Devin the Dude

Devin the Dude

Known more for blunts and beer than bullets and bling, Devin the Dude has kept a smile on Hip Hop's face while most of his peers have opted for a menacing scowl. Possessing the rare ability to inject humor, sex and substance in each of his rhymes, Devin has carved his own unique niche in rap music, becoming everybody's favorite guilty pleasure in the process. Devin, who has worked with blockbuster artists like Jay-Z, Snoop Dogg, Andre 3000, Dr. Dre and Raphael Saadiq.

Born in St. Petersburg, Florida and raised in Houston, Texas, Devin literally lived next door to music as a youngster. Living in a house in front of a radio station, Devin found that one man's trash was another man's treasure when he'd discover and collect old records the station threw in the trash. Before long, he and his brother started pulling out their mom's record player and throwing parties in their front lawn. When he finally stumbled across Hip Hop, Devin found his first calling as a pop-locker performing for friends, family and even his elders at the neighborhood nursing home.

But, it was one (literally) trashed record in particular that would have a life-altering effect on the young Devin, the obscure 1965 song "Rap Dirty" by outcast songwriter Blowfly. Just like any other child exposed to grown folk talk, Devin took to the record, memorized it and would go on to adopt the musings into his own rap style when he started hopping on the mic in the mid-80's. He got fans instantly.

"I was doing security and working at the grocery store," Devin remembers. "I would go on break, read magazines and write my raps. When I let someone at work hear my first rap, he brought a friend the next day. By the end of the week, there was a circle of 15 people standing there listening to me spit the same rap."

It wasn't long before Devin would find others who shared his new found passion. He formed his first rap group, 3D, with his brother Dexter and his best friend, ironically also named Dexter. After graduating from high school he befriended producer Rob Quest (also affectionately known as "Blind Rob"). The crew would pass time freestyling to Rob's beats, moonlighting as a rap crew without a name. Jokingly, Devin's older brother Donny likened the rag tag outfit to a fat woman, skinny man and a midget he'd see walking down the street that he liked to call "the Odd Squad." The name stuck.

After sending out over 30 demos to record labels, and getting absolutely no response, Rap-A-Lot Records producer Crazy C stumbled across their humble, light-hearted recordings that stood out at a time when rappers either had dance moves like MC Hammer or street reps like Eazy-E. Impressed with what he heard, he took the tape to Rap-A-Lot CEO James Prince. By the end of the week Prince was knocking on Odd Squad's door with a contract that they agreed to sign in 1992.

Their debut album, Fadanuf Fa Erybody would come two years later. The group's unique style, flow and themes made them an underground favorite. It even made a fan of their labelmate, rap Godfather Scarface who would often recruit Devin for guest appearances on his classic tracks including "Hand of the Dead Body" and "Money Makes the World Go Round." With his crew's blessing, Devin broke away from the group to join Scarface's FaceMob and appear on their 1996 album The Otherside of the Law. While the album, just like Fadanuf, was considered an underground classic, it didn't achieve mainstream success.

In 1998, Rap-A-Lot approached Devin with the idea of recording a solo album, he scoffed at the idea initially. "I never wanted to just be solo,I loved the group thing," he says. "I have brothers, played basketball, played football and was in rap and dance crews, I always thought there was strength in numbers. But when I was debating with myself I heard a dude say I couldn't do it, so that gave me the fire to do it."

After show-stealing appearances on Scarface's 1998 My Homies compilation, Devin dropped his solo debut The Dude to rave reviews including a coveted 4-mics rating in The Source, a rarity for Southern Hip Hop artists at the time. Inspired by the Quincy Jones album of the same name, The Dude introduced Devin as a unique voice that made you feel at ease instead of threatened. The cover image of Devin "relaxing" while reading the newspaper immediately let you know that for every potty-mouthed rhyme, there was also one talking about current events and neighborhood happenings.

"I was carefree and had very little responsibilities back then," laughs Devin about the album that had content that was far from the church songs he sang in the choir as a child. "My mom liked some songs, but some stuff she didn't. She just said as long as I wasn't hurting anybody she was cool with it. After that I just went buckwild, saying anything came to mind."

Though the album didn't sell through the roof, The Dude won the hearts of both rap fans and rappers themselves. Devin found unexpected fans in Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre who not only invited Devin to appear on "Fuck You" from his Chronic 2001 album, but had him join them on their widely popular Up In Smoke Tour as well.

Devin would capitalize on the exposure by appearing on songs with De La Soul, UGK and then releasing his second and perhaps most critically acclaimed album Just Tryin 2 Live in 2002. Backed by production from longtime collaborators DJ Domo, Blind Rob, N.O. Joe, Mike Dean as well as Dr. Dre, Raphael Saadiq and DJ Premier with appearances from Nas and Xzibit, the album would be considered Devin's best yet.

"We had a bigger budget too," laughs Devin. "Things were just coming together and it was a big blessing. Everybody thought the album was gonna be a hit, but the promotion and marketing wasn't there like it needed to be. I felt bad about it, but you can't be selfish because there were a lot of people involved in the project."

Devin didn't have much time to get down on himself as he became even more popular on the cameo appearance market. He was soon to appear on tracks with a bevy of artists including Too $hort and a feature on "P***y" from Jay-Z and R.Kelly's Best of Both Worlds collaboration.

In 2004, Devin would return with his third album, To Tha X-Treme, a somber album compared to his previous works. Battling bouts of depression and withdrawal, the usually jovial Devin recorded some of his most vulnerable songs.
"To Tha X-Treme was just that," Devin remembers about a time that included a lot of partying amongst other things. "It was a wild period of time. A select few around me told me I needed to slow down. I was kinda neglecting myself and my family. So I had to slow down, I liked the album, but I can't even listen to it right now. It was a very emotional time in my life."

After that release, Devin came to a crossroads in his career and started moving towards taking his destiny and work in his own hands. In 2006(?) he established his own label, Coughee Brothaz Music and began releasing music directly to his fans via the internet. He followed those efforts by bolstering his tour schedule performing everywhere from Vancouver to Amsterdam.

Then, in 2007 Devin recorded and released his fourth and final Rap-A-Lot album, Waiting to Inhale. As usual, Devin's unique accounts on relationships and economics made the album a cult favorite and featured high-profile appearances from Snoop Dogg and Andre 3000 of Outkast.

Now, closing a 15-year chapter on his life with Rap-A-Lot, Devin will be releasing his fifth studio album through his own Coughee Brothaz imprint via Razor & Tie Entertainment. Now grown with four children, Devin isn't the same carefree Dude who was Just Tryin To Live life To Tha X-Treme. More mature, Devin is aiming to produce some of his most balanced work yet. Reuniting with his Odd Squad brethren Rob Qwest, collaborating with DJ Domo as well as many long time acquaintances and new friends will ensure that his newest effort will be one to remember.

An avid reader and even better BBQ-er, Devin, who still breakdances a little, deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as LL Cool J and Scarface in terms of musical longevity and integrity. With this album, don't just expect Devin to continue doing "what the f**k he wants to do," but to do it the best way he knows how.

Mikkey Halsted

UNCROWNED KING In a congested rap landscape a militant MC with respect for the art of wordplay, musical integrity and a respect for the sacred power of music has emerged from Chicago, hip hop's latest hot bed for talent. Up steps Mikkey Halsted a product of the Southside of Chicago's notorious Wild 100's section. If the master's degree in education does not hint at the extraordinary aptitude of this master of ceremony then certainly the first entrée into the music of Mikkey will leave a listener refreshed with the idea that the revolution just might be closer than previously contemplated. Not new to the industry, Mikkey got his start with super-producer Kanye West, who produced his first demo that landed him a deal with Cash Money Records. The CMR chapter turned out to be short stint, but a fruitful period musically and professionally as Mikkey went on to feature on 7 Cash Money releases that were certified platinum or gold and performed on several major tours throughout the country. During his tenure with the New Orleans based powerhouse, Mikkey had the opportunity to expose millions of fans to his brand of music he coins as "militant-street-wisdom" and rub shoulders with the industry's elite including Lil Wayne, R. Kelly, Jay-Z and producer Mannie Fresh, whom Mikkey maintains a strong relationship with to this day. Throughout Mikkey's exploits in the industry ranging from his Cash Money days to his 2 year deal with Jermaine Dupri during JD's brief stint at Virgin Records, Mikkey has earned the respect of some of the biggest names in the industry and a sizeable fan base. Fans and colleagues cite Halsted's razor sharp lyrics and delivery along with his insightful observations as an indication of his distinctiveness in an industry crowded with impersonators. Acclaimed producer NO ID (Jay-Z, Common, Toni Braxton, G-Unit, Jamie Foxx) had this to say when asked where Mikkey Halsted fits in the evolving story of Chicago and hip-hop, "the perspective of Mikkey Halsted is as crucial a piece to the Chicago hip-hop puzzle as some of the successful artists I help to break including Kanye West and Common" says NO ID. "The Chicago story will never be told in its entirety unless Mikkey gets a chance to speak his peace." Being a product of a collective that has produced an elite group that reads like a Chi-town who's who, (Kanye West, Common, No I.D., Shawnna, Rhymefest and others) Mikkey Halsted is a recognizable brand with the pedigree of a super star in the making. After his stint of successive short lived record deals, Mikkey Halsted has emerged a more skillful artist with a more militant perspective poised to provoke change in a time of uncertainty that extends beyond the face of hip-hop. There is no question regarding the music industry's acceptance to Mikkey Halsted only a matter of who will be left standing when the revolution is broadcasted.

Cristalle Bowen, professionally known as Psalm One, has been consistently named one of the nation's Best Artists by the Chicago Tribune, and in 2011 made her national television debut on on MTV's Emmy-winning series, MADE. She is a native Chicagoan, and released her debut CD, Bio:Chemistry, while studying chemistry at the University of Illinois in 2002. In 2006 Psalm One became only woman signed to the prestigious, fiercely independent record label Rhymesayers Entertainment when she released her commercial debut, The Death of Frequent Flyer. Since then she has toured the US, Canada and Europe, and has shared the stage with everyone from MF Doom to 50 Cent to Kendrick Lamar.

In 2011 Charm Lab and the Intonation Music Workshop in Chicago, parntered to create RhymeSchool, an on-going music intensive after school program for elementary students that offers a real glimpse into the music industry. Psalm One released "Child Support" in 2012, a collection of songs made with elementary students nation-wide though the ASCAP Songwriter Residency. The album boasts collaborations with over 200 students from under served areas in the nation, as well as Grammy-nominated artists and producers. Through her music mentoring programs, she hopes to balance some of the negative impacts of mainstream music on the community. Currently, Psalm is working on a number of new projects, and continues to champion the Chicago music scene.



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