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Snoop Dogg is alone. He’s two years removed from hall of fame producer Dr. Dre, and he’s at odds with Death Row Records’ incarcerated CEO Suge Knight. The proceeds from his platinum records have vanishedcasualties of a manipulative contract that offered Snoop cars, jewels, women, and a phat crib, but never any statements of his actual earnings. The naive predictions that Death Row would be the next Motown have been exposed as braggadocio.
The truth is that the once-mighty Death Row engine formerly powered by Dre’s funk-heavy tracks and Snoop’s flawless flow is a shambles. Dre is long gone; Suge’s in jail; Tupac is dead. Only Daz Dillinger, half of Death Row’s Dogg Pound, has stood stalwart with his recent solo release. But Daz’s noble loyalty to Death Row hasn’t helped that much-hyped solo debut.
Snoop understands the basics. He knows that his cameo verses on Dr. Dre’s The Chronic helped propel the album to triple-platinum heights. He knows that Dre’s plush production pushed his debut album Doggystyle to quadruple-platinum. He also knows that without Dre he still sold 2 million records with a follow-up effort, Tha Doggfather, that most of his fans despised. Despite its commercial success, that second album moved him from creative dominance to irrelevance.
So now it comes to this: With a Dr. Dre reunion rendered impossible for whatever reason, Snoop has packed his gear and headed south to Louisiana for No Limit Records. No Limit front man Master P’s formula has been to transform mere mortals into platinum artists; give him a prefabricated superstar, and the precious metals start piling up. For better or worse, Snoop Dogg’s No Limit debut, Da Game Is to Be Sold, Not to Be Told, will sell nicely. On hype alonewithout any hit singlesthe album has already shipped half a million copies. But Game clearly illustrates that Snoop is not the artist he once was and suggests that perhaps he never was that artist in the first place.
Game has two major problemsSnoop’s rapping and No Limit’s production. The producers try to give a smoothed-out feel to Game’s production. The idea seems to be to offer light, fluid tracks to complement Snoop’s mellow flow and produce a plethora of melodic cuts. But the approach hinders Snoop and turns Game into a 21-track bore-athon. Some tracks, like “Slow Down,” are almost devoid of percussion. Gone are the eerie whistles and lush bass lines that Dre crafted for Snoop. Instead, we get No Limit’s syrupy drums and suave guitar riffs.
Atop the soulless production Snoop staples a grip of idiotic hooks that sound as if they were pulled from a hoodlum’s fortune cookie. On “Snoop World,” we get Snoop mumbling, “Welcome to my world nigga, where it’s VIP/And the bitches and the bud for free.” On “Woof!,” Snoop bellows “Say Woof muthafucka! Woof muthafucka! Bow wow wow yippie yo yippie yay.”
The package is not helped by Snoop’s effort to recapture the success of his remake of Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick’s “La Di Da Di” by reworking songs of several other artists and offering sequels of some his own cuts. Nearly one-fifth of the album is either derivative of a previous Snoop cut or a remake of someone else’s. “DP Gangsta” attempts to rework N.W.A.’s classic “Gangsta Gangsta,” with mediocre results at best. Both “Gin & Juice II” and “Still a G Thang” lack the spark of their predecessors.
Yet the most egregious offense is Snoop’s “Doggz Gonna Get Ya,” a hollow remake of Boogie Down Productions’ “Love’s Gonna Get ‘Cha.” What made the original a classic was not so much its socially conscious lyrics, but KRS-One’s aggressive delivery and the track’s booming bass line. In the hands of No Limit’s production team Beats by the Pound, the bass loop is reduced to an anemic whisper and Snoop’s sleek flow drains the cut of its raw percussive force.
At the center of the album’s problems is Snoop himself, whose performance is a far cry from his Death Row days. Despite its rampant sexism, the geographic force of Snoop’s debut album cannot be overstated. In 1993, when Doggystyle was released, Snoop was king. No other West Coast artistexcept, possibly, Ice Cubehad ever garnered as much respect on the East Coast.
Snoop was never the greatest lyricist, but his ability to flow over a track without missing was nearly unparalleled. And besides being smooth, Snoop managed to inject a passion into his lyrics that forced you to listen. But on Game, Snoop’s buttery flow turns lackadaisical. Instead of driving the tracks, Snoop falls inside them and gets lost. It’s almost as if Snoop himself doesn’t believe in the tracks he’s rapping over. He lacks a firm delivery; he pours out the baby oil but shows no command over the words.
Listening to this album, as well as Snoop’s previous one, makes you wonder whether he was ever as good as we thought. Was it really just Dr. Dre’s production? Many a great MC has had his career sidetracked by production that doesn’t match his verbal abilities. But the great ones overcome it, and though they may never sell many records, they become artistic giants. In most instances, Kool G Rap’s production never equaled his abilities; and with the exception of Paid in Full, Rakim’s verbals always outdistanced the beats that backed him. But those MCs are considered to be two of the greatest ever. Game may well disqualify Snoop from that category. CP