Devin the Dude is the most underrated rapper in hip-hop today. Five years ago, Dr. Dre gave Devin a verse on "Fuck You," one of the best songs on Dre's 2001, and Devin rolled that shit up and smoked it. With heightened exposure from that song (and a few guest spots on fellow Texan Scarface's albums), Devin put together a great lineup for his second solo album, Just Tryin' ta Live. The album featured Nas, a DJ Premier-produced song, and Devin killing every single beat he could get his hands on. Funky as hell and laid back to the point where Goodie Mob would feel lazy, it was one of 2002's best albums. Devin takes few new chances on his follow-up, To Tha X-Treme, but he's mostly doing what he does best: cracking jokes, bringing the hooks, and making anyone who gets within twenty feet feel like the coolest motherfucker in the place.
As far as I can tell, the Dude likes two things: marijuana and his penis, and he would preferably like to use both in close proximity to a woman. Here's how he starts every song: first a sick beat comes on for about thirty seconds -- sometimes it's a break beat. The whole thing chills out before the bass comes in and makes everything okay until the hook comes around. Sometimes there is just one instrument, like a tambourine or a guitar, until a smooth drum groove carries you along. This is to put you in the mood, give you time to get your car up to a reasonable speed and roll down your windows. Then Devin comes in with a variation of one of two lines: "Yeah, I've been smoking that weed again," or "Damn, you're looking good while I'm rolling up this weed."
I realize this doesn't sound particularly good. Marijuana has been exhausted as a song topic and rappers who talk about girls are like music critics who talk about Radiohead. But Devin pulls it off through pure charisma. It's hard to find anything here that will top the best of Just Tryin' ta Live, but there are still great songs. The title track mines the overused vocoder to excellent effect, and the whistle-along beat of "What?" and an excellent performance by the Dude make it one of the best songs he's ever done.
Still, some of the album's seventeen tracks are forgettable. "Right Now" and "Come On Come" are a step down, and "Go Fight Some Other Crime," a glorified skit with a hook about how cops are bad, is somewhat funny, but by the end of its five minutes your stoner friends will have found something shiny to distract them. Despite that, To tha X-treme is never more than a step away from something entertaining, and putting it into rotation will brighten up even a straight-edge person's day.
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