Appellate Judge Dave Ryan is just rollin' down the street, smokin' indo, sippin' on gin and juice. (With his mind on his money, and his money on his mind.)
"What's my motherf—ing name?"
In the beginning, there was N.W.A.
In the early 1980s, a minor Los Angeles area drug dealer named Eric "Easy-E" Wright gave up the dealing game in an attempt to start his own record label, Ruthless Records. Circa 1985 or so, Wright hired on, as songwriters, a pair of friends who had been working in low-level rap groups out of South Central LA. Andre Young and O'Shea Jackson had penned a gritty, violent, yet funky track entitled "Boyz 'N The Hood" that Young loved. But none of the groups he had signed to Ruthless wanted to record it. So he took matters into his own hands, and formed his own group to cut the song. He enlisted Young (a.k.a. Dr. Dre) and Jackson (a.k.a. Ice Cube), plus a handful of other local South Central rap talents, and Niggaz With Attitude was born.
N.W.A. wound up becoming one of the most influential groups in the history of popular music. After releasing a largely overlooked debut album, N.W.A. hit it big in 1988 with Straight Outta Compton and their single "F-ck the Police," becoming the biggest "underground" rap group in the nation, and a presidential campaign issue to boot. N.W.A.'s sound—now dubbed "gangsta rap" by the mainstream music press—was an amalgamation of funky, George Clinton-inspired beats and dark, violent, often misogynistic lyrics. Before long, dozens upon dozens of imitators had sprung up, in Los Angeles and elsewhere, effectively shifting the center of the rap world from New York to L.A.
Soon, the members of N.W.A. started to think about solo careers. Ice Cube was the first to depart, with Dr. Dre not far behind. Dre's first solo album, The Chronic, was released to much fanfare in 1992. Dre knew he wasn't the best rapper in the universe—his true talent was really production. So he enlisted some outside help for The Chronic. His half-brother Warren Griffin had been hanging out for some time with a pair of his Long Beach friends, Calvin Broadus and Nate Hale (the two were cousins), cutting demo tapes and attempting—somewhat unsuccessfully—to stay out of trouble. Dre brought them into the studio to see what they could do. He was sufficiently impressed to put all three to work on the album. Griffin (a.k.a. Warren G) and Hale (a.k.a. Nate Dogg) were mainly backup vocalists, but Broadus—who performed under the name Snoop Doggy Dogg, thanks to his childhood love of Snoopy from the Peanuts comic strip—wound up as the featured rapper on the disc.
And what a debut it was for Snoop. Snoop, who did the bulk of the rapping on The Chronic's massively successful first single, "Nuthin But A 'G' Thang," almost overshadowed the entire project. His rap style was unique, unlike anything Dre had done with N.W.A. Snoop Dogg's vocal timing was impeccable; his raps languid and smooth, but always precise. Paired with Dre's new "G-Funk" beats, it was a strikingly original and memorable performance. It wasn't long before Snoop Dogg had a career in his own right; 1993 saw the release of Doggystyle—and Broadus's arrest on the charge of being an accessory to murder. Doggystyle went quadruple platinum, notwithstanding the storm of controversy that arose over its violent and often sexist lyrics. However, defending himself against the murder charge consumed most of Broadus's 1994 and 1995, delaying the next Snoop Dogg album until 1996.
Unfortunately for Snoop, '96 marked the beginning of the end of gangsta rap's chart dominance. The Doggfather didn't meet the high sales expectations set for it, although it did sell a more-than-respectable two million copies. Snoop's rap world was in turmoil as well. Dr. Dre was in the process of ending his business relationship with Marion "Suge" Knight, which also ended his (and, eventually, Snoop's) long association with Death Row Records. Also, Snoop Dogg's friend and fellow Death Row artist Tupac Shakur was killed in a drive-by shooting.
With his subsequent albums and projects, a kinder, gentler Snoop came into view. His rapping was smooth as ever, and the beats still were funktastic, but there was a lot less gangsta in the wordplay. He also became more of a music personality, rarely turning down a chance to show up on MTV or in a movie, even if it meant making fun of himself. By the time he set out on his Puff Puff Pass tour in 2001, Snoop Dogg had turned into more of a good-time party guy; an artist whose personality overwhelmed his music.
And so we come to Bigg Snoop Dogg's Puff Puff Pass Tour, part one of a two-part (at least) documentary look at Snoop's 2001 tour. Or is it a concert video? Or is it a "Legalize It" screed in support of marijuana use? I'm not sure, and I don't think this disc can make up its mind on the issue, either.
The disc is almost completely unstructured. We start out in Nebraska, of all places, watching Snoop perform before a crowd of corn-fed—and overwhelmingly white—Nebraskan Snoop fans. We get to see the behind-the-scenes hijinks of Snoop and his posse. (Here's a hint—they generally involve a lot of weed and a lot of "bitches.") Every so often, Snoop and/or his posse are asked a thematic question, such as "What's the best thing about being on the road?," and their responses are shown. (The answer, by the way: "The bitches.") Then it's on to another city, with more concert footage, more behind-the-scenes mayhem, more commentary, and more bitches. Lather, rinse, repeat. Occasionally, a segment on marijuana and legalization is inserted—complete with real, live scientists and the occasional High Times representative—to bring things to a screeching halt.
In the end, this disc can be summarized in one word: frustrating. There's just not enough Snoop here. Snoop Dogg has become a larger-than-life music personality for good reason—he's an intriguing person. Although he still speaks the language of the street (don't let Grandma hear him talking, in other words), it would be unwise to dismiss him as just another ignorant gangbanger with money. Snoop Dogg is a smart businessman and musician who's very direct and articulate when expressing his opinions. Snoop will not BS you. You know where he stands, and where he stands usually makes sense—given his perspective, of course. But this documentary look at Snoop simply doesn't spend enough time talking to him. There's a great spot towards the middle of the disc where Snoop, Warren G, and Nate Dogg recount their high school days in Long Beach, and the twists of fate that brought them together socially and musically. This is great stuff, but it's barely a five-minute segment. Then we're back to the road. The road is fun—we get it. I'd rather hear more about what makes Snoop Snoop, and less about the posse's preferred marijuana varieties.
Although arguably the latter is more important—because Snoop smokes a lot of weed. And these aren't wussy little home-rolled roach clip joints, either—we're talking the Tiparillos of ganja here. I'd wager that there isn't a moment in the day when Snoop isn't puff puffing, then passing to the next homie. (Hence, the tour's name.) And he's completely unapologetic about it, too, for better or worse. Since Snoop is actually one of the poster children for the marijuana legalization movement, it's understandable how the disc occasionally stops to make its case for legalization. But it's all very piecemeal, and doesn't really fit in with the disc as a whole. I'm guessing that the inclusion of this material is designed to somehow convert the rampant pot use seen in the tour footage from "drug use" to "active nonviolent political advocacy," but it still brings things to a complete stop when it shows up.
But the biggest disappointment is the near-complete lack of actual performance footage. There's about 15 minutes of footage from a concert in New Orleans, and that's it. The disc runs 100 minutes, but we only get 15 minutes of Snoop performing. That's criminal—Snoop Dogg is a dynamic onstage presence, and a pretty darn good live rapper. Making matters worse is the sound quality of the footage. Instead of taking the sound mix off the house mixing board, as is done with "standard" concert videos, the performances are recorded right on stage with condenser mics. In other words, it's the same as what you'd get if you taped the show yourself from just offstage using your video camera's microphone. It manages to capture some crowd noise, but you can barely hear Snoop himself. So really, what's the point? Ironically, the best "live" segment comes at the end, where a number of clips of Snoop performing his hit "What's My Name?" in different cities are synchronized with the album track itself. I was hoping I'd get a taste of Snoop Dogg live from this disc; I wound up sadly disappointed.
The sound quality on the rest of the program is quite good, however—it's presented in a Dolby 5.1 Surround mix that really thumps your subwoofer good, with a workable 2.0 stereo mix that's considerably less bass-heavy as an alternative. French and Spanish—but no English—subtitles are provided. Picture quality is solid; it looks like the bulk of the material was probably shot on digital video. The only substantive extras are a trailer for the forthcoming Part Two disc (More Snoop! More groupies!), and a gallery of Puff Puff Pass Tour merchandise. Whatever.
If you really want to know what Snoop Dogg's all about, you're probably better off renting Soul Plane or Starsky & Hutch, unfortunately. But this disc isn't a completely lost cause. The documentary material is pretty decent, although it does get a bit repetitive. There are plenty of bitches. And Snoop's still undeniably charismatic; it's always fun to watch him in action. But this disc is really for hard-core fans only.
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