Harrison Samphir is an editor and writer living in Winnipeg, Canada. This is his first contribution to Passion of the Weiss. Pass him all your drugs.
The dude with the spacey flow debuted with the Odd Squad on Fadanuf Fa Erybody!! Signed to Rap-A-Lot Records, Devin Copeland went solo to drop a handful of classics and appear on the famously profane chorus to Dr. Dre’s “Fuck You.” One of the most consistent and amiable rappers in history, Devin’s always stayed above the clouds, puffing his herb, making quality records and even trying his hand at acting.
I got the chance to speak with the 43 year-old ahead of a brief Canadian tour. We touched on his latest release, One for the Road, Houston hip hop and much more.
Reading the liner notes I’ve noticed there are a lot of writer and composer credits on the new disc. Did you work with more people on this release than on previous ones?
Now that I’ve had a chance to look over a lot of stuff I do now, I operate my own label with Coughee Brothaz [formerly Odd Squad], I kinda make sure all the credits are there. Back in the day you didn’t really have the chance to add names and credits. And it burns a lot of bridges, but a lot of people who gave a lot of help weren’t included. It does something to the contributors just to see the name and just to get credit, period. You know what I mean? So, you know, I tried to make sure that if you had a hand-clap in there, or a tambourine, or anything, you’d get your name in it.
In the Screwed in Houston (VBS/Vice Magazine, 2007) documentary, you’re shown working in a home recording studio. Do you still operate it primarily for H-Town artists?
Well actually, man, it’s a funny thing you say that, because the One for the Road album was the first album I think I did pretty much everything for at home, you know. Normally we have a studio which we’d call the Coughee Pot, and we had like four or five of them over the years, but this particular album I did most of it here. A lot of guys who helped me out either sent music to me, or me to them. It was more relaxing. You know how fun it is when you have a lot of people in the place and a lot of things happening but you tend to get less work done? This time I was trying to consolidate it, and hold myself hostage and knock this one out.
What inspired One for the Road?
My inspiration, I guess, was not having an album out in a year or so. A lot of people, they wouldn’t ask me if I’m doing an album, but they would ask me “Am I finished?!” [Laughs] That inspired me. A year ago, the market was kind of shaky and a lot of trend things were happening, a lot of program-directed music being shuffled around, and I just needed a little break. Going back into the studio and just listening to music and being inspired by people got the juices flowing and creative things happening. I want to get in the lab again and do another Coughee Brothaz project before I do another solo album.
I’m glad you mention Coughee Brothaz, because I was first introduced to you on ’94’s Fadanuf Fa Erybody!!, the Odd Squad album. Working with Jugg Mugg and Rob Quest for so long, how has your relationship evolved? Are they like brothers to you? Close friends?
Ah, man! It’s pretty much all of that. Brothers, close friends. Sometimes we see each other every day for a week, sometimes we might not see each other for a month. But every time we do we’re chillin’, reminiscing, creating new memories or bringing up past memories. We can talk about family issues, we can talk about anything. I always thought me, Jugg and Rob should have a TV show or host some type of radio station or something because we have different points of view but we all kind of get along well. You know, sometimes we agree and sometimes we don’t, but when we’re together it’s always a cool collab. We had 30 songs in ’92 before we even had a name for our group! They were like two or three minute songs, but we put demo tapes together. That’s how close we were. It wasn’t even an issue about the group, we just loved to get together, rap and drink and smoke and chill. [Laughs]
When the Odd Squad album came out, what was the response at the time?
At Rap-A-Lot it was a surprise, because they didn’t think it was going to be that raw. Actually Little James [Prince] thought maybe he could sign a deal with Disney or something?! But after the album came out he was like “Oh, shit!” Because he knew we had funny material or whatever but he didn’t realize how raw it was. He thought, you know, being funny and Rob being blind put us on the lighter side of rap or something.
That positively weeded, laid-back oddball rap is still the style you’re running with.
Yeah, the thing is when I started doing solo records, or when I first started rapping period, I found it’s really easy to stay you rather than be someone else and continue that persona. I always just rapped about what I was doing or how I felt, or stories about what I’ve been through or somebody close to me has been through. Something real near and dear, so I don’t have to venture too far to be creative.
Has making albums become easier over the years?
Actually, to tell you the truth, man, it seems easier now. Since a lot of other stuff has come into play that you didn’t realize was so hard – you know, being on the road, trying to come up with a tour, trying to come up with merchandise – you notice which one is the easier job! [Laughs]
Going back to the South, I wanted to ask you about Houston. How has the hip hop community grown and evolved since the impact of DJ Screw, UGK and the Geto Boys?
To me, man, Houston has always been a melting pot for rap. It’s been one of the biggest consumers of hip hop music since the ‘90s. And it’s always been that way. As far as when the hip hop spotlight comes to town, back in the Screw era, UGK and Geto Boys like you’re saying, that was just something that was meant. And it always just goes around, that spotlight just goes around, and it hit every state and every city. When it’s not in your city, that’s when you have to get your stuff back together for the next time it loops around. Because it always does that with hip hop, you know, and it’s a matter of appreciating where the wave is and then being prepared for its next arrival.
So you see that cycle continuing?
Yeah I think so. And I like to watch the wave, I don’t want to really get out there and get ready to catch it and be a part of a trend at a particular time. I like just to sit on the beach and watch the waves, all the waves, every year. If I can catch one or two that would be cool but, being in the hip hop game, you have no choice but to get out there and create waves instead of catching them. It’s been a blessing I’ve been appreciated so much.
What’s your favorite thing about H-Town?
Oh, man, well you know how you might measure a city by its cost of living? And you always want to go to that balance where it’s not too loud, not too quiet, you know what I’m saying? In Houston, it’s like that with everything, not just the cost of living, with music, with food, with people, with everything. It’s just so much of a balance, man. It’s so big, it’s a lot bigger than people think, like, “Oh, it’s in Texas it must be country out there.” But no matter what you do, if you’re into reggae, country, hip hop, latino. Whatever you’re into, the balance is pretty much here. The weather, the women, everything is balanced. [Laughs] That’s Houston to me. That’s why I like it.
You acted in a stoner comedy, Highway 420, last year. It’s kind of a mythical weed flick. That must have been an interesting experience.
[Laughs] Well, that was my first real role. But I was also in a movie called Self Helpless  with a group of guys I’ve been working with in the Mid West. They helped me with the video for “What I Be On?” [off the album Suite 420]. Coke Daniels wrote and directed Highway 420, and he kind of wrote me into the movie. So we actually had to be ourselves so it wasn’t that farfetched. It was a natural character. I was nervous at first, but we had ourselves at home with all the smokin’ going on! [Laughs]
Speaking of weed, it plays a big role in the positive subject matter of your music. And considering legalization in two states, what do you think of the subculture right now?
Man, I think it’s well overdue. Beyond the medical stuff, they’ve found a way to tax it now. It’s not seen as a big threat to the government. I think Texas should hurry up and take heed, but honestly I think we’d be the last state to abide by that. But I think it should be one of the first right now to look into it. Because there’s a whole bunch of land here and whole bunch of room! But here they build more penitentiaries and it think they’re looking towards the opposite of locking people up and making money another way. I think marijuana would help the state and take a lot of paranoia off of all the good people who smoke weed, you know?
So what’s the next step for you?
You know that’s a good question man, I like engineering and I like producing and I really like working in the studio. But I wouldn’t mind taking more shots at making movies, and for the most part any avenue or door that opens for me is a pretty cool blessing. Life surprises me a lot, and many good things have come my way, and it’s hard to say what you want, because when you don’t get it, you get discouraged. People used to ask me “Where do you want to be in five years?” and I used to answer the question, but every time I did, five years later it was never like that. (laughs) Just to be a part of whats going on and appreciate it, that’s what I want. So from there, other doors may open.