In 2008, hip-hop drank the Kool-Aid, and it was mixed with cough syrup: Lil Wayne’s just one of many southern rappers with a weakness for “sizurp”—the homemade cocktail that draws its narcotic strength from prescription-strength cough medicine—but it was his woozy blockbuster album, Tha Carter III, that redefined rap’s outer limits.
If it’s now Lil Wayne’s world and other rappers are just adapting to the atmosphere, that suits Devin the Dude just fine. He might come from Houston, where sipping sizurp is a way of life, but Devin Copeland is no trippy visionary. Nor is he a hyperambitious striver like most other emcees. On the lush, laid-back Landing Gear, his first album with the rock-centric Razor & Tie, he makes zero effort to break into radio—he has never had a hit song—or even expand his loyal fan base. This is unapologetic stoner music, uniformly midtempo, evocative, if anything, of the P-Funk–influenced West Coast rap of the nineties. There are no state-of-the-art flourishes (like Kanye West’s sped-up soul samples); he furnishes most of his own hooks, without the assistance of Auto-Tune, the now ubiquitous vocal effect favored by rappers who can’t really sing (Devin sings, and quite nicely too); and the only big-name rapper he invites is Snoop Dogg, with whom he shares some genuine stoner chemistry. Track after track (there are only twelve, and mercifully no skits), the beats land just so. And nowhere is he more confident than in his rhymes. Because “Highway,” for instance, is about life as a rapper, he plays hopscotch on the beat—and manages to sound perfectly conversational doing it.
Devin the Dude is not on a charm offensive: Even though he cops to “feelin’ secure knowing exactly where my lover at” on “Let Me Know It’s Real,” life is essentially about blunts, beer, and “bitches.” He’s just a regular guy aspiring to a good time, and maybe even the love of a good woman. Today, that makes him a rarity.