May 15, 2015

My Gut Reaction / Something (Sort Of) Different: Snoop Dogg - Bush (May 12, 2015)

At the age of forty-three, Calvin "Snoop Dogg" Broadus, who will most likely outlive hip hop in general, if not us all, has gotten to the point in his career where he simply doesn't give a fuck and will release whatever the hell he wants, work with whoever the hell he wants, and hell whatever the hell he hells.  He's always kind of been this way: even way back when he was an up-and-coming superstar on Death Row Records in the early 1990s, he wasn't exactly a fan of inertia.  He's always traveled his own path, daring his fans to follow, and for the most part, they've always been pleasantly surprised.  

Right now, he appears to be bored with rap music, which is fine: I'm right there with him.  But while he'll gladly give a guest verse or a hook to other artists, when it comes to his own shit, he's clearly only trying to amuse himself, and he's open to experimentation: his last two projects were a collaboration with Stones Throw Records' master of funk, Dam-Funk, and a reggae album recorded under the alias Snoop Lion, after all.  Snoop hasn't really done a full-on rap album in four years, and with Bush, his thirteenth solo record, he still hasn't.

Snoop has said in interviews that, had rap music never been invented, he would most likely be an R&B / funk artist.  This makes sense, since he grew up during the era when George Clinton and Bootsy Collins ruled everything around him; this is why he always seems to sound most at home on G-Funk instrumentals that take their cues from those legendary acts.  So when he started forming plans to record Bush, he tapped Academy Award nominee, singer, occasional rapper, and producer Pharrell Williams to handle the boards for the entire project, just so it would have a cohesive sound.  Skateboard P's Neptunes partner-in-crime Chad Hugo wasn't invited, probably because he was too busy being a recluse, but P's hat also was not invited, as Pharrell expressed concerns with how difficult it would be to get that weed smell out of the fabric.

Bush is ten tracks of Snoop crooning along to funk tracks that didn't technically exist while he was growing up, but might as well have.  Pharrell, of course, already had a fruitful working relationship with Calvin, having produced his hit singles "Beautiful" and "Drop It Like It's Hot", among many others that didn't connect quite as well with audiences, but this was the first time he had been asked to produce an entire album for someone that wasn't himself or an act in his camp.  As a result, he brought all of his tricks to the studio, including crooner Charlie Wilson of The Gap Band, who Snoop had also had a lot of success with in the past, and all of his knowledge of how the radio actually sounded in the late 1970s - early 1980s.

Bush has already spawned three hit singles, including one with motherfucking Stevie Wonder, and hip hop heads around the blogosphere have praised its roller rink-friendly sound.  However, I must take this time to note that Bush isn't a rap album: Snoop hardly spits any verses on here.  He leaves the actual bars to guest artists Kendrick Lamar, Rick Ross, and T.I., two of whom I could actually imagine over a funky guitar, and one of whom is Rick Ross.  Gwen Stefani also pops up, possibly because she wouldn't leave Pharrell's studio, as the two are still trying to crack the code to replicate her solo smash "Hollaback Girl".

So, if you liked 7 Days Of Funk or even just Snoop's cheesy-but-enjoyable-as-shit single "Sexual Eruption" and wished he would release a nearly curse-free album of songs just like it, keep on reading.  All others need not apply.  You'll just be disappointed anyway.


1. CALIFORNIA ROLL (FEAT. STEVIE WONDER & PHARRELL)
Bush kicks off with a whimper thanks to “California Roll”, a song about sushi weed, sex, and the correlation in between. The beat is bland, its meandering synths leading the listener to dreamland. Only guest star Stevie Wonder's harmonica jolts the listener into consciousness, and even then it's because your mind will immediately travel to, “Is that actually Stevie Wonder?” (Yes, it is, and he also lends some backing vocals during Skateboard P's chorus.) Calvin's lack of actual singing ability is masked slightly by James Fauntleroy's songwriting, but his usual swagger doesn't shine through during his vocals. Probably released as the third single from Bush just so Snoop could boast about the level of guest star he's still capable of attracting.

2. THIS CITY (FEAT. CHARLIE WILSON)
“California Roll” was ostensibly supposed to highlight the benefits of living in the Golden State: shit, Pharrell singing about “medical cards” was pretty goddamn specific. But where that track faltered, “This City” succeeds, possibly because Snoop focuses on just one city (Los Angeles, and not Long Beach, curiously), but most likely because the 1980s-blessed instrumental is catchy as fuck. Radio-friendly, club-ready, and contagious as all get out, “This City” is primed for eventual inclusion in commercials produced by the Los Angeles Tourist Board, and I'm okay with that, even if Kendrick Lamar's duet with Dr. Dre, “The Recipe”, with its promise of “women, weed, and weather”, is a bit more appealing. Charlie Wilson's background vocals, along with Kelly Sheehan's, slide in nicely, too.

3. R U A FREAK (FEAT. CHARLIE WILSON & RHEA DUMMETT)
It's worth noting that Pharrell's beats for Bush are light years past the blingy synth he perfected as one-half of The Neptunes: having obviously copied someone's notes during his studio sessions with Daft Punk and Nile Rodgers (of CHIC), the music here is closer in both tone and scope to his own solo albums, specifically G I R L, where he barely acknowledged his hip hop past in favor of pop radio. Which is just as well, as Snoop has barely rapped thus far anyway. On “R U A Freak”, Snoop and Uncle Charlie Wilson proposition an anonymous woman throughout the song with the titular question, and, unfortunately, we never receive anything resembling an answer. But the music was a pleasant funky-lite time that would do well in a party atmosphere.

4. AWAKE (FEAT. PHARRELL)
Should have been at least subtitled “For The Club”, since Snoop barely sing-raps his way through eight bars: this shit is mostly chorus after chorus. Skateboard P's beat is alright, but his vocals on the hook reminded me of Naked Ape's “Fashion Freak”, which is never my go-to reference point for a Snoop Dogg song, nor should it be. So I don't know who this was created for. Calvin recites the words as he was told, but while “Awake” isn't technically terrible, you'll struggle to stay...um...hold on, I had something for this...

5. SO MANY PROS (FEAT. CHARLIE WILSON, PHARRELL, & RHEA DUMMETT)
The second single from Bush, credited to Pharrell but featuring “additional production” (sure it is) from Chad Hugo, who had vanished from the planet after handling that Kenna EP. Hopefully he's just been holed up somewhere finishing up the Pusha T sophomore album. Anyway, I thought this was merely okay when I first came across it, and of course, when I read the word “pros” in the title, my mind immediately jumped to the late Nate Dogg's cleaned-up hook on the radio edit for Ludacris's “Area Codes”, and, of course, that's pretty much what this shit is about. Kind of smooth and a bit funky, though, but it really only worked for me after watching the Francois Rousselet-directed video, which is like crack for grindhouse-cult-exploitation film geeks such as myself. I'll be nice and include it here, because what the fuck, right?



6. PEACHES N CREAM (FEAT. CHARLIE WILSON)
The first single, currently playing on a station near you, most likely, which had me hoping that Bush would sound like an album consisting of ten variations of the monster Snoop / Pharrell / Charlie Wilson song “Beautiful", instead of whatever the hell it is that I'm currently writing about. On yet another ode to boning, Snoop doesn't let his lack of professional vocal training get in the way of waxing poetically, although Uncle Charlie does most of the heavy lifting anyway. Calvin spits what amounts to an actual rapped verse in the middle somewhere, but it's delivered almost as an afterthought, so you shouldn't go into “Peaches N Cream” looking for lost lyrical jewels. Wholly pleasant, though, so even though it is not even close to touching “Beautiful” (which I still mark as one of the top five singles in Snoop's fucking career, and it's been a long career), it'll definitely help him move some units and/or get some album streams.

7. EDIBLES (FEAT. T.I.)
Combining weed with women, as he has for the rest of the goddamn album, Snoop presents “Edibles”, a slight effort with an alright Skateboard P beat that is salvaged, and I can't believe I'm writing this next statement, believe me, a guest verse from T.I., who excels in a kind of hollow swagger that makes everything seem like he's dropping truth bombs and matter-of-fact statements that are deeper than they actually are. Calvin's singing on here is serviceable, but odds are you two will only want to hear “Edibles” the once and then never again, and even procurement of actual edibles wouldn't suddenly make this shit enjoyable.

8. I KNEW THAT
Voted 'Most Likely To Be An Outtake From Pharrell's Own G I R L” by its high school graduating class. The limitations on Snoop's singing voice are at their most evident on “I Knew That”, but it's not that it detracts in any way from the track itself. No, it's just that the song itself is blandly pleasant. While I can't find much to object to on here, it makes sense that I never actually need to ever hear it again, right?

9. RUN AWAY (FEAT. GWEN STEFANI)
No Doubt's Gwen Stefani may never again reach the solo heights of “Hollaback Girl”, but that doesn't mean she isn't still around, kicking ideas back and forth with Pharrell. “Run Away” isn't the right direction for her: I would think that most name-brand singers of her ilk would scoff at being reduced to playing a role that any studio musician could have handled. Although Stefani fails to put her own stamp on the proceedings, possibly because she failed to get her Harajuku girls through customs, Calvin Broadus does fine with the 1980s-inflected beat. However, this still didn't do it for me. Probably didn't help that, during my first listen, I was only half-paying attention and could swear the hook was boasting about “the widest dick in L.A.”, which only forced me to listen to it a second time, because there's no way that could have been right.

10. I'M YA DOGG (FEAT. RICK ROSS & KENDRICK LAMAR)
Snoop closes out Bush alongside two of the biggest names in our chosen genre today: Office Rick Ross and West Coast wunderkind Kendrick Lamar, who delivers, hilariously, the filthiest verse of the entire fucking album; he must have been thrilled to write something that didn't have to line itself up with the many threads he has running through his own projects. “I'm Ya Dogg” is Snoop's pledge of allegiance to a woman who “keep[s him] coming”, because there's no time for complex metaphors when you're as high as Calvin was when this shit was recorded, probably. Ricky does alright, as he tends to do when paired with artists who are clearly much better than he is behind the mic, and K-Dot's awkward flow works well with Skateboard P's beat, but Snoop Dogg manages to win with vocals that actually sound genuine, so kudos to him.

THE LAST WORD:  Bush is pleasant enough, but it will float away from your memory so quickly that you'll actually be confused as to where those forty minutes went.  The songs on here are just that inconsequential.  But they're also not terrible, as long as you realize what it is that you're getting into.  Snoop's no classically-trained singer, but to his credit, he takes his job seriously on here, and Pharrell's funky instrumentals are night-and-day with The Neptunes' best production work back in the day, which was a good choice on his part; it would have been cool if he had actually brought in Nile Rodgers to do some shit on here, but CHIC just released a new song, so he's probably busy.  As I mentioned above, Bush is roller rink music that I'll probably hear at parties for the rest of the year: it's the kind of stuff that I don't mind normally, even if none of it is great (although I do like "This City", and "So Many Pros" grew on me as I finished this write-up), and the kind of stuff I'll sing along to if drunk enough.  Bush is feel-good music, so to that end, Snoop Dogg accomplished his goal, but the only thing gangsta about this shit is the (actually kind of cool) album artwork, with the blue dog clearly included to remind the listener of our host's Crip affiliation, so hip hop heads should be wary.  Not every song works: hell, most of the stuff on here I probably won't seek out again personally.  But weirdly, when taken as a whole, Bush is so inoffensive that you probably won't mind leaving the fucker playing all the way through.  If that makes any sense.

-Max

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11 comments:

  1. AnonymousMay 15, 2015

    Snoop has clearly become this genre's whore.

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  2. AnonymousMay 15, 2015

    And there are many others in hip hop who have whored themselves even more than he did.

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  3. AnonymousMay 15, 2015

    George Bush

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  4. AnonymousMay 15, 2015

    I consider myself to be a fairly big fan of Snoop, but I couldn't finish this project. A big let down in my opinion :( Great review as always Max.

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  5. AnonymousMay 16, 2015

    Somewhat off topic, but I wondered if you have ever listened to TI's older stuff like Trap Muzik and Urban Legend. He was never a great rapper but his flow was solid, his boasting is usually on point, and production was terrific.

    Anyway, I haven't bothered with anything Snoop past The Blue Carpet Treatment, which had some solid songs

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  6. I'm sad that this isn't 10 tracks of Beautiful and Loosen Control's caliber. But the "most likely" line was funny. Good shit Max

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  7. I have mixed feelings about this album. It has a certain vibe and atmosphere that I enjoy, but it also lacks the bite or punch that could make it memorable. Still, it's a nice BGM and rather refreshing. Pharrell's production work is mostly pretty good too, but I'm more curious about Snoop's other project with Adrian Younge (well, if it hasn't fallen through, that is).
    A very fun read, as always!

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    1. Snoop has a possible upcoming project with Adrian Younge? That could really go either way, I think. Right now I'm just concerned that Ghostface Killah and Younge's Twelve Reasons To Die II will crash and burn.

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    2. I thought I'd read that some time ago, but can't seem to find the source. The "collaboration project" might've only been Snoop's cameo on Souls of Mischiefs' There Is Only Now...
      I'm not too sure what to expect from the follow-up to Twelve Reasons to Die, but that album was so good and I love Adrian Younge's work so, you know, fingers crossed!

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  8. Finally, I found a Hip-Hop Head who actually knows about Hip-Hop and BLOGS daily. Max.........I thank you for this.

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    1. I appreciate the sentiment, but I don't update the blog every day.

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