May the floodgates of damnation drown my conscience with shame for such a clickbait title. But this article is the first of a series meant to showcase certain songs that, for a moment in my automotive life, have been just that: perfect.
My first car was a 1984 Volvo 240 wagon with 312,000 miles. It was purchased from my mechanic uncle, who owned (and still owns) an independent repair shop in my hometown of Livingston, Texas. I earned it by spilling blood on rusty lawn equipment and inhaling various carcinogenic aerosols during a summer as a shop-hand. It was a unique shade of faded silver that immediately led to its christening as the “Millennium Falcon”. The melanoma-like clearcoat was remedied in the form of a beltline-up paintjob in the same blue as the long-delayed HondaJet.
It was slow, though I still managed to crash it into a tree within a month of ownership. It was reasonably reliable, though Volvo’s earth-friendly innovation of a biodegradable wiring harness led to my father fabricating a new unit out of electrical tape and vinyl-insulated butt connectors. And though my meager teen budget precluded the high-school-ballin’ twin JL 12’s that my boys were rocking in their S-10’s, a decent set of Sony 6x9’s blessed it with adequate bump. It was, without question, the greatest car in history.
I guess I like blue.
But as I’ve mentioned, it wasn’t perfect.
“I need some shocks on the back, I need some work on the brakes/The passenger side window, sometimes it just don’t wanna raise”
Neither was the eponymous Cadillac in “Lacville ‘79”. In painstaking detail, the song describes an excruciating relationship familiar to many of us: one man’s love affair with a car that fails to return the affection. The car’s 425 “shakes a little cause [he’s] got to fix the timing,” but like all car guys he still looks ahead to restoring her to her former glory, with plans to get some “new shoes and get [her] fitted for a dress”. He dubbed her “Pearly,” and while she wasn’t perfect, she was his.
The troubadour of this ballad, Houston’s own Devin the Dude, was similarly flawed. Once colloquially referred to as “your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper,” Devin transcended the well-established custom of hip-hop braggadocio and created a persona of self-deprecating humor and weed-centric storytelling. When other rappers pretended to have more money than God, he was lamenting the fact that “hobos used to ask you for a dollar, now the motherfuckers ask you for three.” It should be noted that many of his lyrics are prurient enough to make 2 Live Crew blush (a solid plus to my underdeveloped high-school mind). Devin was broke like us, finding refuge where he could in classic Detroit iron and five-leafed cannabinoids.
Artists who fixate on youth and wealth are unlikely to retain the same novelty when their fanbase leaves the club scene and enters the real world of crow’s feet and wrinkles and credit card debt. The Dude took a risk in playing the everyman, the constantly high, always down-on-his-luck court jester of the hip-hop world – and it worked. Over twenty years after starting on the legendary Houston label Rap-A-Lot, he still retains a loyal following in the Bayou City. If you need proof, look at last year’s Free Press Summerfest when the festival crowd erupted in a revelry usually reserved for headliners as he took the stage during the “Welcome to Houston” performance. They seemed to know every word to every song.
Wu-Tang Clan, not Devin. But it was a similar, if not larger crowd.
In my nascent hip hop education, I discovered Devin through the online praise of his watershed song “What a Job”. Digging in the crates revealed a back catalog that quickly propelled him to the uppermost echelon of my greatest-of-all-time list. The Dude managed to do more than many of hip hop’s greats could ever hope to achieve: he connected. And when a 17-year-old me first heard “Lacville ‘79” while sitting in the Volvo on the side of the road after a faulty air-fuel sensor managed to burn through the 15.8 gallon fuel tank in 90 miles, it was the perfect song.