The Dee-Oh-Double-Gee is back with his 10th studio album. Snoop’s been rather prolific lately (three albums in as many years), but Malice N Wonderland feels like a mini-renaissance for the West Coast rapper who’s also known for his TV shows, movie appearances, adverts and infamous “izzle” suffix.
After the somewhat overproduced excess of 2008’s Ego Trippin’ (which, in his defence, was before the official death of Auto-Tune), Snoop Dogg seems to be trying to start afresh. The cover art for Malice N Wonderland harkens back to the cartoony picture on his seminal debut album, Doggystyle which, with Dr Dre‘s The Chronic, became the sacred text of g-funk and gangsta rap.
For the first few tracks here, Snoop keeps things simple, eschewing proper choruses and hooks to lay it all out with his rhymes. I Wanna Rock is a perfect introduction to the album. A simple beat creates the foundation, a strangely spectral singing of “Snooop Dooogg” haunts the background, and Snoop comes straight out of the gates with lines like “We the West, boy, yeah you see the shirt, smokin’ on that Kobe, fuckin’ with that purp” and “I’m giggin’ on these hoes, do ’em like dominoes, I slap ’em on they back, tell ’em vamanos.”
Another line – “I’m almost 20 in, the fuck you rappin’ bout?” – speaks towards the development of hip-hop, which will soon be entering its fourth decade. With Jay-Z famously proclaiming that “40 is the new 30,” how will the young tough rappers age? How will they be succeeded? Snoop tries to add a few members (The-Dream, Soulja Boy, R Kelly) to his family by calling them his nephews, which also indicates a new generation of talent (as opposed the previously popular way of referring to “cousins”), but he should have been more discriminate with his choices.
No one can choose their real family, but anyone can choose their rap family. There’s a proper time and place for Soulja Boy, but it isn’t on a Snoop track, and it’s most certainly not anywhere within spitting distance of Auto-Tune. The electronica-tinged Pronto breaks the smooth aesthetic of the album, offering a bloated track that has so much of Soulja Boy it should really read “featuring Snoop Dogg”. (There’s a comment to made here, too, about “featuring Lil Jon” on 1800, when all he does is his standard “yeah!”s in the background.) Pronto would have been the best track on a new Soulja Boy album, but it’s definitely the worst track here.
Still, Snoop blends the old rap feel with the new style and adds some things to the mix along the way. The springy backing track for Different Languages sounds very Kanye West-like, and Snoop’s loving lyrics to his wife here (“that’s my baby… feels so good I have to sing about it”) and an unnamed woman in Gangsta Luv really bring out his mature, soulful side. These songs also point to another aspect of aging rappers – what happens when they settle down as family men but keep rapping on about “bitches” and “hoes”? Maybe their partners just listen past that.
But don’t worry about Snoop going soft. There’s still plenty of gangsta to go around here. That’s Tha Homie deals with Snoop’s street cred in an unusual way – apparently, if you ask about Snoop, you’re going to hear about his old ways. He’s different now, but he wants you to know that he’s still “connected everywhere”. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but at least it sounds good. Of course, Pimpin Ain’t EZ (featuring an effective hook by R Kelly) speaks for itself.
Essentially, Snoop’s still Snoop. Unlike rappers who angrily grunt on all their tracks, Snoop has always maintained a smooth, laid back, “rap softly but carry a big stick” approach. He’s saying that he’s got the connections and the cojones to back up his raps, but he doesn’t have to make a big spectacle out of sounding angry. So when he deals with maturing alongside hip-hop, with great song productions behind him, it has a real impact. Hopefully other popular rappers will take note as hip-hop heads into its 30s.