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Devin the Dude - Waiting to Inhale

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Artist: Devin the Dude

Album: Waiting to Inhale

Label: Rap-a-Lot

Review date: Jun. 1, 2007

“Devin the Dude is the Woody Allen of hip hop.” It’s a fun analogy. While possessed of a smirking charm and the ego that’s necessary for picking up a mic in the first place, Devin Copeland never resorts to straight self-aggrandizement – his narcissism is always a setup for some sort of psychic pratfall. A prankish nebbish and perpetual fuckup, Devin’s rap persona usually ends up on the shit-end of whatever scheme he’s concocted. He puts himself in embarrassing situations for the comedy, and wisecracks his way through the most bizarre humiliation.

And he’s gotten steadily darker. Beneath all the jokes, and although its narrator usually sounds as if he’s repressing a giggle, Waiting to Inhale may be one of the darkest sex-and-weed rap records on the rack.

Most tracks sound as lush and fresh as a greenhouse, full of creative syncopation and haunting synth hooks (check the glossy paranoia of the Picnic-produced “Almightly Dollar”). But this isn’t a trunk-rocker. One running joke involves a dopey engineer trying to get a “boom” delivered to the studio, and, sure enough, the smooth, contemplative tracks overshadow the danceable ones. There aren’t really any danceable ones. This is a storytelling record, text-based and persona-driven. And as relaxing as it sounds, the Dude’s head is not a relaxing place.

It’s been claimed that Waiting to Inhale follows the arc of a troubled relationship, except that it ignores the good parts. It runs from confused hostility (“Broccoli and Cheese”) through post-breakup bitterness (rendered with Itchy and Scratchy exaggeration on the quiet-storm parody “Just Because”) and back into confused hostility (“Somebody Else’s Wife”) and doesn’t cheer up until the weed connection arrives. When he analyzes his work and fame, he never gets excited beyond weary bemusement (“I Hope I Don’t Get Sick-a-This,” "What a Job"). Even the bhang doesn’t seem to fill the void – on “Cutcha’ Up,” he can’t stop pondering his hobby’s legal pitfalls, comparing a weed plant to an alluring underage girl. He’s a virgin-whore misogynist and all-around sad bastard, but he tears himself open and bleeds self-awareness. He takes hip hop’s most polarizing lyrical conventions and turns them against the ego, leaving us the option of hating, relating or both. Even the fat-girl dis “She Useta Be” makes as much fun of the narrator’s dirtball shadenfruede as it does of the erstwhile high-school hottie’s now-overabundant ass.

The album’s one hard misstep is the cynical tearjerker “Lil’ Girl Gone,” which abandons the comedy and features a tone-deaf guest-spot from Lil’ Wayne. Devin’s bids for radio play have never really worked out for him. (No word at press time on how “What a Job,” featuring top-notch guest-spots from Andre and Snoop, is doing.) May I suggest the weird, hypnotic “Almighty Dollar” next? It's too damned cool for the underground.

By Emerson Dameron

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