Friday, December 26, 2008

CD review: "Landing Gear" by Devin the Dude

(Originally posted at

It’s well established that Devin is a funny Dude. Modern classics like 2002’s
Just Tryin’ ta Live and last year’s Waitin’ to Inhale established the Houston-based rapper as the heir apparent to storytellers like Slick Rick and Too $hort, a witty vulgarian whose good-natured flow and surprisingly lovely voice set him apart even when discussing his well-worn favorite topics of weed and women.

Humor alone would be enough to solidify Devin the Dude’s place among today’s most consistently fascinating rappers, but it’s his often overlooked talent for introspection that truly makes him stand out. His goofiness is frequently tempered with self-searching lyrics rarely heard in the braggadocious world of professional hip-hop.

It should be good news that Landing Gear finds Devin looking within more than ever, but that reflection unfortunately comes at the expense of the laughs. The album gets off to a promising start with “In My Draws,” in which a paranoid Devin protects his underpants from a weird array of intruders, from cops to thieves to kinky one-night-stands (“Might get full of weed and alcohol / I go to sleep / you try to dig up in my wallet and my draws”). Things stay strong with “I Can’t Make it Home,” which finds Devin and guest star L.C. detailing the dangers of driving after imbibing “one blunt / one more shot of Patron.” By spinning a straightforward, melancholy story and never speaking down to the listener, Devin’s avoids P.S.A. territory, emerging instead as a cautionary tale closer to Slick Rick’s “A Children’s Story.”

Things start to go off the rails around the album’s midway point, when the subject matter slides into a mostly dull litany of Devin’s sexual escapades. When leavened with a dose of humor, the Dude’s tales of lust can be masterworks of libidinous lyricism, but this time around they’re tiresome and borderline misogynistic. (“See a fine bitch, fuck her / Yeah, I gotta / ‘cause I must get mine / you tryin’ to get yours / and I see through them counterfeit whores”) A guest appearance by longtime Devin booster Snoop Dogg does little to elevate “I Don’t Chase ‘Em,” an overlong, ugly tribute to hip-hop groupies (“Some niggas be askin’ can they go find me a bitch / When I have to dodge more pussy than they ever get”).

It’s frustrating to listen to Devin expending his talents on that brand of played-out, predictable hip-hop on an album also featuring uplifting fare like “Yo Mind” and the genuinely touching love ballad “Your Kinda Love.” There’s plenty to like about Landing Gear, including Devin’s trademark laid-back beats and silky smooth flow, but on the whole, it’s a major step backward from his recent work. This feels like a case of a true original trying to fall in line with industry expectations and diluting his impact in the process.

- Ira Brooker

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