Welcome to RESPECT.’s feature: “Don’t Sleep.” Throughout this series, we plan on introducing you to albums and mixtapes that we may have missed, but still want to write about. The topic of today’s edition is Devin the Dude‘s album, One for the Road, which was released last October.
Devin the Dude doesn’t have a mean bone in his body. The soft-spoken everyman isn’t afraid to call bullshit when appropriate—he’s written beautifully about caste and injustice in America—yet he is rarely angry or invective. When it comes to being neighborly and approachable, he is without equal. In fact, an argument could be made that 1998’s The Dude was in fact the most charming rap debut album since De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising. (The cover depicts him squatting on a toilet, newspaper in hand.) Devin spent his most productive years on the Houston imprint Rap-A-Lot. Hip-hop labels can be pushy and myopically bottom line-driven, but Rap-A-Lot founder J. Prince made a nurturing home for his flagship artist. Devin’s first four LPs were eccentric, honest and sweet-natured at a time when those adjectives could not be applied to most rap music. Rap-A-Lot later went down belly-up, leaving Devin temporarily orphaned, but he’s much too comfortable in his own skin to diminish with changing circumstances.
One For the Road is contagiously upbeat, an album of ultrabutter melodies, well-timed jokes and deliberate, drawly rapping. In the songs, Devin portrays a humble reefer head dealing with the challenges of a cash-strapped lifestyle: cold-fish girlfriends, rude grocery shoppers, cars that won’t start. He’s too skinny to fight and sometimes too impotent to fuck, but he takes it all in stride. Few emcees are gutsy enough to admit feeling emasculated by their significant others, but as Devin did on “Cootie Brown” a decade ago, he always prioritizes truth telling over macho myth-building. On One For the Road, he imparts lessons learned as an adult, Tuesdays With Morrie-style. “Stop Waitin’” offers counsel to the makers of jaded singles, and “Reach It” implores overthinking listeners to get up, get out and get something.
Rarely does his self-help this sort feel corny or perfidious. The redundant “Please Don’t Smoke Cheese” cautions against crack use, which feels a bit anachronistic since crack use is increasingly rare these days, but otherwise friendly humanitarianism comes naturally to Devin. He rhymes in a soothing, unforced brogue and sings his hooks in an empathetic falsetto. “Fresh Air” is a great track about respecting the homeless, with consolatory flutes and guitars.
One For the Road differs in one aspect from other Devin albums: the production is more challenging. Whereas 2007’s Waitin’ to Inhale was nothing but baby-making grooves and vibey Fender Rhodes (think Brothers Johnson or The Time), One For the Road takes a few exploratory detours. It’s not like Devin to rap over distortion or distant tribal drums, but that’s what he does on “Livin’ This Life” and “I Hope We Don’t Get Too Drunk,” respectively. Nevertheless, this is not cause for alarm. All in all, Devin is still Devin, still providing sunshiny falsetto funk and introspection strewn with cheeky humor. Whether you’re a longtime fan or a newcomer, One For the Road is worth your time. Don’t sleep.
Written by M.T. Richards.
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