Mix-CDs generally occupy a strange semi-legal limbo. But two big new mix-CDs from Snoop Dogg and Talib Kweli are propelling the genre to new levels of exposure and legitimacy. Kweli has long been bedeviled by bootlegging and shoddy marketing, so it only makes sense that he'd go the independent route on Right About Now, a stopgap release between last year's The Beautiful Struggle and his next big move. Kweli has never been afraid to experiment with different producers and beats, but his eclecticism backfires on discs that stumble sheepishly after radio play, only to end up with a messy, ultimately unsatisfying clash of sounds and styles. Highlights like "Ms. Hill," which wrestles movingly with the enigma that is Lauryn Hill, remind listeners what Kweli is capable of, but fans looking for a return to the focus and cohesion of Black Star and Reflection Eternal will have to keep waiting.
The latest release from the ubiquitous Snoop Dogg, Welcome To Tha Chuuch: Tha Album cherry-picks 13 songs from the ongoing Welcome To Tha Chuuch series of mix-tapes. But where Kweli is poorly served by his disc's seemingly random selection of beats, Snoop Dogg has pledged allegiance to the same tired school of G-funk for well over a decade. And though it's nice to hear from the long-lost likes of RBX, Daz, and Lady Of Rage, what was fresh and dynamic in 1993 feels stale in 2006. Snoop is still throwing a never-ending gangsta party Southern Cali style, but at this point, everyone but the stragglers and hangers-on have gone home. Tha Chuuch alternates between an almost-prehistoric conception of gangsta rap, and greasy-slick soul and R&B rooted in the upbeat party albums of the '70s and '80s. But whether pushing old-school G-funk or salacious booty jams, Tha Chuuch is slickly appealing without being particularly memorable: Its tracks seem chosen for their instant commercial appeal rather than by any rarified notion of quality. Snoop spends as much time singing as rapping here, and with Snoop and 50 crooning like American Idol contestants these days, it's getting hard to remember that gangsta rappers once mocked R&B singers instead of imitating them.