Thursday, January 30, 2014

Tha Dogg Pound's "Dogg Food"

The LSPD officers were only performing their duty when they initiated their pursuit after I splattered the camera-toting tourist across the pavement in front of the famous Oriental Theater.  I was only following my own SOP when I dropped the grenade out of the window at a particularly traffic-infested intersection on Vinewood Boulevard.  As I pulled a tricky right turn to head into the canyons, taking out a hydrant and another few pedestrians, several explosions rocked the streets behind me and those sirens that had once been too close for comfort were now silenced.  My Bravado Buffalo recovered from its skid and twisted through the cramped, windy streets of the canyon; just as I was about to breathe easy, a few more cruisers appeared around a curve and had me trapped as I collided with a wall.  I desperately reversed and tried to squeeze through the patrol cars as bullets riddled my vehicle and whizzed past my head.  Just as I was about to admit defeat, West Coast Classics returned from a news break and funky, bass-heavy beats blasted over the gunfire asking me “what would you do if you could fuck with me and my crew?”  Suddenly reinvigorated, I began shooting at the police with my - uh, grenade.  That rested comfortably on the Los Santos street with the cops and me snug in its kill radius.  Dammit.

That was the especially explodey end of that particular Grand Theft Auto V session, but an important reminder that I needed to check out Tha Dogg Pound post haste.  I mostly knew the duo from their contributions to Dr. Dre’s The Chronic and Snoop Dogg’s Doggystyle (two obscure albums from artists better known for their non-rap work - Dre makes headphones and Snoop smokes pot); spurred on by “What Would You Do,” I sought out the groups own album, Dogg Food.  Once I got past the groan-inducing title and the cover art clearly laid out by Suge Knight’s twelve-year old niece (y’know, Lil Shorty Pigtails has dat computer and fucks around in MS Paint all day - she finna break into da graphics design game, dog), I found an incredibly well-crafted, violent, and fun g-funk record.

© 1995 Tanisha “Lil Shorty Pigtails” Knight
Dogg Food was released in 1995 on Death Row Records, home of the previously mentioned Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg as well as Nate Dogg, DJ Quik, 2Pac, and…MC Hammer.  Gangsta rap was de rigueur in hip-hop during this time, brought into popularity by many of the artists in the Death Row stable in addition to rappers such as Ice-T, the Geto Boys, and N.W.A. alums Eazy-E and Ice Cube.  While hip-hop artists had discussed the conditions of life in the inner city as early as Melle Mel’s “The Message” from 1982, rappers who generally fell into the gangsta rap sub-genre painted much more explicit pictures of their lives, vividly portraying violence, drugs, and other criminal acts.  Gangsta rap had become so dominant and commercially viable in hip-hop by the mid-90s that many mainstream rap artists such as Vanilla Ice (“Ninja Rap”), MC Hammer (“Hammer Time”), and Kriss Kross (“I Missed the Bus”) adopted the hard-edged image of an OG.  In fact, I am also guilty of moving away from the New Jack Swing stylings of my first album into gangsta territory, earning a minor hit with the 1994 single “I Ain’t No Busta (Imma Kill You).”

Unlike Mr. Ice and his ilk, Tha Dogg Pound were no pretenders to the gangsta label.  The debut album of the duo comprised of Kurupt and Dat Nigga Daz begins with an introduction straight from a spooky Halloween record (a door opens and a ghoul sputters “welcome…we have been expecting you!) and then immediately kicks into the funky bass, heavy drums, and horror movie synth of “Dogg Pound Gangstaz.”  Upon my first listen, I immediately began to nod my head and rock the stank face.  The beat, courtesy of Daz, knocked hard and Kurupt instantly entranced me with his intricate wordplay (“now my rhymes, are as potent as pipebombs/it takes time to concoct rhymes like mines/like land mines, all set to explode/microphones, all set to unload”).  The DP Gangstaz are not fucking around in the least; this is music that demands your undivided attention.  The track then ceases to take itself seriously around the four minute mark when it devolves into a terrible skit which sees the return of the fictional WBallz radio station from Doggystyle.  Ah, the rap skit…always, always terrible.

This commercial, however, is so terrible as to be transcendent.

The album continues its winning streak through the tracks “Respect” and the single “New York, New York.”  The former track features an introduction from Beats by Dr. Dre mogul Dr. Dre, who is largely considered as one of the primary originators of the g-funk sound that Dogg Food absolutely typifies.  The sound was popularized by the Death Row released albums The Chronic and Doggystyle, both of which were produced by Dr. Dre.  Dogg Food, produced entirely with only a few exceptions by Dat Nigga Daz, particularly favors the latter of the two seminal g-funk albums in its sound.  Recent rumors circulated by Suge Knight, former Death Row Records CEO, claim that Daz actually produced Doggystyle and that sole credit was signed over to Dr. Dre.  Whatever the truth may be, there is no denying that Daz was an adept beatmaker and that the production on display in Tha Dogg Pound’s debut rivals that of Dre’s Death Row work.

This single, however, was not produced by Daz.

Thankfully, the WBallz skits do not recur past the middle of the album, but are unfortunately replaced instead with a few tracks that derailed my enjoyment of Dogg Food up until that point.  This lull begins with the eighth track “Big Pimpin 2” and continues through the thirteenth song, “Some Bomb Azz Pussy.”  These songs are still musically and lyrically well done, but lean toward a softer sound with R&B hooks that does not resonate with me and feels out of place amongst the hardcore g shit found in the rest of the record.  Further, if you are looking for songs that completely back up your argument that rap music is inherently misogynistic, please look no further than the one-two punch of “If We All Fuck” and “Some Bomb Azz Pussy.”   Take for example these lyrics from the former song:  “Well you know how we treat hoes/slam em on they back like dominos/or how I don’t love a bitch/that’s why a bitch ain’t shit/that’s the reason why your main ho ate my dick.”  “Some Bomb Azz Pussy” simply repeats the song title ad nauseam.  Inviting a girl over to your house for doughnuts and milk, this is not.

The saving grace of this limp middle section is the Lady of Rage featuring track “Do What I Feel.”  The song has a confident swagger and charisma that stands out amongst the mediocre tracks surrounding it.  Kurupt, the stronger of the duo’s lyricists, flows gracefully on the track from the very beginning:  “Now here’s the perfect pitch to let it bubble and foam/wait these seconds then watch the microphone get blown/it’s the mischievous, lyrical genius on the loose/and I pack the deuce deuce of some act right juice/I’m in my own space and time/the elevation of my rhymes elevates your mind.”  That’s not to say that the other half of Tha Dogg Pound is any slouch in the lyrics department, but Daz’s rhymes tend toward the more bog standard in comparison to the poetics and verbal bombast of his partner.  However, the track is stolen from both of the DPGs by their label mate, Lady of Rage.  I once saw an interview with Busta Rhymes where he explained that the rapper that delivers the last verse on any given song is typically the best, and Lady of Rage on “Do What I Feel” strongly supports this argument.

The last few songs on the record return to the g-funk form that the group does best with “A Doggz Day Afternoon” being a particular stand-out.  Its propulsive beat and aggressive battle raps forced me to go beyond my typical head nodding and actually bust a move.  My cats blinked at me, undoubtedly the most appropriate reaction to the spastic jerks of my hips and legs, and I was thankful that the song was a brisk three minutes.

In anticipation of this blog post, I had sent my mother three Dogg Pound songs with accompanying lyrics courtesy of the fine folks at Rap Genius.  My mom is not a fan of hip-hop, preferring music where she feels she can relate with the lyrics.  She had told me that she has always been turned off by rap as her initial impression has always been that it is inherently angry music with often indecipherable vocals.  My mother had also assumed that all hip-hop glorified violence, sex, and drugs - an assumption that Tha Dogg Pound did not necessary dissuade her of.  However, she did indicate that when she had the aid of the lyrics while listening to the songs, she gained a better understanding of the appeal of rap music and found new appreciation for the level of artistry it takes to craft and deliver lyrics over a beat.  It’s not just talking.  So she’s not going to rush out and buy the Run the Jewels record, but she does have a better understanding of what rap is about.

I know, dear reader.  I was kinda disappointed with my mom too.  I was really hoping that she would have a more violent, borderline racist reaction from which I could milk humor.  Try harder to be less reasoned in your response next time, Mom.

My verdict on Tha Dogg Pound’s Dogg Food is that I most certainly enjoyed listening to it, despite the very skippable middle.  This album will definitely get more mileage in the old iTunes, alongside headphones entrepreneur Dr. Dre and Hot Pockets aficionado Snoop Dogg.  With my next installment of I Need a Beat, I will continue the theme of Death Row artists that I really liked on The Chronic and Doggystyle (and now Dogg Food) with Lady of Rage’s Necessary Roughness.

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