Devin The Dude
Waitin’ to Inhale
o most, Houston’s Devin The Dude is unfamiliar territory in the system of MC’s consumed by cannabis—less impish than Redman, less disassociative than Weezy, more desperate than Jadakiss, as languid as Snoop, and as gluttonous as Cypress Hill. He’s a pothead everyman, sluggish and non-discerning. He’ll praise any roach he can find in his ashtray with a doddering, slippery sing-whine-rap that would make R. Kelly blush.
And cannabis, like any other recreational obsession, breeds its own lexicon. The Eskimo language may not have a hundred words for snow, but get enough smokers in the same room and you could get three dozen words for essentially the same thing. Here, on Waitin’ to Inhale, his fourth superbly peculiar solo effort (all, like Inhale, on Houston’s evergreen stalwart Rap-A-Lot), Devin chooses the enveloping, the resigned, and the endless languages of weed—he is perpetually anticipating rolling the next blunt, the album and Devin’s voice encased in an endless, almost ancient fog.
But a Humbert Humbert nests beneath all the THC-drenched charm and liquid storytelling. By my count, ten of Inhale’s seventeen tracks are Devin fixating, fantasizing, or just plain harassing the women around him. It’s not a knock against the songs (“Broccoli & Cheese,” “Hope I Don’t Get Sick a Dis,” “Cutcha Up,” to name the three best) to say they all blend together. We get a sequence of brutal, hilarious narrative set-pieces—Devin picking up a worn-out former high-school flame at the supermarket (“seems like everything on her body melted together”), Devin complaining about his health while comparing his dick to vegetables, Devin taking an underage girl to eat at Benihana, Devin trying to sound loyal (“If only I could come to your job and shout ‘Where’s my bitch!’ / Kick your boss in his ribs, and say ‘Fuck it, she quit!’”)—that make Devin’s character all the more convoluted. He’s bitter, he’s helpless, he’s playful, he’s creepy.
Inhale’s consistently excellent, unobtrusive production—all gentle strumming guitars, patient whistles, and piano loops that (gasp!) actually sound as warm and metric as a real piano—keeps Devin’s lechery as melodious as possible (“girl, this dick is so clean,” he urges). There’s a battle of containment going on here: as much as the nasty and body-centric Devin repulses, the almost antique niceties of his boozy, murmuring sing-rap and the album’s sonic pull seduce.
The tempo on Inhale never rises above an easy trot. There are almost no naked synthesizers, no grating sonar blips, just distended bass lines and earnest, hazy shout outs (“this is for all the engineers!”). For a contemporary commercial rap scene “thriving” on everything feverishly instant and melodramatic (the, say, cocaine side of things), Devin is the slow green tonic—confidently outdated, fueled by ‘70s slow-hand blues and funk, happily unhip and yet blessed with a tortoise-like verbal endurance and knack for making ain’t-it-the-truth observations (“the hobos used to ask you for one dollar, now they ask you for three”) come out sincere.
Waitin’ to Inhale, like 2002’s Just Tryin’ to Live and 2004’s To Tha X-Treme, is a glorious back country road in hip-hop, littered with misfits and a world-view equal parts cartoon and dystopia. We may not recognize every person on these weird little journeys, but everyone can pick out Devin here. He’s Kool Keith with his feet on the ground. Ol’ Dirty Bastard working a 9-5. A dubious old lecher spinning yarns. The last of a dying breed.