Snoop Dogg’s career is quietly approaching its 20th anniversary and — as far as the mainstream is concerned — Wiz Khalifa is really just getting started, but the two men happen to be currently in a similar headspace. Having long proven that his cultural worth is measured in more than great, or at least popular, music, Snoop had spent the past three or four years settling into an increasingly playful, iconic role as a performer. This has led him to appearing alongside acts as divergent as Quincy Jones and Tech N9ne, pen Prince William’s bachelor party theme song “Wet”, sing a country song with Willie Nelson about medical marijuana and, more to that point, embrace his role as hip-hop’s most infamous pot smoker more than he ever has.
Much of that is due to the Internet’s young roster of rappers who rap almost exclusively about weed, fashion and success, an ever-expanding group headlined and pioneered by Curren$y and Wiz Khalifa. Khalifa’s formula, in turn, owes much to Snoop Dogg’s persona in films like Soul Plane and Starsky & Hutch, the way he presents his identity as an effortless amalgam of slacker ethics and CEO-like acumen. Whatever one might levy against the majority of his projects, it’s hard to argue Wiz Khalifa is an unlikable character, and those with their eyes on the trendline would be hard-pressed to find a more zeitgeist-capturing mixtape in 2009 than Kush & OJ.
Sadly, Snoop’s loosening of the reigns on his music’s sound hasn’t translated well at the register, and while I can’t confirm that has anything to do with the Mac & Devin project, it’s hard to keep the idea from looming in the background. Financial safety net or not, teaming with Wiz Khalifa turns out to be a pretty successful idea for both parties. Both artists have a delivery that arrives with a sense of calm and comfort, but the subtle contrasts between Snoop’s relaxed drawl and Khalifa’s animated goofing compliment each other rather well. Snoop is able to play the role of big brother to the younger rapper, a role that’s cast in a sort of frat boy light for sure but one that definitely suits him well. The attitude of Mac & Devin isn’t exactly parallel to Khalifa’s previous collaborative project, How Fly with Curren$y, mostly because Snoop’s age and experience can’t allow him to rap from that perspective comfortably. But because of the album’s awkward conceit — truthfully, Mac & Devin Go to High School is also a straight-to-DVD film starring the two rappers — Snoop & Wiz do try to play themselves off as longtime smoking buddies rather than new acquaintances a generation removed.
What’s a little unfortunate is that the songs are mostly comedic in nature but not in the spirit of the film they’re supposed to be based on, at least not overtly. In the film Wiz Khalifa plays a valedictorian who is struggling with his sacrifice of “life experience” for the sake of studying and befriends 10-year senior Snoop Dogg in a mutual agreement to help Snoop finally graduate if he’ll show Wiz a good time in return. Even the synopsis provides plenty of fodder for Wiz Khalifa to expand his range as a rapper, but nothing is shocking here as he repeatedly informs us of his joint rolling lessons he provides women, how good his weed is and how high he is while rapping. Other times, Snoop just seems out of his element, like on “Let’s Go Study”, an ode to study buddy hookups that doesn’t feel totally comfortable coming from a 40-year old.
That lack of creativity or adherence to character might make for an album that isn’t exactly engaging lyrically, but that doesn’t mean Mac & Devin isn’t an album worth your consideration, particularly if you ignore the film most of us aren’t likely to witness any time soon. The production, consisting of offerings from some of 2011’s hottest mainstream and underground names — Drumma Boy, Cardo, Exile, Jake One and ID Labs, to name half — is supremely pleasing to the ear. Snoop described the music as “centric” at one point, as in not owing itself to any one particular style and instead satisfying a hypothetical “average listener” in a way that doesn’t lend itself well to criticism. And indeed Mac & Devin is nothing if not likable, the sort of rap album you could throw in the car stereo one day and forget to take it out all week. There might not be many truly fun moments but it’s just so consistently smooth that the album works great as pre- or post-work atmosphere music. No doubt it makes a good soundtrack to marijuana-use, as well. Paying attention to it reveals enough sloppiness to recognize this isn’t an album that’s going to work for everyone. Lyrically, this pair isn’t very good at staying in character of either a high school student or superstar rapper, often confusing the narrative within a single song let alone the entire album.
But as a throwback to mid-’90s west coast posse albums that felt more like a few friends hanging out in the studio making music they enjoyed rather than consciously trying to make the “Best Album”, Mac & Devin is a complete success. It’s a great example of the random chemistry rap collabos are capable of providing, of two rappers known as much for getting by on their coolness as their lyrical skills identifying their proper lane with laser-like precision and making the best of it. But perhaps the most flattering thing I could say about Mac & Devin is that its sound transports me back to the days of cruising in and out of my high school parking lot, blasting tunes I loved and generally living a carefree life. I think word of mouth will do this album a lot of favors over the years.