Various Artists: Nuthin’ But a Gangsta Party 2

Various Artists
Nuthin' But a Gangsta Party 2

Making a mix tape and buying a mix tape are two entirely different experiences. You make your own and you’re only limited by what music you have in your personal collection, what you can borrow from friends and what you can download. The possibilities are endless, and you can easily fit any personal mood you may have or any theme you may want to explore. You’re bound to come up with something good because the only thing holding you back is your own imagination.

When you leave your imagination to somebody else, as you have to do to buy a pre-recorded mix tape, you’re on much less stable ground. And, as these things usually go, that ground rarely has anything to do with the music and everything to do with the realities of all the steps between an artist making music and a listener hearing that music. There are exceptions, of course, such as the “Global Underground” collection of DJ mixes, or the Quango collection of “lifestyle music” mixes. But more often than not, the realities of the music business tend to mess up the venture of selling pre-mixed mix tapes, making the best tapes strictly underground, unauthorized, invitation only affairs.

The main pitfall is getting clearance for all the songs that fit the imagination of whoever is compiling the mix. It’s a legal-clearance minefield, and undoubtedly the reason why label-sanctioned mixes look like the hi-lo country: on the high end, you have songs so pervasive and of-the-moment (the unfortunately titled Now That’s What I Call Music! series) that you’re basically buying an on-demand time capsule of Top 20 radio; on the low end, you have labels with such thin rosters that it’s really no more than a fancy promotional tool that’s thick on good intentions but thin on variety.

By all accounts, Priority Records’ Nuthin’ But a Gangsta Party 2 should settle squarely into the lo country. Priority has had its share of big-name gangsta rappers fall under its umbrella of distribution over its past 15 years, but it’s hardly been the only label to try out the West Coast’s defining rap style. Plus, over the past five years Priority has fallen behind the curve somewhat, struggling to find a successor to the G-thang that defined upward pop star mobility in the ’90s. Meanwhile, over on the other coast the thugs have taken over.

But that didn’t stop Priority from putting out a mix of familiar and new jams that’ll keep hydraulics in Impalas bouncing up and down the avenue. The secret to Priority’s success is that they neither try to define the genre nor showcase new artists; they just try to keep the party going.

That doesn’t stop them from stuffing the first 15 minutes with the biggest names at any gangsta party. “Nuthin’ But a ‘G’ Thang”, the reason for the compilation and everything leading up to it, is the fourth track in, but the silky synthesizer funk and cannabis cloud of rhymes by Dr. Dre and Snoop Doggy Dog are still the highlight nine years after they first changed gangsta rap from an angry us-against-them outburst to a good time had by all. Even grandma and grandpa can dig a chorus as catchy and simple as “It’s like this and like that and like this and uh…so just chill, til the next episode”. Mix opener “Who Am I (What’s My Name)” by Snoop Doggy Dog is only a touch less smooth, and hearing “Snoop Dogg (What’s My Name Pt. 2)” right after it shows how much Snoop Dogg has changed his style (I’ll take the old Snoop any day), not to mention his name, in the seven years since Part 1.

Dr. Dre is the patron saint of the mix, but it’s Snoop’s party. The Dogg appears three times in the first four songs and shows up another three times before it’s over. It’s as if the party’s at his house and he keeps checking in to make sure everyone’s having a good time before he leaves to mingle some more. But when he checks up on the mix, it’s always a welcome cameo, like his silky verse on the Eastsidaz “G’d Up”, or his comparatively assertive wordplay on honorary R&B “G” Nate Dogg’s closing “Never Leave Me Alone”.

But what makes Nuthin’ But a Gangsta Party 2 worth the whole mix is who we’re left with for entertainment when Snoop’s off mingling. Roscoe lays down a lively summer single called “I Love Cali (In the Summertime)” and adds flow to Don Ciscone’s “Oh Boy”. Suga Free break it down on “If U Stay Ready” and shout it out with Mausberg on “If It Ain’t Broke”. DJ Quick also helps Mausberg on “No More Questions”. Silkk the Shocker and Master P show up for a track, N.W.A. alum Ice Cube and MC Ren show up for a couple of others, and Kurupt speeds up the rap without speeding up the groove on a pair of tracks.

Most of the tracks on Nuthin’ But a Gangsta Party 2 are under two years old, but all of them seem to point to high times that may be a thing of the past. Rap is hyper-sensitive to the winds of change, and with economic and security issues making such bad-boy posturing seem superficial, it’s yet to be seen if such party-starting mixes will be replaced with a return to the angry, revolutionary roots of gangsta rap. But it’s tough to deny a good groove, so, for the time being, such head-bobbing indulgences are just what Dr. Dre ordered.