The H-Town Countdown, No. 8: Devin the Dude's Just Tryin' Ta Live
Roughly 84,000 rap albums that have been released in Houston since 1989. We're counting down the 25 best of all time every Thursday. Got a problem with the list? Shove it. Just kidding. Friendship. Email it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Devin the Dude Just Tryin' Ta Live (Rap-a-Lot/Asylum, 2002)
In the comments section of last week's entry, we mentioned how, with the exception of the top two picks, organizing these last few albums was like licking razor blades. And, honestly, it really was just awful. Imagine a man giving you a handful of index cards that were all the same perfectly royal blue color. And then they were like, "Yo, organize these cards from least to greatest by orange-ness. Oh, and here..." and then he punched you in both eyes and said you only had nine seconds to finish. That would've been less stressful. And there was not one single album on this list that was more difficult to place than Just Tryin' Ta Live, Devin the Dude's sophomore LP. Devin is a genius. He'll object to the claim if you mention it to him, but we're certain of this. His rubbery coo is warm and buzzy and wise, and he wields it without inhibition. Pussy, pot, poop, whatever; he's about it. But regardless of the apparent subject matter of his songs, his lyrics are almost always weighted with chunks of introspective brilliance.
We've yet to flush out the underlying meaning of "Broccoli and Cheese," the track from Waiting To Inhale where he imparts that his genitals are the perfect dinner accoutrement. Maybe it's a take on the cultural aftershock of Liberia electing the first female president of an African country in 2006? Who knows? He has a partiality for role-playing to disambiguate incisive observations. And he possesses a constitutional ability to storytell while sounding completely natural. Somehow, each and every one of his strengths are on display on this album. Structurally, Just Tryin' Ta Live is airtight. DJ Premier ("Doobie Ashtray") and Dr. Dre ("It's A Shame") both produced tracks for it. Nas features on it ("Some Of 'Em"). The Odd Squad features on it ("Fa Sho'" and the title track). And Devin played a part in composing all of the songs, so they all feel interconnected and part of something more substantial than themselves, which will always give credence to any Devin album where this happens. But the functionality of the effort is what clawed this album up to the No. 8 spot, because there seriously has never been anything from any other Houston artist that's even gotten close to accomplishing what he did here: Creating a genuinely loopy trek through the ethereal cosmos of hip-hop's fringes.
Just Tryin' Ta Live is self-effacing, aware, wickedly contemplative hip-hop packaged slyly in stoner euphemisms, bathroom humor and existentialism. You know how right before you fall asleep everything in the universe seems to make perfect sense? That's what Devin captured here. How the fuck are you supposed to rank that? References 9. E.S.G., Ocean of Funk 10: OG Style, We Know How To Play 'Em 11. Z-Ro, Let The Truth Be Told 12. Street Military, Don't Give a Damn 13. DJ Screw, 3 N' Tha Mornin' Pt. 2 (Blue) 14. Trae, Restless 15: Chamillionaire, Mixtape Messiah 16: Bushwick Bill, Little Big Man 17: SPM, Never Change 18: Swishahouse, The Day Hell Broke Loose 19: Chamillionaire and Paul Wall, Get Ya Mind Correct 20: Z-Ro, The Life of Joseph W. McVey 21: Ganksta NIP, South Park Psycho 22: Big Hawk, H.A.W.K. 23: K-Rino, Time Traveler 24: Pimp C, Pimpalation 25: Big Moe, City of Syrup Read the rules of The Countdown here.
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