[29 August 2010]
Snoop Dogg is an extremely likeable character, the latter-day saint of stoned, oversexed, juvenile fantasies. Ever since his muggy, sleazy 1993 debut Doggystyle, Snoop has forged a career that smells of skunk and gasoline. It embodies the set of gangsta rap characteristics pioneered by Dr. Dre: squelching Bootsy Collins bass and smooth rolling beats, packaging Snoop’s signature drawl. Now aging and scrawny, it’s not easy to take Snoop as the archduke of gangsta activity, as his songs have continued to claim. Perhaps his compiling My #1 Priority is an attempt to fortify these claims. Instead, it takes us on a tour of dated ‘90s gangster rap.
With Snoop Dogg appointed the label’s creative chairman last year, this compilation heralds Priority’s resurrection since being absorbed into Capitol in 2004. While Priority clearly consider all 17 of the tracks on this record to be classics for sipping Cristal to, much of the material leaves a lot to be desired. It does include genuine classic cuts from NWA, Eazy-E, EPMD and Ice Cube, but much of it is filler: overripe proletarian sex raps and delusions of gangsta grandeur.
My #1 Priority charts a course from East Coast hardcore on EPMD’s “So Watcha Sayin” to distinctly Californian G-Funk on Bad Azz’s “Dogghouse Ridaz”. It includes Master P’s ridiculous, hypnotic “War Wounds”, an attempt at detailing the harsh realities of being a late 20th century urban soldier, propelled by a squirming bass, and peddles frantic gender politics on Mia X’s “Don’t Start No Shit”. For all its faults, this compilation gets much better as it trundles along, and really finds its feet at the halfway mark.
Indeed, at its best, and in spite of some of its heinous clichés, the best tracks here are a fine historical record of gangster rap at its best and most influential. The sultry, sunny “LBC and the ING” by Mack 10 is perfect for cruising and is ultimately harmless enough to act as an invitation for us to sing along. Westside Connection’s brooding “The Gangster, the Killer, and the Dope Dealer” is great, a clear attempt at faithful exposition on urban reality as opposed to some neo-blaxploitation caricature. Tru’s “They Dey Go” is complemented by some interesting, and devastatingly funky, electro squelches.
Rapper Mystikal’s contributions are rasping and ultraviolent. In terms of sheer technique, he’s the most interesting MC on the record, considering that most people with even a passing interest in the history of hip-hop will already be well versed in the contributions of Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube, and Eazy-E. Mystikal is influenced by Busta Rhymes, from whom he gets his derangement. His vocabulary is taken from traditional hardcore, which explains his aggression. Twista’s influence urges on the sheer speed of his delivery. Ultimately, our ears are left at the mercy of a deadly combination of off-kilter toasting, snarling, and even metal-flavoured roaring. It’s compelling stuff that escapes the formulaic flow and bland posturing of some of his peers.
Young Bleed’s ‘How Ya Do Dat’ certainly has a squirming synth line, but its bass-drum thump is flaccid where it should facilitate booty shaking. Bad Azz’s “Dogghouse Ridaz” and Fiend’s “Walk Like a G” perhaps owe a little too much to the holy G-Funk trinity of Dre, Parliament and Zapp. They’re perfectly passable jams, but they really serve as an indication of how banal the genre can be when not sparked by sheer salacity. Many of these tracks didn’t bubble out of the underground. Very few of them made an impact on the pop charts. Fewer still made it across the Atlantic. Ultimately, this suggests that even some of Snoop’s own unsuccessful material, such as 1996’s post-murder trial shrapnel Tha Doggfather, has some credibility simply for being coherent and catchy.
We learn two central lessons from listening to My Priority #1. First, it’s a shame that Mystikal lacks the pop accessibility that would have seen his music listened to by a much wider audience. Second, listening to the output of Priority Records is good for providing broad and deep hip-hop history lessons. Indeed, although artists like Notorious BIG, 2Pac, and Geto Boys put out some truly excellent records in the mid-‘90s, it would be foolish of us to forget about the contributions made by some of their lesser-known peers. It would also be foolish not to acknowledge the wide-ranging influence of the label, of which this compilation is not a particularly good example. Priority, in their time, provided distribution for classic records such as Jay-Z’s Reasonable Doubt and Dr. Dre’s The Chronic, as well as music by E.S.G, Funkadelic, and even Gwar. As a result, it’s a shame this record is not as powerful, interesting, or as damn funky as Snoop or the gangsta-funk set at their best.