For a rapper a full decade off his prime, Snoop Dogg has been doing a remarkable job of media saturation lately. First there was his announcement that he was quitting smoking weed, which got more press response than the last five or so rapper incarcerations. After that, a heartless Bill OíReilly (of the Fox News Network) charged The Muppet Show with shortsightedness and bad taste for including the rapper in its Christmas special. Presumably feeling the right-wing heat, the Muppet folks removed the newly clean Snoop from the proceedings, so that he got even more attention than if people had just let it slide by. But the media blitz leading up to the release of Snoopís newest album, Paid tha Cost To Be da Bo$$ (Priority), started well before the holiday season. A couple months ago, he hosted a half-hour special on MTV called Doggy Fizzle Televizzle, in which he participated in a series of madcap pranks, like harassing customers at a drive-thru window. The same week, he could be seen on MTVís sister channel VH1, hosting its new surprise home-renovation show, Rock the House. He painted, he hammered, and he tagged up some poor womanís living room, all in the name of good PR. And Snoopís goodwill didnít end there: more recently the tabloids were deluged with pics of him as the doting parent helping out as the assistant offensive coordinator for his sonís peewee football team. And what did the magnanimous rapper do to warrant the press coverage? He bought the team a tricked-out bus for them to travel to games on.
All this attention, and no one even stopped to consider the merits of Paid tha Cost To Be da Bo$$, or the fact that Snoop hasnít made a truly relevant hip-hop album since his debut, Doggystyle (Death Row), in 1993. How has he survived the infighting and backbiting that so often takes its toll on hip-hop careers? In part, itís because heís managed to be in the pocket of one patron or another ever since that debut CD made him a star, from Death Row mogul Suge Knight to No Limit honcho Master P. More important, Snoop has never been an issue-oriented rapper. His most popular songs have been about intoxication, and thereís something about his forlorn demeanor thatís made him seem tough enough to hold his own among the gangstas without being threatening to a mainstream audience. Even at his most stone-faced (and stoned), Snoop is embraceable in a way few rappers ever have been.
That didnít keep him from veering badly off course on 2001ís Tha Last Meal (No Limit). By that point in his career, having traded in Death Rowís electric chair for the No Limit tank, Snoop seemed tired of living under the thumb of an oppressive label head and putting his life in jeopardy for his art; he was peppering interviews in the hip-hop press with claims like "This is the last time these motherfuckers are gonna eat off me." He even recorded a track called "Death Row Is Bitches," though he never released it. The tracks that did make it onto Tha Last Meal werenít even remotely compelling. Snoop had become a mere shadow of his former self as a rapper, relying on his status as a media celebrity to make up for what his albums lacked. And given the flurry of silly media attention he was garnering in advance of Paid tha Cost To Be da Bo$$, there was no reason to expect that the new album would be any less disappointing than the last one.
Lowered expectations may in part account for how good Paid tha Cost To Be da Bo$$ sounds on first listen. But the disc goes well beyond merely besting the mediocrity of a disc like Tha Last Meal. Not only is it the second-best album of Snoopís career, it also stands up against the finest hip-hop albums of 2002, a slot the Doggfather hasnít occupied in years. The production, courtesy of fresh blood like Jelly Roll ("Stoplight"), Just Blaze ("Lollipop"), and the Neptunes ("Beautiful" and "From tha Chuuch to da Palace"), is thoroughly modern, and custom-fitted to Snoopís weathered, liquor-ish flow. He may still be the master of saying precious little with an overabundance of panache, but for the first time in a long time he sounds slick enough to pull it off.
When it does come time to make a real statement on Paid tha Cost To Be da Bo$$, Snoop doesnít mince words. "Pimp Slappíd" is his first official jibe at Suge Knight and Death Row. Itís a bitter and compelling track, on a par with 2Pacís "Hit Em Up." And itís almost totally out of character for a rap icon as relaxed and lethargic as Snoop. But just as heís found freedom from chemical dependency and freedom from business overlords, so Snoop has also found freedom of attitude. Hereís hoping he wonít have to pay for speaking his mind.