Who is Snoop Dogg, and just what has he done to become the single most iconic rapper of his generation — a porn director, a reality TV staple, a pee-wee football coach, a walking embodiment of California stoner culture? The answer dates back to 1993, when the DO-double-G and his French braids were the hottest shit going. Thanks to Snoop’s casual, scowling delivery and simmering beats from G-funk pioneer Dr. Dre, Doggystyle was a whopping juggernaut, easily outselling Enter the Wu-Tang and Midnight Marauders and morphing into a benchmark against which all other blunt-fueled party-hop will forever be judged.
That album cemented Snoop’s reputation as the most effortlessly charming young rapper in the world, but it also did irreparable damage: He seems to have lost every shred of musical ambition that had driven his debut. He’s a smart guy, and he’s continued to be a commercial titan by working with an eclectic array of producers (Master P, the Neptunes, Teddy Riley, Lil’ Jon, Shawty Redd) without compromising his central likeability, but he’s not exactly an artistic virtuoso. Snoop’s last record, Ego Trippin, had a handful of thrillingly experimental tracks and a lot of unbearably tepid ones. The media responded by rubberstamping Trippin with obligatory three-star reviews. Figures. No one expects anything from the guy, so they can’t muster up the frustration to pan him.
Malice N Wonderland is not, by and large, very ambitious. For the most part, Ego Trippin’ was intensely, exhaustingly boring, but tucked away in all of that dreariness were bursts of thrilling peculiarity: sleazy ‘80s funk tracks (“Cool”), guitar-strumming Johnny Cash homages (“My Medicine”), sparkling electro-pop (“Sensual Seduction”). Malice lacks that diversity, that spontaneity; if anything, it takes the concept of playing it safe to an obnoxious extreme. A prime example is “Pronto,” which sounds like a Rebirth leak with an Auto-Tuned hook from Soulja Boy. It’s as if Snoop actively tried to fit every loathsome hip-hop trend into one loathsome track.
“That’s Tha Homie,” a squealing, abrasive exercise in synth overload, falters in the exact same way: by mistaking bombastic aggression for rumbling energy. But on other cuts — the jingling synth-jam “1800” (featuring a raspy-as-usual Lil Jon), skittering and sinister “I Wanna Rock,” and neck-snapping “Upside Down” are the most fun examples — Snoop gets the concept of the club banger right, delivering some of his most irresistible work since 2002’s “Beautiful.” Forget “Drop It Like It’s Hot”: When you need to forget the health-care bill or Afghanistan and let loose, turn on “Different Languages,” a peppy piece of piano-pop with a flawlessly delivered hook from Jazinine Sullivan.
Snoop’s big-talking, bad-bitch-craving lyrics are as pedestrian as ever, his flow still leisurely and assured. He mentions his “rich sponsors.” He dedicates skits to taunting haters, which is odd, since he generally doesn’t provoke feelings of hatred — just indifference. And he makes empty promises to his wife, shortly after declaring that “pimpin’ ain’t easy.” But all is forgiven on “Gangsta Luv,” which hits the speakers with a splashy thump and is cheery enough to perk up frigid Northeast Ohio.
But the truest test of any MC is whether or not he can overcome the balmy, fireplace-ready boardwork of Pharrell. On “Special,” the formulaic, pseudo-quirky producer grants Snoop the same kind of mildly agreeable beat and hook he gave Clipse on “I’m Good.” Snoop’s response? Sweet nothings. He compares life to a carnival, describes a romantic getaway to France, and promises to give up weed.
So, I’ll ask again: Who is Snoop Dogg? Well, for one, he’s a hell of a liar.