After the success of his debut album, Regulate...G Funk Era, Warren Griffin III was in a good place, both artistically and financially. He had just proven that he could move units without the help of Suge Knight's Death Row Records, the label that gave him his big break: after a couple of cameos on half-brother Dr. Dre's The Chronic and on his childhood friend Snoop Doggy Dogg's debut Doggystyle, Warren scored the biggest hit of his career with "Regulate", his Nate Dogg collaboration from the Above The Rim soundtrack (released, naturally, by Death Row). He proved to his label, Def Jam Records, that he was capable of selling records. And, if nothing else, he proved to everyone that he could record and release a (mostly) entertaining-as-fuck album, thereby stamping his own name on a sub-genre of G-Funk that he specialized in. Yes, 1994 was a good year for the artist known as Warren G.
Three years later, Warren took all of this goodwill and flushed it down the toilet.
His sophomore effort, the awkwardly-titled Take A Look Over Your Shoulder (Reality), managed to move five hundred thousand units, but it represents a significant drop-off in both the number of Warren G. fans and in the quality of his music. It was released to little fanfare, and the word-of-mouth it did receive wasn't favorable, as it was seen mostly as an exercise in trying to recapture lightning in a bottle. Once again, Warren produced the entire project himself, and he invited some of his friends over to play (Da Twinz and Da Five Footaz pop up, as they did on his debut, but The Dove Shack had already apparently severed ties with Warren's vanity label and jumped ship), but whatever he was trying to accomplish with this album, he failed, and his career suffered as a result.
I remember buying this album the weekend after its release date from a Best Buy, ripping open the plastic, listening to it once, and then never picking it up again. Although I'm not implying in any way that my actions mirror the other four hundred and ninety-nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine people who bought this album, ask yourself a question: do you know anybody who proudly mentions this project, even in passing? Hell, I'm pretty sure Warren G. doesn't even own a copy anymore, having sold it to earn some extra cash to score a cheap meal at Del Taco.
Yeah, that sounds like something he would do.
1. STAR TREK INTRO
I wasn't aware that Star Trek had anything to do with G-Funk. And Warren G. still hasn't proven to me otherwise.
2. ANNIE MAE (FEAT. NATE DOGG)
And the first song on Take A Look Over Your Shoulder (Reality) is...underwhelming as fuck. Although I realize that he was just trying to recreate the “Regulate” chemistry between his 213 crony Nate Dogg (R.I.P.) and himself, Warren G. miscalculated horribly when he decided to place “Annie Mae” at the beginning of the album, since this boring-ass ode to some random chick (sorry, “trick”) named Annabel Mae probably caused most fans of Regulate...G Funk Era to shut this album off ans return their purchase to the store. (That is, if the store in question actually accepted returns on opened compact discs, which the ones in my area most certainly do not, which is why I still have this album in my possession. That, and I'm a hoarder.) Fans of the late, great Nathaniel Dogg may feel tempted to revisit this track, but other than a goofy meta bit where he references hearing himself sing the hook on Snoop Doggy Dogg's “Ain't No Fun (If The Homies Can't Have None)”, there isn't anything to recommend here: Nate actually sounds more than a little off his game. Also, Warren G. does rap on here, but inconsequentially so. Sigh.
3. SMOKIN' ME OUT (FEAT. RONALD ISLEY)
Warren replaces his 213 singing partner with Ron motherfucking Isley (of The Isley Brothers and random R. Kelly songs-fame), who at least sounds a little bit interested in what he's going to purchase with his Def Jam paycheck instead of using those funds toward his ever-increasing tax bill, anyway. The instrumental was interesting enough, but our host ruins it by merely existing, as his verses are stilted, uncomfortable, and nonsensical, and not in the funny “What's n-x-e-t”-kind of way. Warren can't decide just what audience he's aiming for (is this supposed to be a love rap? An ode to smoking weed? Apparently it's neither), which means that the listener is left holding the bag. The fuck, man?
4. RICKY IN CHURCH (SKIT) (FEAT. RICKY HARRIS)
Never mind the fact that Tha Dogg Pound also recorded a song named “Reality” (released in 1995). (Also, forget about the fact that Daz and Kurupt's song blows this one out of the godforsaken water.) Warren's beat is intriguing enough to hold my interest, but he isn't the best fit for his title track of sorts: his braggadocio sounds forced, as though even he doesn't believe himself worthy of the success he had achieved with his debut. “Reality” is the first track on Take A Look Over Your Shoulder (Reality) that could have been most improved with the presence of a guest artist. Kudos for the hilariously lackadaisical line reading of “Fuck around with Warren G., it's a tragedy”, though.
6. RICKY & G-CHILD (SKIT) (FEAT. RICKY HARRIS)
7. YOUNG FUN (FEAT. KNEE-HI & JAYO FELONY)
This was pretty goddamn stupid. Warren's ode to being “young, dumb, and full of fun” (huh? This is the time he chooses to be prudish?) only barely scratches the teenage years he allegedly looks at with fondness, which makes sense: he sounds so out of his element that he may as well be the old man in the club (especially at the point where he threatens to have his adversaries murdered). Guest stars Jayo Felony and female rapper Knee-Hi (from Warren's girl group Da Five Footaz) do the best they can with the material, but even though they were much more convincing, the beat fails them at every turn, what with its lack of entertainment value and all. Little wonder why the guest stars quickly vanished from our chosen genre.
8. WHAT WE GO THROUGH (FEAT. MR. MALIK, PERFEC, & BAD AZZ)
Sensing that he's losing the audience, our host quickly throws up the best track on Take A Look Over Your Shoulder (Reality), a simple posse cut over a banging-yet-unobtrusive instrumental that allows Warren, Mr. Malik, Perfec, and Bad Azz to spit freely. Our host's LL Cool J dis aside, this shit still knocks today, thanks to the hunger displayed by each of the guests. “What We Go Through” originally started life with two additional guests: Tha Dogg Pound's Daz and Kurupt both contributed verses on the first take, but their vocals were removed from the song when Suge Knight wouldn't clear their cameos (since Warren G. was signed to Def Jam, while Daz and Kurupt were still on Death Row). Of course, that original version leaked, and it is pretty goddamn good, at least what I can remember from it; I've misplaced my copy. And now for the part where I awkwardly beg my readers for a favor: If anyone has the original Daz and Kurupt-featured version of “What We Go Through” on their hard drive or whatever, please hook me up with an mp3 or something. Please and thank you.
9. WE BRINGS HEAT (FEAT. RICKY HARRIS, DA TWINZ & DA FIVE FOOTAZ)
There is nothing on this track that would indicate that any heat is being brought to any table whatsoever. Warren's instrumental isn't bad, but its calming effect acts in direct contrast to what everyone is actually saying, and it just doesn't gel. Although our host plays a small role, “We Brings Heat” is a showcase for Da Five Footaz and Da Twinz, two groups who made their respective debuts on Regulate...G Funk Era, and it's incredibly disappointing. And this is coming from a guy with a well-documented appreciation for Da Twinz's album Conversation. Tell you what: I'm going to move on.
I was going to give “Transformers” the dismissive “meh” review, but then the chorus kicked in, and yes, it apes the theme song from the Transformers cartoon, and in a way that is only tangentially related to whatever the fuck Warren G. was talking about on here. So if you're looking to laugh your ass off, you may find this slice of cheese to your liking, but for everyone else looking for an actual song (and not a track where the third verse gradually becomes a string of shout-outs for people you'll never meet or care about), well, I think you know where I'm going with this one.
11. REEL TIGHT INTRO (FEAT. REEL TIGHT)
Even though this is only a skit, I have to say that I was always soothed by the sounds of Warren's R&B quartet Reel Tight (who managed to release a single album, Back To The Real, on Warren's record label in 1999 before evaporating into the mist). Also, thanks to our gracious host, I now have the permission I needed to both smoke a joint and take a shit, so I'll be right back.
12. RELAX YA MIND (FEAT. REEL TIGHT)
So it's too bad that the previous soothing interlude leads into this generic G-Funk ride through nothing in particular. Even Reel Tight's singing sounds terrible. Retroactively makes me want to reconsider how I felt about the previous track, it's that bad.
13. TO ALL DJ'S (FEAT. MR. MALIK)
The fact that the introduction to this song refers to it my an entirely different title may have you thinking that “To All DJ's” is amateur hour at its worst, but this song quickly moves into “enjoyable enough” territory, even though guest artist Malik's rhymes are the only good ones. Seriously, Warren's two verses are so awful that you can't help but laugh your way through them: his second, closing stanza especially is sort-of like watching Troll 2, since he does such a terrible job with it that he's an entertaining car wreck on the side of the highway directed by an Italian couple with no grasp of the English language who inexplicably decided to hire only American actors and name their film after a mythical creature that doesn't even appear in the storyline. His beat is great, though: it isn't anywhere close to resembling G-Funk, what with the creepy sampling of Supreme Team's “Hey DJ”. So yeah, I found this entertaining, despite its own efforts to prevent that from occurring. Huh.
14. BACK UP (FEAT. K-9 & P-C)
Our host sits this one out, opting to merely produce for rappers K-9 (a sort-of Wu-Tang affiliate in a “fifth cousin twice removed from your mother's aunt's sister's side"-kind of way) and P-C, both of whom suffer from a tendency to cram as many syllables into a single bar as possible, like a West Coast poor man's version of Das EFX, except less catchy. Neither man is nearly as impressive as their respective mothers believes them to be: these dudes aren't Da Twinz, after all. Warren's beat also sounds uninspired, so his lack of initiative lets down two rappers who were at least trying to sound okay. Groan.
15. CAN YOU FEEL IT
Shit like this gives the incorrect impression that all rappers draw inspiration from the same three sources, since Warren G.'s “Can You Feel It” was released only one year after fellow West Coast stalwart Dru Down's track of the same name (both of which sample the Fat Boys song of the same name). If I were Dru Down, I would have written a strongly-worded letter, Pete Rock-dismissing-Lupe Fiasco-style, contesting the sample's use (even though it's highly likely that most of the world has never actually heard of Dru Down, but whatever), mainly because this song was boring as fuck, and it makes Dru sound less than creative, as well. Songs such as this one will make you question how Warren G. still has a viable career in music.
16. I SHOT THE SHERIFF (FEAT. NANCY FLETCHER)
Somehow this shit ended up being a single from Take A Look Over Your Shoulder (Reality). Whoever approved this decision should be tossed from an eleventh-story window, as it is fucking awkward. Over a cloying beat, Warren G. attempts to rebrand himself as a philosophical gangsta rapper, a thug who can justify his actions, and he fails because he isn't convincing in the least bit. Although the instrumental, and its easy-listening inclinations, certainly didn't help matters. Embarrassing for all involved, including KRS-One, who has a sound bite on here (presented out of context) that our host believes to be more clever than it really is.
17. I SHOT THE SHERIFF (EPMD REMIX)
Absolves all of the sins from the previous track. The beat is replaced with that of EPMD's classic “Strictly Business” (which sampled the Eric Clapton song of the same name) to fantastic effect, our host's singing voice is completely erased, Nancy Fletcher's vocals may as well be nonexistent, and the KRS vocal sample is replaced for one from PMD himself. Warren's three verses actually sound pretty good over this beat: it's certainly not the worst performance I've ever heard. Not a bad way to end things and/or to pay homage to the old school (Warren even goes so far as to give Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith the production credit). My only question is this: I'm pretty sure this remix was the version of the song that was released to radio and television outlets first, so shouldn't the “album version” really be the remix? Also, when I first bought Take A Look Over Your Shoulder (Reality) the week it was released, Best Buy was running a promotion where you received a free bonus disc with purchase, and I'm pretty sure this song was on it (there were only two tracks on the bonus disc, if I recall; I haven't had that disc for quite a while, so I can't confirm). So why would Def Jam make it a bonus incentive if they included it on the album in the first place?
The European release of Take A Look Over Your Shoulder (Reality) plays around with the tracklisting a bit: after “Back Up”, the album avoids the “Can You Feel It” issue by instead jumping to Warren's Adina Howard-featured “What's Love Got To Do With It”, a song that I haven't heard in so long that I can't objectively review it right now (nor do I feel the need to look up, apparently), although I do remember it being a blatant Tina Turner ripoff. Then the album version of “I Shot The Sheriff” pops up, and then the album closes with a remix of “What's Love Got To Do With It”, one I've never listened to. Apparently Def Jam believed that the European audience didn't need to be exposed to the hip hop pioneers that are EPMD, so they made that song disappear in favor of a track that, in the States, appeared on the soundtrack to Jackie Chan's Supercop, because that inclusion makes sense. Also, the overseas audience received different album art and different titles for the unnecessary skits that appeared, so there's that. If you have those alternate songs, feel free to write about them in the comments: I'm trying to make this site more interactive, after all.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Take A Look Over Your Shoulder (Reality) disappointed me upon its initial release, so much so that I pretty much gave up on all of Warren's future releases, since I believed it was obvious that he was never going to move forward in our chosen genre. In listening to it today, I realize that critique may have been a bit harsh, but this album still sucked. While Regulate...G Funk Era perfectly captured what Warren was trying to accomplish (and moved him out of his half-brother's shadow), Take A Look Over Your Shoulder (Reality) takes a giant leap backwards, with hardly any of our host's musical decisions resonating with the audience. Rhyme-wise, he sucks. Period. Warren G. has never been considered even a passable lyricist, but he at least sounded good over his own beats on his debut, but on here, he sounds like a ten-year-old wrote his bars after listening to nothing but gangsta rap and taking the worst possible lessons away from that experience, and his delivery is downright laughable considering that he's allegedly close to Snoop Dogg. Sadly, he doesn't rely heavily on guest stars on here, which makes the project even more excruciating to listen to, and the beats don't salvage anything. In short, this was a waste of everyone's time, and it's probably best that we all forget that this album even exists. Yep.
BUY OR BURN? I suppose you could burn this one, but that would require both time and effort, qualities that this project doesn't truly deserve.
BEST TRACKS: "What We Go Through"; "To All DJs"; "I Shot The Sheriff (EPMD Remix)"