snoopdogg.jpgPerhaps radio killed Snoop Dogg’s gangsta. Lately, the once-edgy Doggfather has been favoring the Neptunes’ soft core over Dr. Dre’s Cali funk. True, Pharrell and Chad aren’t solely to blame. But, honestly, would Murder Was the Case–era Snoop ever have made an album as watered-down as 2004’s R&G (Rhythm & Gangsta): The Masterpiece? The Long Beach, Calif., native’s name is now identifiable everywhere, from Mary Jane ciphers to soccer mom gatherings. Not that such accessibility is negative. It’s just that Snoop’s recent albums have largely forgotten his original bread and butter—unadulterated G-funk.

When you’re a “dogg,” however, you’re a dogg for life. So with his eighth album, Tha Blue Carpet Treatment, Snoop’s lyrical fire seems resurrected, as he delivers arguably his most consistently scorching work post-Doggystyle. For proof, look no further than “Vato,” the tense Neptunes-tracked first single. Bypassing the club, Snoop weaves a message-filled yarn of Black-and-Brown unity, a topic quite taboo for Left Coast thugs. Free of an anthemic hook, and given the heart-pounding effect of unexpectedly dark keyboards and snares from the ’Tunes, it’s enough to make Snoop’s skeptics drop misconceptions like they’re hot.

Just a fluke? Bitch, please. The West Coast OG lets his mind spray throughout Tha Blue Carpet Treatment, covering a wide range of topical prose. The soulful opener “Think About It” pits Frequency’s grandiose instrumentation against Snoop’s state-of-the-union address (“Basically, you hear the rappers out here using my flow/But they need Snoop on their record to make it official, though”). Issues switch back to the block on the epic “Gangbanging 101.” Earthquakelike claps and nightmarish keys power the Crip’s menacing color-blind duet with Cali youngblood The Game, which is produced by Snoop and Terrance Martin (collectively known as Niggaracci).

Even with his mirror pointed inward, Snoop sounds enhanced. On the Nate Dogg–assisted “Crazy,” he candidly examines his surroundings (“I love my folks, but half of y’all muthafuckas is cutthroats/On the real, the streets will have you, guide you, lead you, grab you”) atop Fred Wreck’s undeniably lowrider-ready drums. The poignancy comes to a head on the reflective Dr. Dre duet “Imagine.” Alongside Dre’s equally stellar verse, and over Doc’s sweeping piano bed, Snoop ponders life in a different world (“Imagine if rap wasn’t out yet/Imagine all this pain with no outlet/Imagine how many lives would be ruined, if we didn’t have hip-hop/Imagine what we’d all be doing”).
While heart-attack seriousness is a plus, Snoop still rocks parties like none other, keeping the gin and juice flowing here. R. Kelly’s suave chorus, coupled with Nottz’s playful flutes, uplifts the hypnotic “That’s That Shit” to superiority, while Rick Rock’s minimalist 808s allow guests E-40, MC Eiht, Goldie Loc, Daz and Kurupt to serve up a surefire Western club closer in “Candy.” Just when Snoop seems worthy of flawless praise, on comes the questionably Ne-Yo–heavy “Put This Thang on You.” Over puny acoustics, this slow-jam debacle relegates Dogg to merely half a half-assed verse (“The mood is smooth, the price is right/I got a sweet in the street, we can shake it all night”). Similarly forgettable is the ho-hum “LAX,” an underwhelming collaboration with Ice Cube.

Once this blue carpet is all rolled up, though, so are any doubts of Snoop’s musical gangster. Without totally abandoning his commercial tendencies, the megacelebrity reminds listeners that, no matter how many hokey TV spots he does or slang words of his become cliché rhetoric, he’s an MC first and foremost. Tabernacle!—MATT BARONE
87cover.jpgRead the rest of XXL’s Critical Beatdown review section in the
December 2006 issue (#87)