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Snoop Doggy Dogg/

[Melody Maker, 1996]

Death Row

Death Row

  Look at it. A front cover to cream for. A sleek pastiche of the Coppola film poster. Snoop, full face, crimped-down hair and diamond earring. All that sleepy, blank-eyed menace. Fantastic. But turn it over, and you'll find yet another of those cretinous dog cartoons. What exactly is the message here? That we're dealing with Muttley and Muttley's bitch? Because that's what it looks like. And on the inside, there's Snoop, a study in brown on black, sinking like Brando into the voluptuous darkness, eyes closed, hands joined in prayer, a mahogany sculpture. And then again, in his LA designer casuals, posed beside his Bentley, like a richer and crasser take on Miami Vice. He pays tribute to the gangsters of old. He aspires to the impeccable, stately cool of the Corleones, and he has it. He can do it. That corona of brutal beauty hovers around his head like a halo.
  Then he goes and blows it all over cheap graphics and some overpriced Cosa Nostra tat that even one of Scorsese's goodfellas would scorn as too cheesy. That's Snoop all over. He gets it right, perfect, just so, then he slaps a custard pie on it. The Bentley probably sports bumper stickers: “Rappers Do It Doggystyle”; “Honk If You Put A Nigger On His Back Last Night”.
  Okay. Maybe it's a little harsh to say Snoop has no class. Just no taste. But that's not quite right either. Too much taste. But too little ability to distinguish between good and bad. I don't mean capitalised Good Taste. I don't expect him to shop at Habitat and hang Wallace Ting watercolours on his walls. Even Snoop wouldn't stoop that low. All I'm saying is, half the time it seems he doesn't know what's cool about himself. This album, from the packaging in, is a case in point. He wants to chill the blood in his deadpan, soft-spoken fashion, and he wants a chorus of approval from the boys at the bar while he's at it. Now, I possess no cool, but I do know one thing about it. The secret is never to appear interested in whether anyone's watching.
  But when it's smooth, Tha Doggfather is smoooth. It is deliciously, dangerously, fearsomely slippery. That voice. Like an oiled cobra. Like a needle-thin stiletto dipped in chloroform. Like a satin-skinned incubus. Snoop made himself the master of Gangsta because nobody could threaten like Snoop, so gently, so eerily. Snoop could read you the Highway Code and make it sound like dangerous sex. His was the voice that hit the g-spot of the G-funk sound, the slow, thumping pulse and glissando keyboards.
  So what was he supposed to do now that the East Coast's in ascendancy, now that half the rappers sound like the Wu-Tang Clan and the other half are in it? Get rough? Snoop could no more rap rough than Ol' Dirty Bastard could sing harmony for The Carpenters. Thank God he hasn't tried. Instead he's turned his album into an act of poised defiance. Everyone else is laying down raw, raw beats and vicious scratches, so Snoop goes for the cleanest, most precise sound he can get.
  Dr Dre based Doggystyle on the Seventies funk he loves so much. Without Dre, Snoop has made the Eighties his hunting ground. This could be bad news. The Eighties was when funk lost its throb, when ballsy brass made way for staccato synth stabs and booty-shaking beats got nailed down flat to clunking rhythm boxes. Coolio tripped up badly when he tried the same tricks on his Gangsta's Paradise album, but Snoop's producers, headed by the unfortunately named DJ Pooh,

are smarter and slicker.
  Rap first blossomed as a form of electro, and at its finest, Tha Doggfather clicks and pops with all the cold, mechanical drama that the best digital technology can supply. A carefully planted question: are Snoop's beats going to go all “delicate” now that Dre's gone? The answer: an elliptical drum loop, an assertion that “I don't give a f*** about no beat”, and a track, Freestyle Conversation, more delicate than a frozen scalpel, which would have Tricky twitching in admiration. For the first time, Snoop sounds like the future.
  More outsanding moments. Vapors updates Biz Markie's cavernous, rat-tat-tat-timed old skool number. Up Jump Tha Boogie sounds like the best bits of Doggstyle handily condensed into a single track. Groupie makes the customary boastful bitch-slagging run like quicksilver (Although You Thought has already rendered the theme as leaden and ugly as it ever will be.) 2001 has all the robotic bounce that you wouldn't expect from the title. The breathtaking Sixx Minutes is better even than Doggy Dogg World, calm, minimal, sublime. And no prizes for guessing what Snoop's Upside Your Head sounds like. It's enough to make you forgive the occasional turkey and, worse, the hilariously unconvincing public service announcements:

Man, Snoop, you got a baad car. When I grow up I want to be just like you.
Look here, little homeboy, don't never let me hear you say you want to be like me. You could be a doctor, a lawyer, a football player, anything.
This edition of “Sesame Street” has been brought to you by the letters B and S.
  I guess this is the sort of thing rappers have to do nowadays to keep the moral morons off their backs, just like litigation-spooked manufacturers put warnings on matchboxes (“Caution: flammable contents”). Take the cover of the Makaveli album, portraying Tupac Shakur crucified on a cross cut from bullet-riddled maps of the West and East Coasts. Beneath it runs the following legend: “In no way is this portrait an expression of disrespect for Jesus Christ - Makaveli”. Well, what is it then? An affectionate joke? When you compare a murdered violent criminal and sleazoid rapper to a man billions call the son of God, of course it's disrespectful, and that's your right. It's in your constitution; look for the bit marked “First Amendment”. Shit, I'm no Christian, and I find it offensive, mainly because I despise the notion of a vicious, sex-offending toerag like 2pac being beatified and made into a martyr.
  Can we be frank about this, now a decent interval has passed? 2pac had little talent, made one good record that I can think of (California Love, where you could barely hear him), and as a black American figurehead, he makes Snoop look like Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Chuck D and half-a-dozen Black Panthers rolled into one.
  Makaveli was 2pac's last incarnation, and coming to it after Tha Doggfather amounts to cutting the elevator cable and plunging to the depths. Clumsy, gross, self-aggrandising drivel given spurious resonance by events, set to staggeringly average backing tracks. The man was a no-mark. People choose their own heroes, which is their business, but the rest of us aren't obliged to agree with them. The Don Killuminati/The 7 Day Theory is typically 2pac. He wanted his records to be outrageous, outspoken, sinister, atmospheric and gripping. They usually wound up coarse, hectoring, aggressive, sordid and charmless, all of which adjectives would apply equally well to him and to his rapping ability. This guy really had no class.
  Of course, in no way is this portrait an expression of disrespect for Tupac Shakur. No sireebob.

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