[31 March 2008]
After nine albums, Snoop Dogg has developed an on-again, off-again attitude towards album titles: Some seem central to the record, others, more like afterthoughts.
Take the title of his debut, for example: No other compound word but Doggystyle could so expertly encapsulate the grody particulars to a way of life so retrograde, irreverent, wicked, and wonderful and derogatory and stupid. Or there was Last Meal, a somber title for a contemplative, retrospective record, full of smooth, buttery come-downs like the opiate “Stacey Adams”.
But then you have Da Game is 2 Be Sold, Not 2 Be Told, a hollow Silkk-The-Shockerian proverb that signified positively nothing, followed by No Limit Top Dogg, another title that did a far weaker job contextualizing the album’s content than most No Limit CDs. Along the way we had Doggfather, not to mention Doggy Style All-Stars: Welcome to the House.
General rule with the Snoop Dogg records. The more central the album title is to the album, the better the album. Who knows, maybe a title is the sort of thing that helps a pot icon focus.
With a title like Ego Trippin’, however, there’s really no telling which camp to place it in. Central concept or aphoristic afterthought? Could be either, especially when you factor in the Nikki Giovanni poem of the same name. Aware of the poem or not, Snoop certainly seems enamored with the concept of Ego Trippin’. He welcomes us to the album in a lavish intro rich with shout-outs and explanations that this, right here, is Ego Trippin’. Confirmed. Periodically, he checks in to ask us how we’re doing, remind us lyrically that this is, that’s right, Ego Trippin’. And production-wise, the beats lean towards celebratory, brass-punctuated pizazz, recalling Kanye West, who is certainly familiar with the Ego Trip.
So maybe you could posit that Ego Trippin’ is Snoop’s chance to say something timeless, touching, and redemptive about the ills and thrills of celebrityism, but, nah. Almost. He mingles with the Marleys and Leo on “Hollywood Nights”, describing his club life in frame-by-frame detail. And that’s kinda fun, catchy. Then there’s “Life of the Party”, one of those obnoxious Rap/R&B songs where the rich and famous remind you their fan that you’re neither, and your love life pales in comparison to theirs. Very kind. But nothing in the key of celebrityism or night life really pokes out from Ego Trippin‘s filler, and if the album has meat, it’s definitely not on its club-bangers, which are skeletal.
Ego Trippin‘s defining feature could be this: At 36, Snoop has become something of a Rap Miles Davis, charting new courses in the genre less through his moderate command over his own instrument than the avant-garde company he seeks out. At the begining of his career, that meant submitting himself to the will of Los Angeles’ bangin’-est beatmakers—West Coast Gangsta Rap:Snoop is like East Coast Bop:Miles, with, if you care to extend the analogy, Dre as the soft-hearted, amicable Dizzy and Tupac as the sensational, ballistic, death-envious Yardbird. In time, Snoop dropped the restrictively regional sound that confined his Death Row labelmates to obscurity. By 2000’s Last Meal, he had become a kind of middle-man-muse of hip-hop, shuttling in producers from across the country, inspiring each in 100 different directions with the exact same unruffled flow and elementary rhyme schemes. Listening to Ego Trippin‘s varied, pan-regional panache, it’s hard to believe that this is the same bully who gallivanted across New York’s Source Awards stage, taunting the East Coast to hate a lil bit harder.
But now they love Snoop Dogg and maybe the Top Dogg isn’t quite so sure what to do with that. For the better half of the 1990s, opposition gave Snoop Dogg meaning the way Principle Skinner gave Bart Simpson purpose, and Ronald Reagan kept Gil Scott-Heron busy. Most of that opposition came through in that uniquely laidback voice of his: your reviewer always interpreted Snoop’s unwavering chillness as a talisman against those evil forces trying to drag him down, namely judges, juries, and “bitches.” Snoop Dog, it’s worth remembering, is one of the many American writers/artists/public figures who found his voice in the confines of a prison cell, specifically Orange County Jail, a place where maintaining a cool composure and a syrupy flow is probably an act of human triumph on par with the Shawshank Redemption.
So maybe a proper review of Ego Trippin’ starts with that elusive, one-of-a-kind voice of his, the slur that launched a thousand obscenity suits and inspired ten thousands teenagers to drop their jeans. It could be a function of time—or Snoop’s age—but his syrupy flow doesn’t drip, burn, and ooze puss like it used ta. Back in the day, Snoop could flip utterly demeaning insults with the casual expertise of a short order cook, but on “Press Play”, when he threatens to “let hollows rip on through ya,” the quip seems stuffed in there, either to appease the rhyme scheme or some kind of offensive statements quota. Theory: the FCC is paying Snoop Dogg to say those things so as to generate lawsuit revenue from independent radio stations, and that’s why his performance comes off as half-felt.
Not that this is necessarily a bad development—on “Waste of Time”, he dismisses his ex in far kinder, more conflicted terms than 1992’s “I don’t love you hoes, I’m out the do’.” Love hurts, and Raphael Saadiq’s melisma in the hook acknowledges that consequence in ways a younger Snoop Dogg never would. “Been Around the World” is for his “baby… from me to you,” and monogamy from Snoop Dogg is a sure sign of hope. But Snoop has never been a paragon of virtue, and why would he? The role makes him comes off as aged and learned, but also trite. For better or worse, Hip-Hop is an oedipal story on repeat, a country where old men get spiked on the regular by arrogant little brats.
Still, there’s a light: Ego Trippin’ has more than a few moments where Snoop glides into the future, spicing and dicing a voice that heretofore was best served plain. “My Medicine” is a promising start, a pseudo-country and blues song, dedicated to “my main man Johnny Cash,” with confounding couplets like “the mo dedicated the mo’ medicated” and “they say you can’t buy me love, but you damn sure can buy me dub.” On paper, its a page pulled right from the OutKast Book of Excess, but in practice it lacks a certain wit, a redemptive quality OutKast’s Idlewild peddled in abundance.
The single that Ego Trippin’ will and should be remembered for is the dazzling “Sensual Seduction”, a cuddley and catchy kick weighed down by the domestic pull of soap opera strings. Apron Strings. It’s cozy and exotic, spacey and warm, the perfect emotional blend for a serial-polygamist-turned Fatherhood star. What’s more? Snoop’s voice: he totally surrenders that singular slur of his to the warbling yodel of autotune, sacrificing his very identity to the digital gods. It’s a shocking moment for anyone who vaguely remembers the early ‘90s, and another testament to Calvin Broadus Jr.‘s unrivalled ability to inspire strange new sounds without ever raising his voice.