Gangsta rap has always prided itself on bringing the hustler's mentality from the streets to the studio. Every hustler knows that branching out is the key to both survival and successif one hustle isn't working, another damn well better take its place promptlyso few musicians have embraced diversification with the zeal and fervor of superstar gangsta rappers. Where once an enterprising rapper's extracurricular activities might have been limited to the occasional St. Ides or Sprite commercial, and maybe a cameo in a B-movie, nowadays it's common for rappers to have their own clothing lines, film vehicles, TV shows, cell phones, and in the case of the ever-industrious Snoop Dogg, a signature automobile. (Not to mention porn videos and Girls Gone Wild tapes.) Needless to say, this market saturation comes at a steep price. A new Snoop Dogg album was once a hip-hop event. Now it's just another glorified product launch from the sprawling empire known as Snoop Dogg Industries.
On "Drop It Like It's Hot," the monster first single from Snoop Dogg's new album, R&GRhythm & Gangsta: The Masterpiece, Dogg brashly alludes to this brave new dynamic when he slips in quick synergistic plugs for his car and clothing line. Yet the song is also a refreshing reminder that Snoop Dogg still has the skill that made him a superstar in the first place: He can still deliver a maddeningly infectious single that lodges deep in a listener's subconscious and refuses to leave. On "Drop It Like It's Hot," The Neptunes strips its sound down to the bare bones, reducing the track to percussive clucking, synthesized wheezing, and finally a climactic blast of cheesy keyboards. R&G marks Dogg's first album on The Neptunes' Star Trak label, and unsurprisingly, his collaborations with the most overexposed producers this side of Kanye West are the album's highlight. The first single showcases The 'Tunes at its most minimalist, but the duo's other fine contributions flirt with lush disco and pop-savvy Philly soul.
The Neptunes executive-produced R&G, but unfortunately only produced a quarter of the album's 20 songs. The rest of the fillertastic album is a forgettable assemblage of sleazy sex jams, generic G-funk, and songs like "Can You Control Yo Hoe," which urges weak-willed macks to smack their hoes if they get out of line. Who says Snoop Dogg is lacking in social consciousness? As always, Snoop oozes charisma, and he possesses one of rap's most irresistible voices, but R&G makes it clearer than ever that he has nothing to say, no matter how infectiously he says it. Over the course of its bloated, nearly 80-minute run time, Snoop Dogg's self-professed Masterpiece only intermittently comes close to matching its grandiose title. Then again, the more honest Rhythm & Gangsta: The Mediocrity just wouldn't have the same ring.