Reviews of Jay-Z, The Game and Snoop Dogg
by Robert VerBruggen
Since the dawn of gangster rap in the
mid-to-late '80s, the genre has gone through three major phases. First
came the "G-funk" of the early '90s, then the East Coast success a few
years later. Now, artists simply recreate old sounds - while non-gangster
rappers like Kanye West, Talib Kweli and Eminem rap circles around them.
Rappers from all three eras released CDs
recently. But Jay-Z, The Game and Snoop Dogg only show that new ideas are
Jay-Z - Kingdom Come
Rating: 3 Stars
Jay-Z's Kingdom Come is easily the
most anticipated of the three. After The Black Album "Hova" retired;
it's only been three years, but the new record is a "comeback" of sorts.
There must be some reason the rapper decided
to return. A buildup of great ideas, thanks to some time off? Something
he absolutely needed to say?
Try boredom. Kingdom Come is nowhere
near as good as The Black Album, to say nothing of Reasonable
Doubt. It proves for the umpteenth time Jay-Z can rhyme without effort,
but rhyme and compelling narrative are two very different things.
Where the best rap songs tell emotional
stories - the gangster tales on Doubt, the childhood memories of
Black - Kingdom Come tackles little beyond women, bling and how
awesome Jay-Z is. The occasional reference to drug dealing sounds forced
and distant, as the lame "30 Something" is probably the most honest characterization
of Shawn Carter's current life.
Even the bonus disc, with live recordings
of three Reasonable Doubt songs, is disappointing. The delivery
is half-hearted, the backing vocals are off. A newcomer might think Jay-Z
has always been as uninspired as he is on Kingdom Come.
That's not to say the record has no merit
whatsoever. "Minority Report" covers the Katrina aftermath, though Hova
really stretches himself to sound anguished. "Show Me What You Got" has
a jazzy class to it, and Beyonce's melody in "Hollywood" is infection.
The production is stellar, excepting the too-loud snare in "Trouble" (painful
"Beach Chair," featuring vocals by Coldplay's
Chris Martin, is uncharacteristically trippy with muffled drums and a lurking
atmosphere. It's too bad Jay-Z couldn't top the background with anything
other than talk about himself.
Kingdom Come is best seen as yet
another so-so release from an artist with a very up-and-down career. Diehard
fans will need it - and even casual radio listeners will find much to like
- but it lacks the substance the term "comeback" demands. Preview
and Purchase This CD Online
The Game - Doctor's Advocate
Rating: 3.5 Stars
When The Game debuted last year, lots of
critics talked about how Dr. Dre's mentorship and production had brought
a mediocre rapper onto the national stage.
So, The Game insulted Dre, switched to
a new label and recorded 16 tracks sans the doctor.
He can't quite break the mold, however
- the record is called Doctor's Advocate, for crying out loud. And
a guest on "Looking at You" even announces that "he's a reflection of Dr.
Dre in his heyday in the worst way." A snarky music journalist couldn't
have said it better.
On the very first track it seems Dre is
actually guesting, but no, The Game has simply lowered his voice to make
it sound that way. With a few exceptions this continues - on the album's
title track, a whiny (if unusually poetic) plea for Dre to forgive him,
The Game finally shines his true colors in a higher and grittier tone.
"It's Okay (One Blood)" also drops the charade.
All of that said, Doctor's Advocate
is a lot of fun in a "poor man's Dr. Dre" kind of way. Kanye West adds
his trademark soul samples to "Wouldn't Get Far," and Snoop Dogg guests
over G-funk synthesizers (which rip the melody from Dogg's own "Serial
Killa") of "California Vacation."
There really isn't a cut here that's unlistenable,
except arguably "Compton," what with the annoying sample in its chorus:
"The gangster boogie, the gangster boogie! The gangster boogie, the gangster
Originality isn't The Game's strong suit,
so his claims to be "the number one since B.I.G. and Pac departed" are
kind of amusing. But Doctor's Advocate is a fun listen - a throwback
to the days of George Clinton samples, gangster bravado and endless talk
of chronic and Compton. Preview
and Purchase This CD Online
Snoop Dogg - Tha Blue Carpet Treatment
Rating: 4 Stars
Rap fans looking for some true West Coast
gangster innovation can always turn to Snoop Dogg, right? No, not always
- while Tha Blue Carpet Treatment beats Kingdom Come and
Doctor's Advocate, it can't go beyond the overdone message "I'm
a Crip and I have sex a lot."
But thanks to the production talent Snoop
hired, much of the record is pretty impressive. Gone are the often-annoying
beats from R&G (see "The Bidness" and "Can I Get a Flicc Witchu"
in particular), replaced by sleek, catchy, hip-shaking rhythms courtesy
The Neptunes, Soopafly, Dr. Dre and others.
"Crazy" is fresh and innovative, with a
swooping bass line, "That's That S-" is so catchy it's absurd and "I Wanna
F- You" has a nice vocal processing touch. "Round Here" is a more minimalist
take on Dido's "Thank You" than Eminem's classic "Stan" was.
And even if Tha Blue Carpet Treatment
simply revisits age-old themes, the lyrics are ultimately listenable. "A
B---- I Knew" might be the filthiest song Dogg has ever recorded, and "Gangbangin'
101" sees The Game (a Blood) tagging along. (Crips and Bloods may kill
each other, but a shared love for drugs, promiscuous sex and crime really
brings them together!)
On "Imagine" Dogg and Dre answer the question,
"What if gangster rap never existed?" Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G.
are still alive, but the poor no longer have hip-hop for social mobility.
Because so many people have gotten rich off rap, of course.
Even the stereotypical gangster songs sound
genuinely threatening. Despite a distracting monotone bass line, the vocals
to "10 Lil' Crips" pop off the speakers, and "Vato" invokes the over-the-top
storytelling of Doggystyle (even if B-Real's guest rapping is rather
There are a few tracks that come up short.
Even Ice Cube doesn't save "LAX" from its essential lameness, and "Candy
(Drippin' Like Water)" can't recreate the primitive club vibe of "Drop
it Like it's Hot." "Beat Up on Yo Pads," about Dogg's youth football league,
is just embarrassing. Preview
and Purchase This CD Online
Some genres, it turns out, are more malleable
than others. Gangster rap reached its peak years ago, in an age when Dr.
Dre, Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur all reached their peaks. Nothing
today can compare.
Still, Jay-Z, The Game and Snoop carry
the torch. There's nothing new on any of their records, and they rarely
even venture into the kind of social commentary that made "2Pac" more than
just another thug. But in a way, the entertainment value hasn't suffered
Robert VerBruggen (http://robertsrationale.blogspot.com)
is an apprentice editor at The National Interest and an antiMusic contributor.
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