May 14, 2010

My Gut Reaction: Snoop Dogg - Da Game Is To Be Sold, Not To Be Told (August 4, 1998)

The short version of the story goes like this: Calvin Broadus, better known as Snoop Doggy Dogg, was lonely at his Death Row Records label home. His mentor and friend Dr. Dre jumped ship after getting fucked over for his hard-earned money (similar to what happened to him with the whole N.W.A./Ruthless Records situation), and his peer Tupac Shakur had been murdered on the Las Vegas Strip. Snoop, being as paranoid as most of the popular rap artists are these days, was convinced that his label boss, Suge Knight, was directly responsible for Pac's shooting and reportedly feared for his life. So he convinced his new best friend, No Limit Records label head Percy Miller (better known as Master P of Dancing With The Stars fame), to hash out a deal with his Suge. This resulted in Snoop getting out of his contract, dropping the “Doggy” portion of his rap name (as a concession to Death Row, perhaps?) and setting up shop in the New Orleans headquarters of No Limit, all while Suge muttered incomprehensibly to himself about losing lone cash cow, even though he did actually agree to it.

The long version of the story isn't that much longer, but it does contain a lot more dialogue.

After Snoop proved that he was capable of crafting an entire album without any input from Andre Young with Tha Doggfather, which didn't sell as well as Doggystyle but did okay enough, all eyes and ears were turned to Louisiana for Snoop's third full-length effort, Da Game Is To Be Sold, Not To Be Told. When Master P came to his rescue, Snoop was happy to compromise, taking on the role of a simpleminded label employee (or “soldiers”, as No Limit referred to them as), and he allowed the direction of Da Game Is To Be Sold, Not To Be Told to be influenced heavily by his new boss. This essentially means that Snoop's album ended up looking and sounding like everyone else's album that was ever released at that factory: the beats were almost exclusively provided by the in-house team Beats By The Pound (made up of KLC, O'Dell, Mo B. Dick, Carlos Stephens, and Percy himself), although P was nice enough to allow some outsiders into the studio to appease Snoop's Left Coast fanbase; the album was stuffed so full of songs (and only one interlude, which I'm actually thankful for) that the listener truly felt they got their ten dollars worth; some of the R&B samples used can only be categorized as “ridiculous”, but they resulted in quick, cheesy, instantly recognizable radio hits, not unlike what Puffy Combs managed in the 1990s; and finally, the album featured no less than nine hundred and seventy-two guest appearances, all but one handled by Snoop's new coworkers, including such highly-regarded names such as Mystikal, Silkk The Shocker (who I will always remember as climbing out of your grandmother's television set in those old ads from The Source), C-Murder, and, um, Fiend.

Not surprisingly, I never bought this album. I'm not a fan of No Limit's paint-by-numbers gangsta rap and their marketing technique, which was to flood the market with albums from every single artist they have ever signed, at least one per week for a couple of years (I'm surprised the EPA hasn't filed a lawsuit against Percy for destroying the environment with all of the fucking plastic that has to be sitting in landfills right now, as I don't know anybody who even considered thinking about buying the Lil' Soldiers album or the Mercedes one, of which all I remember from the label's ads in The Source is the female artist bent over the hood of a car). All of the Pen & Pixel album covers looked ridiculous as well, especially Snoop's, which you can see above, as all they accomplished was diluting New Orleans gangsta rap into specific key elements, such as diamonds, bitches, cars, and diamond bitches made out of the spare parts of vehicles. Everything about the No Limit outfit screamed “generic”, but I have to admit that they had their finger on the pulse of the market: apparently, the market liked being able to purchase a brand new album every week, albeit one that sounded exactly like the one released last week, but with all of the guest appearances shifted around a tad.

Anyway. Snoop Dogg's Da Game Is To Be Sold, Not To Be Told was sold out around my way, so I couldn't have picked one up back in 1998 even if I really wanted to (and when I finally got my hands on a copy, the blue plastic CD case felt so cheap that I couldn't work up the nerve to actually walk up to the register: as such, right now I'm relying on a library copy). This was the case in most of the country: it was actually pretty successful, proving that Snoop Dogg had a rabid fanbase that would follow him anywhere, even if he sacrificed his sound and most of his ideals simply to get the fuck away from a bad situation at Death Row Records, where his old boss Suge Knight vented his frustration by hiring no-name rappers (such as the sound-alike Top Dogg, 2Pac vocal clone Tha Realest, and, um, Crooked I) to take potshots at his former employees on compilation records; apparently, Suge forgot that he signed off on the Snoop Dogg deal. (Two side notes: (1) I'm not positive that Crooked I had much of a hand in the constant barrage of Death Row disses toward Snoop, as I stopped giving a fuck about Death Row Records after Pac was “killed”, but he was featured on many albums where shouting “Fuck Snoop and Dre” was a predominant theme; and (2) Suge's anger and jealousy actually went further than this, a topic which I'll address the deeper we get into Snoop's catalog.)

Based on my limited knowledge of other No Limit albums, I'm not looking forward to Da Game Is To Be Sold, Not To Be Told. The back cover credits also aren't helping, with its ginormous No Limit medallion taking up half of the space. Does the world really want to hear Snoop constantly flanked by inferior artists?

Well, they did at one point.

After a brief intro from Percy welcoming our host into the fold, Snoop Dogg takes control of an overly perky KLC concoction, and to his credit, he doesn't sound awful: his calm, collected flow appears to have survived the label switch unscathed. But as a reintroduction to the man (or even to the new persona “Snoop Dogg”), this track is fairly weak: Snoop coasts on his lyrical charm without saying anything substantial, and Master P inserts himself into the third verse, leaving with a bad taste in their mouths. I suppose I've officially been warned. Shit.

So much for those lowered expectations: after the overt horribleness of “Snoop World”, our host (with assists from producer O'Dell and guest star Mia X) throws listeners a bone (ha!) with this track, which could have fit seamlessly onto Tha Doggfather. Well, maybe without Mia X, but still. Snoop rides the quiet storm beat like a pro, while the hook manages to not overstay its welcome. Speaking of Mia X, she may only have had a career in rap because of Master P (I understand that she was rapping prior to signing with No Limit, but how many of those songs were ever heard outside of New Orleans?), but on here, she gives us a convincing impersonation of a female rapper that actually sounds decent. Okay, that was too mean and vague: she actually sounds pretty good on here. Maybe Da Game Is To Be Sold, Not To Be Told won't be so bad after all. (Oooh, foreshadowing!)

Yep, spoke too soon, you know the drill. This may have been one of the singles, because any song that obviously appropriates Snoop's rap star identity as a “dogg” would be far too clever to keep bottled up as an album track. Fiend sounds about as inconsequential to the track as I believed he would, given his generic rap name, and Mystikal, the only other rapper on No Limit Records that actually had a career (of sorts) prior to signing to the cash machine, continues in his tradition of fitting more syllables than humanly possible into a single bar: as expected, his contribution comes across as fucking gibberish. Snoop wrongly refers to himself as “the godfather of G-Funk” (the hell?) as he speed-raps himself into virtual irrelevancy. Yeah, as you could probably guess, this was fairly awful.

I kind of figured that I wouldn't like this song once I read the title, but I couldn't fathom just how much the song would suck. Sounding absolutely nothing like his signature track, this sequel in name only explores a much darker terrain while Snoop only fleetingly discusses the merits of gin, juice, and sequels. This would have actually been more successful without that title: this song shouldn't have ever had any preconceived notions tacked on. It would have still sounded bad, but on its own demerits, as opposed to being inevitably compared to the classic original track, an action that will just piss you off. What the fuck?

Well, it wouldn't be a post-Dr. Dre Snoop Dogg album without an appearance by The Gap Band's “Uncle” Charlie Wilson (who is not actually related to our host). Unfortunately, I can't remember a wakaflockin' thing about this track. It slows the tempo of Da Game Is To Be Sold, Not To Be Told considerably, and Calvin simply mumbles a bunch of random “romantic” phrases to an audience of nobody, as most women would have skipped to the next track by now. A blatant misfire, but most rappers are afforded a few: there's still some hope for me here.

Calvin clearly has some identity issues, or maybe he's just suffering from soap opera-grade amnesia: he constantly asks listeners “What's my name?” throughout his entire discography. Maybe he should simply tattoo it onto his forearm like Guy Pearce in Memento. Anyway, it's a good thing that Snoop came into the game with an assist from Dr. Andre Young, because if this was his actual debut album, with its preset drum loops without any depth and its vapid lyrics delivered with the conviction of an apathetic housecat, the man's career would have ended before the album even finished playing. Nothing on this song will encourage you to hustle and/or ball.

Snoop Dogg has spent all of Da Game Is To Be Sold, Not To Be Told thus far dropping so many names of his new coworkers that he sounds like The Game, except with horrible taste in rap music. The beat is too simple, as if it were crafted in a minute and a half and then looped the fuck up (I'm probably not that far off), while Snoop tries his best to sound menacing (he even threatens to sic the late Soulja Slim on listeners at one point – yes, the man was still alive at this point: there aren't many gangsta rap albums that would offer to send a zombie to your crib to fuck you up) without ever implying the he would handle any of the dirty work personally (spoken like the label boss he would soon become). His lyrics have absolutely no concept of how the beat is sounding, so this track ultimately didn't work.

It's kind of funny that a song named “TRU Tank Dogs” fails to include any of the actual members of Tha Real Untouchables. KLC's beat swipes some keyboard inspiration from N.W.A.'s “Prelude”, but neither Snoop nor his invited guests are up to the challenge: Mystikal sticks with his modus operandi of playing hip hop's Tasmanian Devil, while Snoop obliterates any memory of the man ever being anywhere near impressive behind the mic. Judging by his later work, it's obvious that the man still had it in him: it's just too bad he felt the need to dumb himself down for the No Limit audience.

Master P advising Snoop at the very beginning that “the dogcatcher” has been spotted in the general vicinity comes across as an empty threat, as though Percy is warning snoop that, should he fail to move any units of his No Limit debut, he's going to be sent back into Suge Knight's hell. Appropriately, Calvin sounds freaked out and unfocused on here, second-guessing his own boasts while, apparently, fearing for his very sanity. Master P's hook is useless, and he throws in one of his trademarked grunts because, well, that's his biggest contribution to our chosen genre, and the Percy Miller beat sounds like generic West Coast piffle. While it is interesting that the instrumental at least tries to acknowledge Snoop's Cali roots, you should still pass on this song.

For the second time on Da Game Is To Be Sold, Not To Be Told, Snoop crafts a sequel to a song that a lot of his fans hold dear, this time running with Calvin's mainstream debut on Dr. Dre's “Nuthin' But A G Thing”. (“Deep Cover” was technically Snoop's actual first appearance, but that was more of a street single than a radio hit.) I believe this was the first single, and it was actually a pretty good choice: while it cannot in any way compare to the original track, at least this Meech Wells-handled production could survive on its own, as Snoop sounds the most confident on here than he has for the entire project thus far. Confident enough to try to connect with Dr. Dre again, anyway, as our hosts attempts to reach out to his former mentor on here. Now if only that title were different...

An interesting take on what is essentially the same concept as Ma$e's “24 Hours To Live”; Snoop and his newly adopted crew all wax not-so-poetically about how they will handle life when they're broke and struggling (hint: it appears as though each participant on this track is willing to brutally attack you for the cash in your wallet). While it is impossible to picture Snoop in this financial position now, back in 1998 it was wholly possible that Calvin Broadus was fucking broke: why else would he have to turn to Master P for help with breaking his Death Row contract when he could have, I don't know, hired a lawyer? Paid off Suge? Anyway, as high-concept songs go, I've heard worse, but I will say this: Silkk The Shocker has (“had” is probably more accurate today) the most annoying flow on all of No Limit Records, and I say that even though there's another guy (Mystikal) that basically performs the exact same way.

Of all the R&B songs to steal from when you write your mandatory love rap, Jon B.'s “They Don't Know” wouldn't be my first choice. Odds are, it wasn't Snoop's first choice, either: he was just being the good soldier, a new recruit who did anything that was asked of him by his superior officers, including singing over looped R&B interpolations that set the man up for an epic failure.

Finally, Snoop's background as a gangsta rapper (as he is still classified today) shows its face, over this oddly great Craig B instrumental. The sinister bass and admittedly out-of-place drum machine lend authenticity to C-Murder and Snoop's thinly veiled threats against anybody who even breathes in their general direction. Silkk fucks everything up with his closing verse (you're not an underground artist anymore: fucking adapt your bars to the goddamn beat!), but at least the rest of the song was entertaining enough. (Side note: the Interweb indicates that a young upstart named “Crooked Eye” makes an appearance on this track; yes, that would be the same guy that is now one of the best two parts of Slaughterhouse, but my library copy is missing the liner notes, so I cannot confirm this.)

The title (shortened from “Dogg Pound”, possibly as another legal tactic to avoid Suge Knight's wrath) lends itself better to a reunion track between Snoop and the tandem of Daz Dillinger and Kurupt, but alas, it wasn't meant to be at this time. Instead, Snoop pimps out his old crew's name for a remake (because Snoop realized that his cover songs were among his most popular) of N.W.A.'s “Gangsta Gangsta”, which would have sounded better has Craig B given him something tighter to work with. At least Calvin still has the lackadaisical flow that made him famous intact. I certainly hope that Dr. Dre made at least twelve bucks off of this cover. C-Murder, the No Limit soldier most likely to fuck you up (if his boasts are to be believed), makes his entrance over a quick reinterpretation of the “Deep Cover” beat (man, I really hope Dr. Dre made some money off of this track), while comedian Eddie Griffin provides the outro. I'm guessing that this guest spot eventually led to his cameo on Dre's 2001, because it sure as hell doesn't lend itself well to Undercover Brother (which is good, cheesy fun, by the way).

I was just telling a friend of mine that I hadn't heard a rap song jack Whodini's “Five Minutes of Funk” in a long while. This track also doubles as the theme song for a direct-to-video No Limit film by the same name: Master P was a horrific rap artist, but that motherfucker was good at getting people to separate the cash from their bank accounts. Snoop sounded okay, but the inclusion of Steady Mobb'n trumps any good that could have possibly resulted from this shit.

For a song about honoring those that we have lost, there are only two available speeds: slow and mournful, or high-energy, celebration of life-type shit. “See Ya When I Get There” manages neither, rendering the entire track insincere. But to be fair, it's the music that causes this ill will: at least the rappers were all trying. And herein lies the problem with No Limit's distribution schedule: with their focus on sheer quantity, there was no time to focus on any sort of quality control. Seriously, was there a real need for Da Game To Be Sold, Not To Be Told to be twenty-one tracks long?

Strangely, the only player from Snoop's Death Row days to make a vocal appearance on this project is Big Pimpin' Delemond, who provided spoken word interludes for a couple of Dogg Pound songs. On here, he does the exact same thing, except for when he moves out of the way for an Auto-Tuned Snoop to sing (pre-”Sexual Eruption”) the title. What a strange and unmoving interlude.

How's this for an awkward pairing: Snoop Dogg pretends that he and Mia X (who is uncredited) have been partners in crime for the past twenty years, riding like Bonnie and Clyde throughout the countryside, when listeners know damn well that these two don't really know each other that well. Snoop plays with revisionist history on here, trying to implant false memories into the minds of his fans, not unlike when the character of Dawn was introduced as the title character's never-before-mentioned younger sister on Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Also, all of his shout-outs to his new friends reminded me of when Mobb Deep immediately obtained G-Unit tattoos after signing with Curtis Jackson. Thankfully, this song ended well before I started questioning just how stupid Calvin Broadus seemed to think his fans were at the time.

Snoop's lyrical flow on this retread of KRS-One's “Love's Gonna Get Ya” is the most concise it has been on this entire fucking excursion. Proof positive that Snoop can sound pretty good when he's honing his storytelling skills, even if on here he's simply paying homage to another old-school classic. The beat was fairly plain, and the cameo by Mac was jarring as shit, but this could have been a lot worse.

This appears to be the only song on Da Game Is To Be Sold, Not To Be Told that has any actual ties to Snoop's Death Row days (because “Pay For Pussy” was just an interlude, and the DJ Pooh-produced “Show Me Love” is too awful to earn this distinction): Dat N---a Daz provides scratches, longtime comrade Priest “Soopafly” Brooks handles the beat, and, um, well, Snoop speaks fondly of Kurupt during the first verse. (Regardless of what our host actually says on the song, though, Daz did not produce this record.) Curiosity factor aside, it's easy to see why Snoop's only real trip back into the land that G-Funk forgot was pushed to the end of the album: there is no reason for anybody to ever listen to this track, as it sucks balls. The West Coast-sounding beat (by way of a George Clinton impersonator performing at a child's fifth birthday party while trying to avoid the swift kicks of a pony rented for the day's festivities) sounds paint-by-numbers, and as a result, so does Snoop Dogg.

As we close out Da Game Is To Be Sold, Not To Be Told, KLC reproduces the melody from TRU's biggest hit, “I'm Bout It”, hence the titular reference. He forgets to steal some harder drums, though: the melody isn't enough to make Snoop's fans rowdy, as they also require some fucking rhythm. As an outro, this is pretty weak, and while Calvin does sound genuinely grateful that his new BFF Percy Miller got him out of a fucked-up situation, he appears to have left his inspiration back home in Long Beach. Bleh.

THE LAST WORD: I hate it when my preconceived notions end up being correct, because I'm left questioning why I just spent the last hour listening to something that I already knew sucked. Snoop Dogg's Da Game Is To Be Sold, Not To Be Told finds him simply acting grateful for his new label home, playing the role of a model employee who has all but abandoned the habits he had fostered at his old workplace in favor of a clean slate. While there is the tiniest of G-Funk spark to be found on here, Snoop is primarily in New Orleans transplant mode, and he has crafted what is basically a shitty interchangeable No Limit Records project, stuffed to the gills with incomplete instrumentals, trite gangsta tales (which, admittedly, have always been Snoop's bread and butter), and far more guest appearances than can legally appear in the same room without violating fire safety codes. I would say that the rest of the label roster probably just wanted the opportunity to appear on an album alongside one of the biggest names in hip hop history, but no, all of No Limit's albums are crafted in the exact same manner. Snoop is allowed only a handful of songs to tackle on his own, and for the most part, those are the tracks on which our host shines, but Da Game Is To Be Sold, Not To Be Told is so much of an overt failure that it actually manages to convert Snoop Dogg into a generic no-name artist, Pen & Pixel cover art and all. Wow, this was bad. No wonder he never talks about this project anymore.


You can catch up on the other Snoop Dogg releases by clicking here.


  1. Great review. Those ads in The Source were very weird, but they sure were effective: I still remember them fifteen years later.

    “C-Murder, the No Limit soldier most likely to fuck you up (if his boasts are to be believed)” Also, if the argument of the prosecution is to be believed.

  2. Muddy_DonutsMay 14, 2010

    Why review a Snoop Dogg album?
    We already know the outcome..
    Anyways good write up.
    P.S. can you review Masters of the Universe by Binary Star?

  3. AnonymousMay 14, 2010

    snoop dogg is garbage!!

  4. AnonymousMay 14, 2010

    I think your next review should be 2Pac related, seeing as how it would connect to this review. Funny review by the way; Snoop's style just fucking plummeted after Tha Doggfather. It's a shame .

  5. I'll second a request for Masters of the Universe.

    Or at least J Cole's Warm-Up. You been slackin for some time now Max!

  6. I don't know why... but I unfortunately bought this album (luckily I was able to trade it in) for a K-os album (odd trade I know). Snoop Dogg lost so much style and skill after Tha Doggfather. Although... Just Dippin' isn't a terrible song..... from what I remember.

    I second Masters Of The Universe by Binary Star... It has been called a Hip Hop classic... and hopefully that will bother Max enough to want to check it out.

  7. Mystikal - "a Tasmanian devil" - ha ha, fucking hilarious!
    Great review. Yeah, "Da Game..." is probably not the best NL album.
    But NL is a great classic hiphop record label. Why didn't the east coast ever have a label like No Limit, Cash Money, Death Row, or Rap-a-Lot (Roc-a-Fella is probably closest)? Maybe that's why the east coast stays losing for the last 5+ years.

    1. I think Loud records or Bad Boy (and Rocafella) is probably the closest to No Limit, Cash Money, and Death Row.

  8. protomanMay 15, 2010

    well i've never even heard of this album but i would like to save max some time and say masters of the universe is, indeed, not a classic and most of the tracks are offensively corny

  9. AnonymousMay 15, 2010

    You've been told that already before, Max, but review more Geto Boys and Scarface. You're always either reviewing some east coast album or some super underground or super mainstream album from another coast.

    As for Snoop, only his debut album is worth lots of spins and rightfully so, it's his album that earns regular rotation around my way.

  10. AnonymousMay 16, 2010

    Nice effort. You're a bit harsh but this album does suck. Still I like a couple of songs like Slow Down (I can't Take the Heat) (by the way I like Mia X, especially his first EP Good Girl Gone Bad), Snoop World or Da Game of Life.

    I agree on Silkk fucking up every song he raps on but I like C-Murder's flow, charisma, and story-telling skills.

    You're very harsh on No Limit though. While you're not completely wrong, I think NL cannot be summed up as poorly-produced, shitty interchangeable albums only. It only represents a phase in the history of label (the most publicized and commercially successful, granted). I mean during their westcoast days (1991-1995/6) they didnt have the in-house producers (except for KLC and Mo B Dick, both of whom I like) and benefited from great productions by super producers K-Lou, DJ Daryl (of 2pac and Luniz fame), Al Eaton, just to name a few. I mean if you like regular gangsta rap (C-Bo, Spice 1, Scarface, etc.), you can't completely dismiss NL's discography.

    By the way, Mystikal's pre-NL albums (even some of his NL albums) are worth listening, and he wasn't the sole artist to have a rap career before NL. Oakland's Dangerous Dame had already released albums on Atlantic records, and also various rappers were recruited from Big Boy Records, Cash Money's rival label in the 1990's.

    Also, the Crooked Eye mentioned in the booklet is not Long Beach's Crooked I. He's one half of Steady Mobbin (featured on Da Game of Life) with Bavgate. By the way, their 1997 NL album Premeditated Drama is a pretty good westcoast sounding (they're from Oakland) effort and it's almost entirely produced by DJ Daryl. If you're looking for collaborations between Snoop and Slaughterhouse's Crooked I from that period, you should listen to Battlecat produced "Feels so good" on the Ride OST (1998) and Poor Man's Cry by Barrington Levy (1998 too).

  11. ...not even a label like Ruthless or Suave House there in the east... whatever. But yeah, Max, please review some Geto Boys/Scarface. Or a good Master P album like Ice Cream Man or Ghetto D. Or a Mystikal album. Or Juvenile's 400 Degreez, or B.G.'s It's All On U. And what about the first three 3 6 Mafia albums? An east coast head might be biased when it comes to these artists, and that's o.k. But all these albums are genre-defining classics and should be reviewed. I really would like to see what you have to say about Mystic Stylez and Chpt. 2: World Domination.

  12. AnonymousMay 16, 2010

    max, get some sleep mang, mad ill grammatics in the script

  13. I've never met anyone who likecd this album!

  14. AnonymousMay 19, 2010

    Snoops next album after this one No lint Top Dogg is alot better. Still has features from No Limt Artists but only on three tracks and the rest is a more traditional sounding West Coast and Snoop album.

    And The Last Meal sounds nothing like a No Limit album but everything like a Snoop album.