Long Beach, California ambassador Calvin "Snoop Dogg" Broadus would like to remind you two that he's still around, and having clocked approximately twenty-three years in the rap game, he's probably not going anywhere anytime soon. That's an impressive tenure in any career field, let alone one as fickle as hip hop, where youthful exuberance is highly favored over elder wisdom and crankiness, and Snoop himself had a hand in ensuring that the music industry didn't lose his number.
A promising-but-ultimately-doomed sentence at Death Row Records, which released Snoop's Dr. Dre-produced debut Doggystyle (although Snoop's cousin Daz Dillinger would have something to say about that, of course) and its decent-but-not-world-changing follow-up Tha Doggfather, led to infighting, death threats, greed, and everything that comes with instant success amongst folks who had never experienced it prior. Perhaps the only person signed to Death Row that was qualified to deal with Death Row's rising stature was co-founder Dr. Dre, himself a former member of seminal rap crew N.W.A., but he jumped out of the sinking ship to found Aftermath Records, a label venture with Interscope that, while suffering a shaky start, has found its own mega-millions thanks to the help of a roster that includes Eminem and Kendrick Lamar.
Having lost his mentor while having front-row seats to the ascent of Marion "Suge" Knight as the Harvey Weinstein of our chosen genre (except much more violent), Calvin sought legal assistance to get out of his deal with Death Row, finding himself enlisted with Master P's No Limit soldiers for a three-album stint (all of which earned Suge Knight money on the back end, thanks to some contractual finagling on his part). Not one to complain after getting pretty much exactly what he wanted, Snoop quickly knocked out his obligation to Master P, even earning some of his best reviews since the days of Doggystyle (except for his No Limit debut, Da Game Is To Be Sold, Not To Be Told, which sucks), and immediately looked into different business ventures.
The reason your grandmother knows about Snoop Dogg is because of his uncanny sense of staying in the media spotlight even when what he's doing is low-key (coaching his son's football team, for example) or off the radar entirely (lending guest vocals and hooks to rap songs from no-name underground artists who look up to Snoop as though he hit the lottery, which he pretty much did). Although he frequently takes high-profile jobs in films, television shows, and commercials, he's always essentially playing himself, and that consistency had made him a pop culture icon. You know exactly what you're getting when it comes to Snoop Dogg, no matter the context or the medium.
Given that his previous label experiences had been working for other successful businessmen, it makes sense that Snoop would want to join their ranks his damn self. Two years after dropping his last No Limit project, Tha Last Meal, Snoop introduced his own vanity label, Doggystyle Records, into the mix (having copyrighted the business name way back in 1995, but having only used it for business ventures and to have something cool to put on the back of various album releases up until this point), and thanks to a distribution deal with Priority Records, his sixth solo album, Paid Tha Cost To Be Da Bo$$, hit store shelves in 2002.
Snoop was clearly still in No Limit maximize-the-studio-time mode while recording this project, since it includes twenty tracks, only about half of which are absolutely necessary. Although his mentor Dr. Dre is nowhere to be found behind the scenes, our host called in a bunch of favors for beats, landing some from West Coast stalwarts Jelly Roll and Fredwreck Nassar, along with two apiece from The Neptunes (who were still radio favorites at the time) and New York-by-way-of-Houston's own DJ Premier, neither of which anyone ever expected to see anywhere within fifty yards of a Snoop Dogg album in 2002. The guest list behind the microphone essentially ignores his No Limit Rolodex, but, weirdly, also largely avoids his most frequent collaborators on Death Row, Tha Dogg Pound, a duo made up of Daz Dillinger and Kurupt that liked Snoop so much that they named their fucking group after him: perhaps it was a contractual issue that prevented Daz from contributing anything but an ad-lib on one of the album tracks, but Kurupt's story goes much deeper, having initiated a beef with both Snoop and Daz that we'll get into at another time, so, obviously, the motherfucker wasn't invited to the studio.
Paid Tha Cost To Be Da Bo$$ sold over one million copies and cemented a partnership with The Neptunes, one that still bears fruit to this day: Snoop's next album, Bush, is apparently supposed to be entirely produced by Pharrell Williams. It's certainly not a bad idea: Skateboard P has worked some magic behind the boards. But as the head of his own label, Snoop was pretty terrible: he only really released projects featuring himself, causing a lot of his signed acts to bail on him, even the folks he had worked alongside pretty much his entire career that he took on after Death Row imploded. So I guess he's like Jay-Z in that way, except far more likely to appear in reality shows on television.
1. DON DOGGY
Rappers must sit around believing that our chosen genre needs more rap album intros, right? I mean, it's the only logical explanation.
2. DA BO$$ WOULD LIKE TO SEE YOU
Webster's Dictionary defines “excessive” as “having two rap album intros on the same goddamn album, running back-to-back”. This go-round, though, Calvin squanders an E-Swift instrumental. He paid good money for it, so he's entitled to do whatever he wants, but seriously? No single verse or anything?
Parliament's “Flash Light” gets put to work yet again, this time for a Jelly Roll-produced introductory salvo on which Snoop doesn't “introduce” himself, per se, since it's not like the dude ever left our chosen genre in the first place. Our host spends the entire track driving around, which you may have figured out after reading the song title because how else would he come across a “Stoplight”?, spitting generic boasts and shit (but sounding confident while doing so, as always), while various uncredited folks pop up to lend the track some personality, or, in Jelly Roll's case, a chorus (shared with, among others, Mr. Kane, also known as crooner Kokane). Not a great song, or even a really good one, but I will say that it successfully prepares the listener for what is to come: an album from a guy who doesn't have shit to prove at this point. Which, you know, is accurate, at least.
4. FROM THA CHUUUCH TO DA PALACE (FEAT. PHARRELL)
The first single, produced by The Neptunes even though only Pharrell Williams snags a writing credit (alongside Snoop and R. Kelly, due to some re-sung elements taken from one of his songs), even though Chad Hugo earned some publishing off of it. Whatever. “From Tha Chuuuch To Da Palace”, which adopts the same “using two misspelled versions of the word 'the' in the same goddamn sentence”-blueprint as the album title, is goofy, if slight, and Calvin bounces along with the then-unorthodox Pharrell loop gamely (this song dropped right when The Neptunes were trying to pull away from their blinged-out sound). Snoop's just having fun, as is Skateboard P on the hook, and the track ends with a soliloquy from Arch Bishop Don Magic Juan for good measure. If you haven't listened to this one in a while, you should take a moment before we proceed. I can wait.
5. I BELIEVE IN YOU (FEAT. LATOYA WILLIAMS)
Snoop's a pop culture icon, and you don't reach that level of media saturation without trying to cater to as broad an audience as possible. So of course Calvin has some songs for the ladies locked and loaded. But “I Believe In You” , while sweet, is also boring as a musical composition, as Hi-Tek's middling beat and guest crooner LaToya Williams's flat vocals don't help Snoop get his message across. Groan.
6. LOLLIPOP (FEAT. JAY-Z, SOOPAFLY, & NATE DOGG)
Being a hip hop fan means being able to accept contradicting ideas as they are, even when presented in such a context that you forced to question hoe the artist actually feels about the subject. To wit, “Lollipop”, a song about fucking bitches and taking advantage of them, appearing right after “I Believe In You”. Over the most goddamn whimsical Just Blaze beat you've ever heard (not a compliment), Snoop, Soopafly, and, just for the fuck of it, Jay-Z wax ridiculously about women as sperm receptacles, while the late Nathaniel Dogg does the same toward the end. Sure, Hova has a verse, which may appeal to some stans, but this song was a fucking mess left behind in a five-star hotel room merely because the participants knew they could.
7. BALLIN' (FEAT. THE DRAMATICS & LIL' HALF DEAD)
Uses the same sample from The Dramatics' “Fell For You” as Jay-Z's “Fallin'” (from American Gangster), although Snoop trumps Hov by also inviting The Dramatics to the studio to play. (This isn't the first time Snoop looked to the crooners for assistance, famously having called upon their expertise for Doggystyle's “Doggy Dogg World”.) DJ Battlecat lends our host a low-key instrumental that creeps into your mind, on which Snoop schools a new recruit to the game and shows how he's made it work for him. This actually wasn't bad: Calvin's been around the block, so he knows of what he speaks, and the hook is just goddamn pleasant to listen to.
8. BEAUTIFUL (FEAT. PHARRELL & CHARLIE WILSON)
How it sounds when Snoop caters to the female audience properly. Paid Tha Cost To Be Da Bo$$'s Neptunes-produced second single (and one of Snoop's biggest hits overall) is a catchy-as-shit ode to a “Beautiful” woman Snoop is trying to hit on with a mixture of observations, humor (“Hurry up and finish so we can watch Clueless” is a keeper), and random threats against anyone that would dare do the anonymous female wrong. Pharrell's falsetto matches his beat (which does feature Chad Hugo's handiwork this time around) well, but it's Charlie Wilson (of The Gap Band and various Kanye West songs) that steals the show with his heartfelt vocals. There's nothing remotely gangsta about it, but “Beautiful” remains one of Snoop Dogg's finest singles. Yeah, I said it.
9. PAPER'D UP (FEAT. MR. KANE & TRACI NELSON)
Fredwreck's beat sounds like he accidentally dropped the instrumental for Eric B. & Rakim's “Paid In Full” and hastily tried to glue the shards back together with varying degrees of success. So it isn't a deconstruction as much as it is a “I think it sounded like this”-kind of thing. But the music was still decent: that “Paid In Full” beat still holds up today for a reason. Snoop's lone verse is essentially a cover of Rakim's lone verse, since Calvin is prone to doing that, but he sounds...actually, he's pretty great on here. (He also performed this song during his cameo in the movie Old School.) I could have done without Mr. Kane's singing, but the rest was pretty enjoyable and throwback-y.
10. WASN'T YOUR FAULT
Kind of weird. Over an oddly radio-friendly L.T. Hutton beat, Snoop tries to coach the listener into not trusting women, even going so far as to give a personal example (almost certainly faked) in order to win you over. Essentially, “Wasn't Your Fault” features a Snoop Dogg trying to help a guy through his heartbreak, which is actually a good idea for a song, but Calvin's automatic, reflexive “fuck a bitch” response (both meanings of “fuck” represented throughout) nearly puts him at Kurupt-levels of misogyny. Nothing new, I know: Snoop's always said that he doesn't love them hos. But still.
11. BO$$ PLAYA (FEAT. ARCH BISHOP DON MAGIC JUAN)
An overlong pimp sermon led by a dull, plodding Fredwreck beat and the return of Arch Bishop Don Magic Juan. Just because Snoop sounds competent over it doesn't make it essential listening. Next!
12. HOURGLASS (FEAT. GOLDIE LOC & MR. KANE)
Kind of flew past me. I seem to recall the Jelly Roll beat sounding alright, but I can't be bothered to double-check right now. I have shit to do.
13. THE ONE AND ONLY
Just because Snoop is primarily defined by his West Coast home base doesn't mean that he isn't aware that hip hop is a big wide world; hence, his connection with producer DJ Premier for “The One and Only”, which bumps the number of boom-bap beats on Paid Tha Cost To Be Da Bo$$ to one. Most heads forget that Calvin Broadus can rap his ass off when the occasion calls for it, and this adventure outside of his comfort zone pays off handsomely. Primo's instrumental is pretty goddamn good, as it doesn't sound like a carbon copy of the man's past work, and Snoop is on his game here. Money well spent, Calvin. Primo can make most rappers sound decent (*cough* Group Home *cough*), but it helps when the artist in question already has talent.
14. I MISS THAT BITCH (FEAT. E-WHITE)
Goofy title and singing (from Mr. Kane, who doesn't receive a co-starring credit) notwithstanding, “I Miss That Bitch” isn't that bad, as Hi-Tek's unorthodox (for him – there's no way his Reflection Eternal partner Talib Kweli was ever going to sound good over this) instrumental helps keep the trains running on time, while Snoop and guest E-White wax mournfully over the loves they have lost. And by “love”, I mean pussy, obviously, and by “lost”, I mean they couldn't be bothered with a simple Google search. They're probably on Facebook, guys. Put in the effort, man!
15. FROM LONG BEACH 2 BRICK CITY (FEAT. REDMAN, WARREN G., & NATE DOGG)
Another cameo from the “because he could” files, although it isn't quite as farfetched as the pairing of Snoop Dogg and Jay-Z. Yes, I realize Calvin had worked with Shawn Carter prior to Paid Tha Cost To Be Da Bo$$ (on The Dynasty: Roc La Familia), but Reggie Noble and Snoop are both potheads of the highest caliber: Snoop was even rumored to have been a surprise secret co-star on Method Man and Redman's Blackout! 2 at one point, although that never materialized. Anyway, Fredwreck's beat is slight, and it dilutes Redman's verse a bit, but he still sounds good, as does our host. Nate Dogg does his thing, of course, and Warren G. barely factors into the introduction. Should have been better, but at least it's a thing.
16. SUITED N BOOTED
Calvin brings in producer Meech Wells, a guy he's worked with since his tenure at No Limit Records, on “Suited N Booted”, an altogether silly track about how Snoop is cooler than you because of what he wears and his general demeanor. It's been done before, even by Snoop himself: there's no need to retread this territory, especially when the instrumental is as bland as this one. Sorry, Meech.
17. YOU GOT WHAT I WANT (FEAT. LUDACRIS, GOLDIE LOC, & CHARLIE WILSON)
Jelly Roll returns for “You Got What I Want”, a Southern-tinged bit of randomness that features his boy Goldie Loc, Atlanta spokesperson Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, and Uncle Charlie Wilson. The beat is adorably awkward, lending Paid Tha Cost To Be Da Bo$$ a tiny bit of originality, especially after the previous track's generic sound. Goldie comes across as a low-key Xzibit, while Luda's malleable flow kills this shit. Yeah, the misogyny runs rampant during the verses, but this was still enjoyable: the beat definitely helps in that regard.
18. BATMAN & ROBIN (FEAT. THE LADY OF RAGE & RBX)
“DJ Premier” and “goofy” don't usually share a sentence, but “Batman & Robin” is far too goofy for anyone in hip hop to take seriously. Primo's beat, which, yes, samples the theme song from the Adam West-starring television show, is pretty fucking distracting, kind of like when Timbaland, Busta Rhymes, and Panjabi MC all borrowed the Knight Rider theme music around the same time in 1998: the enjoyment derived from this will be proportionate to your capacity of enjoying when rappers fuck around in the studio. Snoop is obviously having a laugh, but I wish he had connected with former Death Row Records labelmates The Lady Of Rage and RBX in a different context, as opposed to having everyone act out the parts of Batman, Robin, and Commissioner Gordon. Having Rage play “Robin” is pretty inspired, though, since it gives Snoop an excuse to call his young charge by her given name on wax. This makes Method Man's RZA-produced “The Riddler” seem brilliant by comparison, although to be fair, at least Meth contributed that one to the soundtrack to Batman Forever. What was Snoop and Primo's excuse?
19. A MESSAGE TO FAT CUZZ
A spoken-word interlude, filled with thinly-veiled threats, that leads into the final song.
20. PIMP SLAPP'D
The final track on Paid Tha Cost To Be Da Bo$$ is a direct attack on Snoop's former employer, Death Row co-founder and CEO Marion “Suge” Knight, who also goes by the nickname Big Simon for some reason, which is why Calvin refers to him as “Simon” throughout. Over producer Josef Leimberg's jaunty instrumental, Snoop Dogg straight-up calls Suge Knight a bitch. This was a bigger deal back in 2002, since it was seen as our host finally taking a stand against the man, with Xzibit and Kurupt (who had just re-signed with Death Row in a moment of weakness, hence the significant lack of Kurupt participation on Paid Tha Cost To Be Da Bo$$) serving as collateral damage. This wasn't a bonus or a hidden track, either: it's right there on the back cover art. This may be one of the finer dis tracks ever recorded, because Snoop sounds focused and pissed off, and not only does he actually name names, he goes after Suge like a, um, dog off of his leash. Hell, not even Dr. Dre has managed to do that yet. Probably what's keeping this from the pantheon is the fact that he spends the first verse advising the listener that, even though he's still a Crip, “Pimp Slapp'd” isn't about disrespecting the Bloods: he just hates Suge Knight. That's like two minutes he could have used to drag Suge's name through the mud. Then again, Suge's done a pretty good job of that himself.
FINAL THOUGHTS: I had mentioned above that only about half of Paid Tha Cost To Be Da Bo$$ is absolutely necessary, and I meant it: this project is far too long to hold the average Snoop Dogg fan's attention the entire way through. But even without the somewhat golden touch Dr. Dre tends to give his first real apprentice, Snoop manages to hold his own with enough panache to warrant further interest into his body of work. There is some garbage on here, sure, but there's also a lot of entertaining stuff, so at least the man didn't leave his talent behind in the tank. I do wish he turned it into more of a Death Row Records reunion project, sort of like what Kurupt did with his Tha Streetz Iz A Mutha, and I still don't quite understand why he felt it would be okay to misspell the word "the" two different ways in the album's title, but there are six tracks below listed among its best, and that only happens if the music still holds up today, which it does.
BUY OR BURN? I wouldn't pay full price: bear in mind, this album is about eight or nine tracks too long for it to be considered close to greatness. But if you come across it for cheap, why the hell not?
BEST TRACKS: “Pimp Slapp'd”; “Beautiful”; “The One and Only”; “You Got What I Want”; “Paper'd Up”; “From Tha Chuuuch To Da Palace”
Catch up on some more Snoop Dogg by clicking here.