The Dramatics formed in 1967, but didn't bother the important end of the charts until the close of 1971, when record producer and songwriter Tony Hester began collaborating with the group. The resultant union provided the hit material that revived the R&B group's flagging career. Hester wrote the bulk of the Dramatics' first two albums, and continued to contribute to their oeuvre as the years wore on.

He plays tricks, begins with kicks; so beware, my brothers and sisters.
Next thing that you know, you gotta jones... Look out! Here comes the pusher.

The Devil Is Dope (which was initially heavily edited for release as a single in 1972) was the first track on the Dramatics' 1973 album A Dramatic Experience. The album - with a cover sporting a garish painting of a multi-horned devil - was in part based around the concept of the dangers of drug abuse. Two other tracks on the album addressed this contemporary issue: Jim, What's Wrong With Him? and Beware of the Man (With the Candy in His Hand).

Satan is his name - from Hell he came - some call him Lucifer.
He hides his horns in many different forms; but stays Lucifer.

In the early 1970s, drug use and abuse became more widespread, particularly among veterans returning from Vietnam. It was only a matter of time before recording artists began addressing the inherent dangers more directly and openly. To this end, soul music commonly came to be utilised in a quasi-preaching manner - a natural progression, given its roots in gospel music.

The devil is dope - out of control!
The devil is dope - out to get your soul!

The Devil Is Dope doesn't pull any punches, going straight for the jugular. After an almost inaudible count-in, we hear the sound of crackling flames, demonic laughter, and tormented cries competing with a wicked fuzz guitar. Superimposed over this musique concrete (which continues throughout the song), the Dramatics leave little to the imagination as to the final fate of a dope user...

"Where am I? I smell fire..."
"Burn... burn... burn..."
"Fire... fire... fire..."
"What have I become?"
"Why do you think they call it dope, dope?"
"It's gettin' hot..."
"Oh... no..."

William "Wee Gee" Howard handles the lead vocals on the track - emoting throughout, almost screaming at times. But there is plenty of vocal interplay from the other members of the group, as they scat over the lyrics and come together for the choruses. The backing track features heavy-handed sound effects - doors slamming, maniacal laughter, terrified voices and more - which compliment funky rhythm guitar, stomping drums, an imposing horn section, and a typically 70s-style orchestral backing.

Don't you help your pusherman, or you'll wind up six feet under!
You think you're superfly, but you're getting much too high...

Like the song (Pusherman) and soundtrack (Superfly) it references, the subject matter of The Devil Is Dope - and the song itself - is so of its time that it seems to modern ears almost a parody of the blaxploitation soundtrack genre. So bad it's good. The irony is only compounded by the revelation that songwriter Tony Hester died in the 1990s of a heart attack, a result of too many years of substance abuse.

While you're gettin' high, Lucifer is pullin' you down lower;
He'll make you a slave, then put you in your grave...

~

Two notable uses of The Devil Is Dope by other artists have occurred since the song's initial release.

In 1989, LL Cool J released Walking Like A Panther, an album that featured the track Why Do You Think They Call It Dope. This song samples the Dramatics' The Devil Is Dope, as well as Funkadelic's Loose Booty and Cheryll Lynne's To Be Real.

In 1997, Coolio's My Soul long-player included a cover of The Devil Is Dope, featuring the Dramatics on the choruses. That is where the similarity ends, however: Coolio's version updates the lyrics to reflect the current state of affairs with regard to illicit drug use.

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