devin.jpgPart comedian, part pimp, Devin the Dude first made his mark in 1994 as a member of the Houston-based trio the Odd Squad. The Southern representative’s solo star really began to rise in ’98, when he dropped his debut disc, The Dude, which caught the ear of Dr. Dre. After appearing on Doc’s 2001, Devin became a go-to guest MC and released two more heralded albums. Unfortunately, his latest, Waitin’ to Inhale, drags slightly behind his previous body of work.

His comedic chops sharp as ever, the rap Richard Pryor can still make everyday topics like economics (“Almighty Dollar”) and weight gain (“She Useta Be”) sound like an SNL sketch. But at times, the project reveals a less jovial Devin. The neo-bluesy “No Longer Needed Here” and the sappy Ohio Players–sampled ballad “Don’t Wanna Be Alone” both find our hero wallowing in self-pity. The sour lover gets sweet revenge, however, on the smooth jazz number “Just Because.” Jacking LL’s flow from “I Need Love,” Devin calmly spits, “If for only one night I could take you by ya hand/And cut that hoe off for stealing the heart of a man.”

The Dude continues his rebound on the Odd Squad reunion “She Want That Money.” Backed by producer Domo’s syrupy funk and bass guitars, the trio gives the boot to chicks trading ass for cash. Desperate housewives get it, too, on the slow-bouncing “Somebody Else’s Wife.” Devin’s high point, however, is on the somber self-produced “Lil’ Girl Gone,” where he holds his own alongside Bun B and Lil Wayne.

While the trademarked adult humor and hazy-eyed storytelling are still intact, lazy production and arrangement make for a few bumpy spots. Take the faux Western “Nothin’ to Roll With” and the hollow “Til It’s All Gone.” Then there’s “Broccoli & Cheese,” which suffers from an awkward hook (“Girl, this dick is so clean that you can serve it with some lima beans”). Although it’s not his most potent batch, Waitin’ to Inhale is worth a few long pulls. —MAURICE G. GARLAND