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The Mundane Life of the Rap Musician

Snoop Doggy Dogg/Number One With a Bullet

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As befits a record that begins with its star getting soaped up in the tub by his "bitch" and continues with the graphic sounds of his taking a leak, Doggystyle, the debut from Snoop Doggy Dogg, wears the arrogance of its making on every track. Unlike in the haute regions of rock 'n' roll, rap artists don't argue about commercial appeal: a hot jam has no existence if it's not pounding on the streets or flying out of record stores. A good record is a popular one, period. By these lights Dogg is a star, and the details of his toilet, his marijuana, his dick, his posse, and the unfaithfulness of his "hos," in that order, are by definition the stuff of legend.

Dogg (real name Calvin Broadus) was introduced to us by N.W.A.'s estranged production auteur Dr. Dre, first on the ragged and jittery hit "Deep Cover" and then as the featured rapper on Dre's The Chronic, at three million and counting not only the best-selling gangsta rap record ever but one that's slowly becoming recognized as one of the great production achievements in rock history. (It took a while because it's hard to attribute Sgt. Pepper-like sophistication to a record that contains lyrics like "I'm howlin' 187 with my dick in your mouth, bitch," "187" being a popular rapper appropriation of the police code for murder.) Snoop's gangly, poker-faced presence on the videos mixed pungently with his smooth rap twang and Dre's groovy, percolating production style to make him an irresistible new pop icon. That Doggystyle was created in straitened circumstances only adds to Snoop's aura. Producer Dre, fighting various assault charges, worked with an electronic monitoring bracelet on; Rolling Stone reported that the pair were thrown out of nine studios; the original release date (early '93) faded into the past. And of course there was the small distraction of the 22-year-old Snoop being formally charged with murder. (He was allegedly the driver of a van from which the shots were fired.) Doggystyle debuts at number one next week with what Interscope Records estimates will be close to two million copies sold. Drug busts or arrests for pissing on a gas station wall are one thing; has ever an artist with a number-one record been under indictment for murder?

What you want from the pair with this album is advancement in the old-fashioned rock sense: a consolidation of Dre's beats and grooves paired to a lyrical maturation and thematic sophistication on Snoop's part. Modern rap, however, specializes in making the old rock paradigms obsolete. (Maturation! you can hear Dre snort. My maturation sold 900,000 copies in five days.) Musically, Doggystyle sees The Chronic's groovy beats turn poppy, cartoony. To me The Chronic's most potent weapon was the subtle insinuation of its musical charms: "Dre Day" and "Nothin' but a 'G' Thang" seem at first sprawling, disorganized studio creations, but slowly offer up their hooks and arrangements by means of lazy beats, farty bass lines, the piercing, eerie sounds of obsolete synthesizers, and the forgotten feel of graceful 70s soul. Doggystyle is less groovy, more melodramatic. Nearly every song has a killer hook and some sparkling studio touches, of course, but you notice first the disappointments. "Tha Shiznit" (don't ask me) starts out with some "Deep Cover"-like atmospherics but falls down on a cliched Mission Impossible synth line and an unimaginative chorus. The hit--"Who Am I (What's My Name)?"--has a monstrously effective hook, but it's mostly an exercise in electronically treated novelty vocals. "Lodi Dodi," "Murder Was the Case," and "Serial Killer" are grade-school melodramas; "Ain't No Fun (If the Homies Can't Have None)" features one of Snoop's posse crooning, off-key, cheery lines like "'Cause you gave me all your pussy / And you even licked my balls."

Leaving aside "Dre Day," Dre's "How Do You Sleep"-strength attack on Eazy-E, The Chronic was lyrically a morass of forced bathroom humor, drug songs (the album's title refers to a strain of marijuana), resentful sexism, and aimless self-absorption; but Doggystyle makes The Chronic sound like Jane Austen. I count exactly one pun (on the title "Doggy Dogg World"). Between-song skits testify to Snoop's prowess with the gals and on the pot. His inelegance as a writer frequently approaches the stultifying: "If you don't give a fuck about a bitch / Then you're rolling with the Row" is the chorus to one song. (Death Row is Dre's label.) While there are still a couple of on-the-street tales, most of Doggystyle's raps are domestic, but even that word doesn't begin to capture how quotidian his concerns are. For Snoop, the act of telling his girl to hand him his dope takes on the dimensions of his own personal War and Peace.

But even if it's less alluring than The Chronic, Doggystyle impresses; Dre's the most interesting songcrafter in rap, and possibly in rock, too, and in his own way he's raising some interesting questions. What does it mean when a genius devotes his life to such mundanity? What if Bergman filmed porn, what if Beethoven wrote jingles? And who are we to sneer at an artist's subjects anyway? If he cared, Dre might ask, What's wrong with porn, what's wrong with jingles? Riled, he might continue: And what's wrong with dope, or Snoop's liking his back scrubbed, or enjoying a good piss? Don't you?

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