PREVIEW: When the Mayan apocalypse hits in 2012, Devin the Dude will have been at this rap stuff for two decades. Although the new Landing Gear (Razor and Tie) is the fifth solo album he's released since 1998, it's the first since 2007's Waitin' to Inhale (Rap-a-Lot) upgraded his status from "underground rapper" to "underground rapper people know about." With hip-hop shrinking proportionally to the idea of a mainstream, it's the right time for a rapper like the Dude to emerge: he's from Houston, and the tracks have less syrupy roll than crate-digger haze, less of UGK's hard-assed shit-talk and more chuckling self-deprecation.
Like its predecessors, Landing Gear isn't "conscious" hip-hop. Devin's priorities on the recording are, in order, getting high, getting over heartbreak, and getting laid. That said, musically, a corner of the disc is dipped in the same juice that Erykah Badu's year-making New Amerykah, Pt. 1: 4th World War (Motown) stews in: check the subtle earbud phase and Garageband multitrack cooing on the sleazeball come-on "Let Me Know It's Real." If there's a difference between Landing Gear and Waitin' to Inhale, it's the latter's willingness to go places the former doesn't. Revenge fantasy "Just Because," off Waitin', is as funny as it is disturbing. And the fact that Devin doesn't exempt himself of responsibility for his fantasies makes it compelling. Landing Gear isn't any less vivid in approaching similar feelings, though alongside "I Don't Chase Em" an obligatory bid for airplay the stakes feel smaller. But that's just fine. Devin still has a couple releases before the apocalypse.
DEVIN THE DUDE Wed/29, 9 p.m., $18. Slim's, 333 11th St., SF. (415) 255-0333, www.slims-sf.com