The R&B; singer Raheem DeVaughn is catering to an unlikely audience on his current theater tour with Jill Scott -- hearing-impaired fans. During his sets, DeVaughn is flanked by the slam poet Malik Yusuf, who translates the lyrics of his spacious slow jams into ASL for deaf audience members.
"They can feel the vibrations of the bass," DeVaughn says. "All of the fans definitely notice the signing and appreciate it."
If one parses through DeVaughn's tunes, particularly on his recent single, "Woman," such accommodating gestures define his strategy for success in a tenuous or even nosediving hip-hop and R&B; market. DeVaughn is a hustler, but his trade is in svelte pillow talk, congenial party-starting and crisply modern production that both T-Pain and Teddy Pendergrass could croon over. Snoop Dogg played the sensitive-lover act on "Sensual Seduction" as a bit of camp, but DeVaughn has wider aims as a pitchman in the business of amour.
Many of these new fans (his opening slot for Scott is turning into more of a double bill) missed his 2005 debut, "The Love Experience." Given "Melody's" singular mission to exalt the female population and silk pocket squares, they might be surprised at its socially conscious undertones. But DeVaughn, quick to refer to himself as an "R&B; hippie," acknowledges that "Melody" was an experiment in letting outside producers (Scott Storch, Plantlife's Jack Splash) help him flesh out one particular side of his personality.
"There are innuendoes there, but they're creative and witty," he says. "After a while things get monotonous, you can't be afraid to get outside help."
Sure, there are references to Magnums on nightstands and some fast-food-as-sex-metaphors on "Customer," but unlike R. Kelly's ascent into inscrutable linguistic insanity, DeVaughn is more likely covering all his bases. Few other singers could convincingly tour with Jill Scott and collaborate with UGK and Too $hort. But the best move on DeVaughn's album is the most straightforward: It illustrates the mentality of an African American professional class so often underrepresented on the charts. The end-of-the-workweek party that DeVaughn extols on the Temptations-sampling "Friday (Shut the Club Down)" may be just what they want to hear. "It's cool to like nice things, but it's also cool to work for them," he said. "It's fine to valet a nice ride, when you work hard you appreciate it. It's not rocket science -- you go to the club, throw a drink back and celebrate."
WHERE: With Jill Scott, Gibson Amphitheater, 100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City
WHEN: 7:45 tonight
INFO: (818) 777-3931