With Pac gone, Dre laboring on projects other than his long-delayed final solo album, Detox, and Snoop coaching pee wee football (and dropping lackluster albums), West Coast gangsta rap has been struggling to stay relevant. Although all eyes are on the Game to put the West back on the map, West Coast producer/rapper Daz Dillinger, damn near alone at the helm of a declining gangsta-rap movement, remains woefully underappreciated. Oddly enough, it is rap mogul Jermaine Dupri who has pulled Daz out of indie obscurity and signed him to his ATL-based So So Def label, and So So Gangsta is Daz's first release for that label. Though a decent rapper, Daz's strength has always been behind the boards, and that hasn't changed here.
"Rat-a-Tat-Tat" sounds as threatening and funky today as it would have during Death Row's heyday. On "DPG 4 Life," longtime collaborators Snoop Dogg and Supafly drop by for a West Coast banger. (But where's Kurupt?) The hook, a sort of fly falsetto fit for bendin' corners in candy-painted Cadillacs, rides Daz's playful keys to perfection. Daz's Weird Science synth work on closer "Dat's Dat Nigga" is also memorable for its neck-snapping menacing paranoia.
Even when guest producers lend their beats, the results are striking. Kanye mentor and Jermaine Dupri ghost producer No ID puts his spin on gangsta-rap theatrics with a deft multi-layered beat for the album's opening cut "Thang on My Hip." Here, Daz manages to deliver strong verses and skillfully channels a desperation and audacity reminiscent of a hungry Tony Montana. Scott Storch lays down his key work on "Money on My Mind," admirably providing a tinge of G funk for Daz and Kurupt to rekindle some of that Dogg Pound chemistry.
Dupri is credited as the executive producer on So So Gangsta, but his actual musical contributions on the album largely serve to balance out Daz's heavy emphasis on keeping things gangsta. "Weekend," "Badder Than a Mutha," and "The One" are obvious nods to female audiences and club goers, but the tracks are formulaic, uninspiring and essentially forgetful. Daz simply lacks the charisma of someone like Snoop to render these pop tracks halfway enjoyable. Dupri's electro gumbo-stew on "On Some Real Shit" is a strangely fitting track, however, that features Rick Ross and Daz serving up lessons on how to floss.
"Strizap" is another misfire where a surprisingly capable Ice Cube shows up to join Daz on the mike. But between the gunshot-backed hook and the predictable beat, the song ends up sounding like a lifeless parody of Daz's body of work.
So So Gangsta is the work of a seasoned vet intent on, for better or for worst, making the gangsta boogie he knows. To be sure, the archetypical gangsta-rap themes of guns, girls and ganja are all on display. The lyrics rarely exhibit the sensibility of Pac or the vivid flow of a younger Snoop, but when it comes down to it, no one is better at orchestrating straight-ahead gangsta rap than Daz Dillinger.
Label: http://www.sosodef.com/Audio: http://www.myspace.com/daz
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