I’m old. Old enough to remember a cold Friday night in late 1995 when I bought Tha Dogg Pound’s debut, Dogg Food, the week it was released, soon after going ape-shit over “Respect.” The Death Row Dynasty was somewhere between full-swing and beginning-of-decline; in a year, Dr. Dre would be doing his own thing and 2Pac would be dead, and Snoop Doggy Dogg, as he was known back then, would release Tha Doggfather, the first, but certainly not last, album to bomb on Death Row Records.
In some ways, Cali Iz Active could very well be made up of leftovers from this initial run. The themes haven’t varied much; I’ll give you three guesses as to what songs such as “Hard on a Hoe” and “Make Dat Pussy Pop” are about, and the first two don’t count. Daz, Kurupt and Snoop have their mack-daddy sneer on, flossing in jerseys and long white tees on the cover and in the liner notes, pasted next to images of graffiti, speakers, blunt smoke, and lowriders. The Lady of Rage, Nate Dogg and RBX all make guest appearances.
If you were too young, or weren’t paying attention, when these things felt fresh and powerful and brand new, here’s your slice. If you do remember Tha Dogg Pound legacy, I’m saying it: These things still feel fresh and powerful and brand new.
With exception. the sex-and-violence dumb-outs — the kinds of things that still hold back some of today’s talented rappers, notably Lil Wayne — stutter the flow and soil what are some ridiculously top-notch beat-curtains. But the language, for the most part, is sharp enough to shine through. Daz and Kurupt have always been vastly underrated rappers, and what they can’t grab in ideas, they try like hell to make up for in conviction. In gangster terms, if they’re not catching any new horses, they’re shooting the shit out of the ones they already have.
But what makes Cali Iz Active a growth spurt is — and I can’t believe I’m writing this — its bright side. Ten years ago, this album would’ve been darker, bleaker. Coated in prison imagery and dog-as-manhood metaphors. Snoop can still pull off a menacing skulk when he wants (the trippy-cool “Don’t Sweat It”) and more than a few tracks — “Sittin on 23z” comes to mind rather quickly — feel all death-around-the-corner-like.
But Cali Iz Active starts off with the song of the same name, a warm, graceful reintroduction that’s perfectly back-then and here-and-now, rocked over gurgling synth farts, guitar licks, some keys for flare. “Heavyweights” is basic, stressing hollow percussion and flute-like emissions; the raps sound wonderful. “Kushn ‘N’ Pushn” is another in a long line of West Coast highway soundtracks, one of the things that made Ice Cube’s recent album such a welcome return. On the spacey “Thrown Up Da C,” well, I see DJ Quik right now, and he’s got a shit-eating grin on his face.
Like a bunch of other comeback albums flung out this year, no one was really counting the days until Tha Dogg Pound put out a new record. Unlike some of the guests here, Snoop, Daz and Kurupt never really went away, they just went their own ways, and the content and, in some cases, quality, didn’t really change from one project to the next. But some things never land, just keep flying low. Cali Iz Active proves the wings aren’t broken.
Label: http://www.kochrecords.com/Streaming audio