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Album Review: Snoop Dogg’s Ego Trippin’

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At age 36, is Snoop Dogg going though a mid-life crisis?

Perhaps.

Ego Trippin’ (Geffen, 2008), his recently released 9th studio album, seems to indicate as much. But aging in “rap years” is a little like aging in “dog years,” and therefore puts Snoop Dogg far beyond mid-life — he’s a legitimate O.G., with hits dating back to 1993’s “Who Am I (What’s My Name)?” Unfortunately, Ego Trippin’ proves that for some reason the Doggfather himself is the only one unable to see his status and security in the hip hop game clearly. It’s almost as if he feels he needs to apologize to us for his TRL hits and million-dollar record sales. But he doesn’t. Not to me at least.

Sure, LL made Deep Blue Sea and Rollerball, but that doesn’t negate the importance and weight of “Mama Said Knock You Out” or “Around The Way Girl.” Yes, Ice Cube may have starred in every cheesy black comedy released in the past ten years (not counting Friday, ’cause that shit was dope), but he’s still a founding member of N.W.A. — the inventors of West Coast hip hop. (Sorry, ‘Pac). And while Snoop may be “guilty” of making more of his millions off “hip-pop” records and commercial appearances than his true to the blue Crip songs, he’s given us some great music — both poignant and serious, as well as fun and party-rockin’ — and been a great character in the hip-hop community. But somewhere in the making of the perhaps misnamed Ego Trippin’, Snoop appears to have lost his way, turning out a product more reminiscent of other artists than of himself, and haphazardly filling the voids between alter-egos disappointingly, with surprisingly unremarkable tracks. Perhaps this is why Ego Trippin’ had the lowest first-week sales numbers (137,00 units) of any Snoop Dogg solo album in history.

From the jump, “A Word Witchya!,” Snoop acknowledges his perceived image as a part-time sellout, clearly feeling the need just thirty seconds into Ego Trippin’ to reassure his listeners that he is, in fact, still for real: I know y’all trippin’ off how I be doin’ my club thing on TV/But I never forget about what I love the most and that’s makin’ music/So uh, I hope y’all enjoy this shit right here, I took my time on this one...Snoop then proceeds to shout out his newly formed production team, QDT (comprised of DJ Quik, Snoop Dogg himself, and an apparently still living Teddy Riley). And thus, the problems begin. All due respect to DJ Quik who actually has some talent, but with a production team comprised of an aging rapper not named Dr. Dre and a washed-up R&B producer, who could win? Not even Snoop.

“SD Is Out” is clearly produced by Riley, aka Mr. 1996 — the year of “No Diggity.” (Hot song — don’t hate). And the track sounds straight outta ’96, thanks mostly to Riley’s omnipresent and obnoxious use of a vocorder/voice-box (think Blackstreet’s “Don’t Leave Me” or pretty much any Bon Jovi song) for the chorus, and his clear insistence on helping out with some “Oooohweee” background vocals. Comeback in the making? Not quite. So while we may still know who Snoop Dogg is, we have no idea why he’s rapping over this ludicrous beat or why Teddy Riley is groaning in the background. But now at least now we know he’s, um, “out.” Whatever that means. And things don’t exactly get any clearer from there.

Over a tentative, vaguely Middle-Eastern beat, Snoop attempts to reclaim his gangsta on the cleverly titled “Gangsta Like Me,” and then reminds us — with the help of some Jamie Foxx vocals — of his career accomplishments on the Niggaraci-produced “Neva Have 2 Worry.” This would be a decent track, except that Niggaraci’s beat is a nearly direct rip-off of J.R. Rotem’s “Doctor’s Advocate” beat for The Game, which is actually a good record. And as much as I appreciate the name Niggaraci, beat-stealing, friends, is just uncouth. (Right, Timbaland?)

More uncouth, however, is the best song on a Snoop Dogg album being “Sexual Eruption” — fucking seriously. And to make matters worse, it’s got a great music video too. Look, I know this track is at least in part a tongue-in-cheek joke, a nod to Roger Troutman and to Michael Jackson circa “Rock with You.” But I also know Snoop wanted the beat. Badly. (Who could blame him?) And the problem is…it’s actually kind of great, not to mention completely infectious. Frankly, it’s by far the hottest track on Ego Trippin’, as much as I don’t want it to be. (And by the way, a much-deserved shout to producer Shawty Redd — officially on the map now — for the beat.) But on “Sexual Eruption” Snoop is no longer Snoop, and he’s certainly no longer gangsta. In fact, he’s Cher — singing with the same voice-twisting Auto-tune effect she used on her Grammy Award-winning dance track, “Believe” in 1998.

But before you can say “Hey, look out for that tree,” Snoop is back in gangsta mode for his current single, “Life of Da Party,” which, despite assists from Too $hort, Mistah F.A.B., and a decent synthy beat, is still largely underwhelming and sounds like everything else out there. Snoop, however, perhaps still reeling from the realization that he’s becoming Cher, quickly slips back out of gangsta mode and into…The Time. As in Morris Day and The Time. Literally. Snoop’s track “Cool” is actually a cover — no, not just a sample, a complete COVER — of The Time’s 1981 single, “Cool,” which featured original vocals by Prince and then by Morris Day.

Wha?

Exactly. This is just plain weird. Snoop seems confused at this point. And quite frankly, so am I. Rap artists just don’t do this. Do they? I’ve never heard of a hip hop cover group that raps other artists’ rhymes. Covers are usually left to the rock and pop sets, and Snoop’s version of “Cool” is a pretty good indication of why they should stay that way.

But while we’re still confused and disoriented, Snoop comes to his senses and brings us straight into the heart of L.A. where he belongs (finally!) with the obligatory Neptunes-produced, Pharrell-featuring track. In this case the track is “Sets Up,” (hey, it may be a song about gangs, but at least the song makes them sound like fun gangs!) which feels extremely bouncy and perfectly West Coast. You can picture Snoop rollin’ down Crenshaw in a Crip-blue ’64 Impala, sun shinin’, Pharrel ridin’ shotgun, with “Sets Up” providing the soundtrack. It’s one of those. Heads are a-bobbin’ while Pharrell does what Pharrell does, and “Sets Up” is one of those tracks that, to any hip hop listener, screams “Neptunes Beat” from the first bass hit. In other words, it sounds like money. And it sounds like Snoop. At last.

But just like made money, Snoop’s gangsta persona is quickly vanquished by the horrifically childish and unthinkably annoying “Deez Hollywood Nights,” which is essentially a poor attempt to recreate Jay-Z’s iconic “Hard Knock Life” beat. But replacing Hov’s struggle and strife-filled lyrics on “Hard Knock Life” is a starlet-fucking, Hollywood nightlife motif and a grating chorus. Surely enough make Bob Seger wince in pain.

Almost as bad, but not quite, is a sort of ode to all the “no melody-havin’, chopped/screwed, Houston-style, Southern Smoke” hip hop out there in the form of “Staxx In My Jeans,” which is saved (barely) only by its syrup-slow, unintentionally comedic chorus: Staxxx in my jeans Phantom up in my garage/ Staxxx in my jeans Phantom up in my garage/ My pockets look like Rerun, your pockets look like Raj . But What’s Happening!! references only get you so far.

Of course the next logical step after spittin’ about slutty starlets and and “staxxx” of gangsta money is to make a track dedicated to…..your wife (and high school sweetheart) Shante. Obviously. Yet rather than endearing or complimentary, “Been Around the World” is borderline insulting to poor Shante, as Snoop says next to nothing about her, and mostly raps about his own, ahem, exploits in Tokyo, Vegas, Miami, Sydney (With somebody’s daughter, he says), and Monaco. But then he tries to make it all okay with the song’s hook: Cuz without you none of this is real. It really doesn’t work.

As Snoop himself would say, “Bitch, please.”

But the evolution — admitted MTV star…gangsta rapper…Cher imitator…Morris Day singer…set reppin’ Crip…Hollywood scenester…back to gangsta rapper…loving and faithful husband (er, sortve)…gangsta again– wouldn’t be complete without one last confusing musical costume change:

Country singer.

That’s right, Snoop Dogg’s “My Medicine” — a thinly veiled homage to his “medicine” of choice, aka the sticky — is a straight country track that is nothing short of absurd. Any cleverness that could possibly have been achieved by making a drug song without actually mentioning the drug itself, which Snoop does achieve, is dashed by the uncleverness of teaming up with Whitey Ford (aka Everlast) and deciding to make a country rap song. It’s horrible. Why must Snoop do this to us? There are maybe two living rappers who could pull such foolishness off successfully: Nas and Lil Wayne. And only one of them would ever get high enough to actually attempt it. And it ain’t Nas.

Thankfully Snoop smooths things out a bit towards the end of Ego Trippin’ with “Those Gurlz,” a tolerable, though unimaginative, piece of hip hop easy listening featuring vocals from Brandon Winbush and a Kanye-esque, Chipmunks-style soul sample on the chorus, courtesy of producer Scoop DeVille. That this is followed by an almost identical sounding track called “One Chance (Make it Good)” — laid back circular beat, soul sample chorus et al. — comes as quite a shock to the listener’s ear, as we’ve become used to being jarred from style to style, genre to genre, by Snoop and his motley production crew. This…sameness, (sameness not generally viewed as an album’s most positive trait), truly comes as a relief at this point.

And though things very nearly go apeshit once again via the bizzaro-sampling of Mike Oldfield’s “Celtic Rain” — it sounds like it belongs in the closing credits of Braveheart –for Ego Trippin’s penultimate track, “Why Did You Leave Me?” featuring Chily Chil, the Irish melody comes off as surprisingly natural-sounding for a sentimental hip hip track, thanks in no small part to the deft production work of Hitboy and, yes, the suddenly ubiquitous Polow da Don.

But it’s Snoop’s much-maligned (at least in this review) in-house production team, QDT, which delivers a strong performance on the album’s finale, borrowing liberally from Tupac’s “Changes,” which itself borrows liberally from Bruce Hornsby’s “The Way It Is.” A “letter to the streets” of sorts, “Can’t Say Goodbye” describes the magnetic pull of the streets, and details Snoop’s inner battle to use his lyrical gifts as his ticket out: I’m a man I gotta take care of my family / Fighting these pressures in my life / I know my mind should be on shining and getting Grammys / But these streets won’t say goodbye. Charlie Wilson & The Gap Band lend Snoop choral support on a fitting end to this, and just about any other, hip hop album ever made…You can take the man out the streets, but you can’t take the streets out the man…croons Wilson insistently, as Ego Trippin’s last few bars fade away…

The Veridict:

*Buy It/Don’t Buy It: Don’t Buy It!

Highlight Tracks: Sexual Eruption, Sets Up, Those Gurlz, Why Did You Leave Me?

*(A word about my personal album review system: There are many ways to rate and review albums. Some use 1-10 scales, others 1-5 scales. Some use microphones or stars or diamonds as a means of communicating the individual significance of these scales. Given the currently consumer-dominated climate of the music industry, I find that such old-style scales are, while not meaningless, simply unnecessary because of the consumer’s newfound ability to purchase (or purloin) only the singles they choose, rather than a full length album. Reality check: people just don’t buy full albums as they used to.

Therefore the rating system I will be using to rate albums is extremely straightforward, and, I believe, truly indicates just how good an album as a whole really is. The rating system is simply this: “Buy It / Don’t Buy It.” In other words, is there any reason to purchase an album in its entirety, rather than merely those two or three singles a person genuinely likes and wants? Some may agree with this policy, some may not. But the digital music game is changing, and in an economy in which every dollar counts, I appreciate not having to pay for music I don’t like.)

– Jonathan

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2 Responses

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  1. […] this week I pretty much savaged longtime Hip Hop/R&B producer Teddy Riley in my review of Snoop Dogg’s new album. While I stand by my negative opinions of Riley’s recent work, the same cannot be said about […]

  2. Snoop is still tite and one of these days he is just gonna make an album that is gonna sell more than 500,000 copies

    Alex

    January 2, 2009 at 3:14 pm


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