Snoop tries to reconnect with his hood roots

There’s an old saying in the hood that goes, “Once you’re making bank, sir, you can never again be gangster.” Like all tired axioms, this one does not always hold true. But for Snoop Dogg, a man struggling to reconnect with his gangster roots, it certainly does.

Before the release of his newest album, “Tha Blue Carpet Treatment,” Snoop told Mtv.com that he’s had enough of making pop singles, and for this CD, he plans to go “right back to the hood.” He wants, presumably, to return to the sounds of “The Chronic” (a Dr. Dre album with prominent appearances from Snoop Dogg) and “Doggystyle,” (Snoop’s first solo release). These older albums feature a Snoop Dogg (or Snoop Doggy Dogg, as he was known at the time) who is tough, smart and funny, rapping over Dre’s stripped- down, funky beats. It’s a sound that hasn’t been heard since the early ’90s.

And Snoop knows that lately he’s strayed into pop commercialism, but he doesn’t really see this as a bad thing. He views himself as a man who can still be a gangster even as he “tries different things” — his euphemism for selling out.

But Snoop Dogg wants to buck his top-40 sound. That’s a good idea because, if he truly could reproduce the “Doggystyle” feel, “Tha Blue Carpet Treatment” would be a masterpiece. He has assembled some veteran talents, such as Ice Cube, Dr. Dre and Stevie Wonder, and some young blood, such as The Game, E-40 and the Neptunes. If he could somehow organize this all-star team and lead them to make a retro Snoop release, the result might even be too glorious for the naked human ear.

Unfortunately, Snoop Dogg can’t do this, or else he has chosen not to. His foray into “hip-pop” is more than just a “different thing.” It’s who he has become, and it’s unlikely that he’ll be able to go back.

True, Dre and Snoop have reunited, but this classic duo is not as magical as it once was. Dre, like Snoop, now lives in the mainstream, and his beats have suffered for it. Certain Dre-produced tracks like “Boss’ Life” and “Imagine” sound like the kind of bubble gum garbage my orthodontist used to listen to while tightening my head gear.

The album is not all bad, however. In fact, some songs are really wonderful. On the song “Vato,” Snoop and the Neptunes come surprisingly close to reproducing the vintage Snoop Dogg sound. The beat is creepy, dirty and raw like a stomach-full of buckshot. B-Real (of Cypress Hill) gives an excellent caricature of himself for the chorus, and Snoop Dogg almost sounds like good old Doggy Dogg. As an added bonus, the song emphasizes racial unity among Los Angeles blacks and Latinos, which can’t be a bad thing.

Other highlights on the album include “Gangbangin’ 101,” a duet with the Game. This is significant because the Game is affiliated with the Bloods and Snoop Dogg with the Crips. Snoop makes his Crip identity especially obvious on this album, starting with the album’s title, which is a reference to the blue colors the Crips wear (versus the Bloods’ red.) On the first track, “Intrology,” Snoop talks about his “blue hat, blue socks, blue shoes,” his “blue car, blue house, blue pit, blue pool,” and even his “blue tooth” phone. Snoop celebrates his and Game’s differences, while, as evidenced by “Gangbangin’ 101,” simultaneously calling for unity between West Coast gangs. The song’s beat is actually pretty hard and pretty funky, and the rapping styles of Snoop and the Game compliment each other well.

Snoop is still talented, but he’s not as loose as he used to be. He seems tense, less ironic, and less willing to perform lyrical acrobatics. The song “A Bitch I Knew” sounds like “Tha Shiznit” from “Doggystyle,” except it’s really, really boring. I can’t help wondering: Is the “Bitch” he used to know supposed to be Snoop’s old self?

Maybe all hope is not lost. Maybe the few semi-precious stones on the album are evidence of Snoop Dogg’s genuine striving to be good again. Maybe his next CD will be better, and the next even better. His instinct is correct. The hood is where he belongs, and he never should have strayed from it.

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