A New Rap Album That Isn't Curtis or Graduation
Or Hustlemonics, for that matter
Now that Curtis and Graduation have finally hit stores and everyone has (prematurely, but whatever) handed the sales-victory to Kanye, it feels like a good moment to take a break from event-rap and talk about another album, one that has none of the world-conquering ambition of those other two. Waitin' Our Turn, the new one from Devin the Dude's Coughee Brothaz project, hit stores a week before the other two. Or, rather, it hit stores theoretically; I haven't been able to find a physical copy of the thing at any New York stores, though thankfully it's on iTunes. Thus far, Waitin' Our Turn has barely received a fraction of the attention that even Devin's last solo album got, let alone Graduation or Curtis. And that seems almost by design; it's a loose, conversational album on the group's own indie label, a collection of songs where dudes always end up talking about weed or nasty sex even when the songs aren't strictly about weed or nasty sex, where nobody pretends to have more money than anyone else. After Kanye's headline-grabbing theatrics and 50's precision-tooled market-catering, it's a real relief to hear a rap album that doesn't try to be anything more or less than a rap album. Most rap albums used to sound something like this. In its nonexistent structure and its rampant, effortless shit-talk, Waitin' Our Turn reminds me of mid-90s regional-rap records like E-40's In a Major Way or UGK's Super Tight, albums recorded for virtually no money that ended up sounding organic and cohesive in part because their makers lacked the means to make blockbuster pop albums. Maybe once the event-rap market finally burns itself out, rap albums will go back to sounding something like this.
Some of Waitin' Our Turn might actually date back to the mid-90s. The Coughee Brothaz' MySpace page lists something like fifty members, and two of the most prominent Brothaz were in Devin's pre-solo-career group the Odd Squad. Most of the songs on Waitin' Our Turn already appeared on Collector's Edition, a mixtape the group put out last year, and the little meager information I've been able to find through Googling says that plenty of the songs are way older than that, that Devin and crew have been recording these things in their spare time for years. The only famous guest who turns up on the album at all is Scarface, who adds a quick verse to album-opener "Rise & Shine." "Rise & Shine" is probably the most ridiculous song here, though it has competition; the chorus is a gang-shout singalong, and all the singers deliver it an an insanely goofy fake British accent. That accent returns on the album-closing skit "Medieval Times," where some guy royally declaims a whole lot of hilarious sex-talk ("Let thine squeeze upon ye tits, caress thy nuts!") while a whole bunch of other people laugh in the background. All the sex-talk on Waitin' to Inhale, the last Devin solo album, skeezed me out a bit, but here it's easier to take, partly because everyone else on the album is doing it so it just ends up seeming like a big locker-room free-for-all and partly because Devin is more consistently funny this time, even as he's just as riotously offensive: "Wake up with a bitch from India who like rum on the rocks / Give her my email just in case she want me to com on her dot." And Devin's also just as likely to make himself the butt of his jokes; on "Fresh Rims and Vogues," the girl he's been chasing disappears when she sees that his car still has its original hubcaps. It's a casual, tossed off record, and even the big statements don't sound like big statements. UGK can make a song like "Quit Hatin' the South" sound like a declaration of intent, but Devin does the same thing on "Yee Haw!" without making too big a point about it, yodeling on the chorus and making chicken-noises. "It's like that, y'all, it's like that-a-doo-that / Some come to Texas and think it's just cattles and hats," he says, not bothering to argue against that impression. Later, some other guy rhymes "ball bats" with "straw hats."
The other guys don't have Devin's sly charisma, but all of them have personalities and all of them know how to ride beats, which feels like some kind of minor miracle considering the relative quality-control of most rap-crew albums. And the production could've come from almost any moment in the past seventeen years. These beats are mostly slow-rolling 808-driven affairs, sometimes with pianos or acoustic guitars lazily layered in. Devin doesn't rap on all the songs, but he sings a whole lot of the choruses in his unrushed, drawn-out sigh. He and the other guys easily and casually trade off verses; anyone writing a term paper about rap's connection to African-American oral-tradition would have a field day with this thing. Devin's been hanging out a lot with pre-rap sex-rhymer Blowfly lately, and it shows; I can't name another rap album that so distinctly recalls, say, Rudy Ray Moore's parking-lot rap from Dolomite. The a capella skit "High School Sweethearts" draws the connection most directly; it's a quick rhymed story about a school shooting. But "High School Sweethearts" isn't funny; it's tragic. And that might be my favorite thing about Waitin' Our Turn; there's not a thing conscious-rap about these guys, but they all have hearts, and they aren't afraid to be human beings.