may be deserving of the national spotlight but perfectly content without it.
He’s never been a flashy man; his attire for Friday’s sellout show at the Granada Theater consisted of sharply creased jean shorts, an orange tee shirt and a grey hat. He’d also rather rap about his inability to afford gas, a cigar and a Budweiser than boast about a make-believe Veuve Cliquot fountain, a stylistic choice that’s always somewhat separated Devin from his peers. Especially those not from the humid Bayou City.
But his dedication to that down-to-earth attitude created a communal bond between him and his fans. As such, it wasn’t a surprise that Devin the Dude sold out the 1,400-capacity Granada Theater for the third straight time Friday.
All the listeners in the packed, smoky venue knew what they were getting; especially considering Devin shared the bill with his entourage The Coughee Brothaz.
After local rap act A.Dd+ warmed the audience with an energetic and brisk set – backed by Dallas-based DJ Sober and featuring a guest appearance by sort-of local legend Mr. Pookie – three of the Brothaz took the stage, free-styling for close to a half-hour over southern trunk bangers like Young Jeezy’s “Trap or Die.”
Though many probably wouldn’t think it, the Granada Theater is one of the city’s best options to see a rap show. The crisp bass rattles you, but the propulsions never echo or overwhelm the more subtle tinges in these songs. When Devin played the DJ Premiere-produced “Doobie Ashtray” late in his set, not one of those funk guitar plucks and riffs were drowned out by the deep bass line.
Another plus in having a great mix: These men can sing. Devin’s among the best at crafting hooks and it’s been that way for a long time, as evidenced by show-closer “See What I Can Pull” from his 1998 debut. But his buddies are better singers, and the evening’s marquee act was glad to step aside and let his entourage belt out and harmonize while he stepped along behind them to the music.
This kind of free-flowing format made the show much more relaxed; hearing what Devin had to say, and taking it to heart, wasn’t a tough thing to do. And looking around, fans were genuinely affected by Devin’s positive spin. Despite all the weed talk and crude sex raps, Devin and his crowded stage of performers made time to honor their fallen friends – the show was about a month removed from the fifth anniversary of the tragic, unsolved shooting death of fellow Houston everyman rapper John “Hawk” Hawkins – and remind those in the crowd that being alive was enough.
“Anythang is plenty man / and is better than nothing at all,” Devin sang during “Anythang.”
Had he ever wavered from his sound and humble, self-deprecating lyrics in the name of national exposure, that line wouldn’t have carried the weight it did Friday. But who needs that sort of exposure when your words still mean something to people?
Seems like his mantra of “Just Tryin’ Ta Live” paid off after all.