Snoop Dogg: Top Dogg

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Snoop Dogg

Album: Top Dogg
Label: No Limit

The first sign that Top Dogg, Snoop Dogg's fourth album (and second for Master P's No Limit sweatshop), is different from its underwhelming predecessor arrives on the album's first track, on which the guttural grunting of Master P that introduced Da Game Is To Be Sold, Not To Be Told, is replaced by the bizarre, staccato strains of a far more lovable bad-movie icon: Rudy Ray Moore, otherwise known as the bad, bad Dolemite. It's an encouraging sign, as is the fact that Top Dogg is the first No Limit release ever to feature outside producers in addition to the requisite hackwork of the label's Beats By The Pound crew. No Limit may be a commercial powerhouse, but the label's production stable has always had about as beneficial an impact on Dogg's artistic output as Frank Stallone's singing has had on his brother Sylvester's film career. Freed from the tyranny of Beats By The Pound, Dogg sounds happier, looser, and more confident on Top Dogg than he has on any album since his Chronic/Doggystyle glory days. Not coincidentally, Top Dogg also features Dogg's first collaborations with Dr. Dre since back when both men actually feigned happiness at being in the employ of Suge Knight. Bolstered by the slippery, Technicolor funk of such veteran producers as Dre, Ant Banks, and the underrated DJ Quik, Top Dogg features some of Dogg's best, most mature work, from the lush, bluesy melodrama of "Trust Me" to the swaggering "My Heat Goes Boom," to the familiar but adrenaline-enhanced old-school remakes "Cinderfella" and "G Bedtime Stories." But Top Dogg has one massive Achilles' heel: the obligatory No Limit collaborations. The low points on Top Dogg are all No Limit-related, from the moldy C-Murder and Magic collaboration "Down For My Niggaz" to the more-is-less posse cut "Ghetto Symphony," which teams a beat that sounds like a cross between a broken drum machine and a man tapping a pencil on a desk with underwhelming turns by Mia X, Silkk The Shocker, C-Murder, Fiend, Mystikal, and Goldie Loc. But if Top Dogg is at least six tracks too long, it's still a vital album, and easily Snoop Dogg's best since Doggystyle.