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Old-School Synth-Funk With Hooks: Snoop Dogg’s Bush

Snoop Dogg

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Snoop Dogg will probably never make an album anywhere near as good as Doggystyle.

That said, he sounds liberated now that he’s no longer trying to top his classic debut. That artistic freedom has resulted in plenty of questionable material in recent years (his reggae-pop record Reincarnated among the most noticeable of these missteps), but who cares? The Doggfather doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone; not only does he simply have one of the most iconic personas in popular music, but he also earned his spot in hip-hop history from the moment Dr. Dre debuted him to the world with the undeniable “Deep Cover.”

Still, his latest effort, the synth-funk Pharell collaboration, Bush, is the best record he’s put out in years. There’s not much to unpack here conceptually, but Snoop has never been a head-spinning lyricist. Swagger and delivery, however, are two qualities he still possesses; on the infectious mid-album cut, “The City,” he crafts an earworm hook out of the word “Snoop,” and nothing else. He’s like the MacGyver of catchy music.

Pharell, who serves as producer for each of the album’s 10 tracks, proves himself quite an adept arranger of vintage funk compositions. Just as Daft Punk did in transitioning from making disco-inspired music to making actual disco music on Random Access Memories, Skateboard P sacrifices some of the raw energy present in the classic works of the genre he’s trying to emulate in the name of careful, deliberate songwriting. Based on how dirty and distorted you like your P-funk, your mileage may very, but most of Pharell’s work here is quite good. “Awake” is a stripped-down guitar and bass jam that demonstrates the power that funk and R&B hold even in their simplest forms. Another one of Bush‘s instrumental standouts, “Run Away,” sticks to similar basics with the sort of spacey synths and pitch-shifted vocals at the stylistic core Parliament-Funkadelic and like groups. It’s a shame the song, taken as a whole, is overlong and bogged down by a lame Gwen Stefani feature, but this mismatched collaboration is far from Snoop Dogg’s worst. At this point, that would take a lot.

The album’s centerpiece is the back-to-back pairing of its singles, “So Many Pros” and “Peaches N Cream.” These songs are noticeably busier than the others, frequently changing in dynamics, shifting one lush instrumental or vocal track in and out of the mix on a near-constant basis. Despite all the activity, Snoop still brings plenty of bravado to the table, with his half-rapped, half-sung verse on “Peaches N Cream” serving as a particular highlight. Put simply, he sounds completely in his element here, no longer making well-crafted homages to the artists that influenced them, but rather sounding like he could be one of them.

Bush comes to a close with the excellent “I’m Ya Dogg.” Though Snoop himself is no slouch on this track, laying down an excellent hook and some soulful vocal interplay with Pharell, much of the song is driven by its slow, lurching beat, complete with wobbly G-funk synthesizers. This instrumental, in tandem with some great verses from Rick Ross and Kendrick Lamar, yields the album’s most hip-hop inspired cut.

As laid back and fun as this track is, it’s hard not to view it as something more significant. After nine tracks of playing old-school synth-funk relatively straight, Snoop and Pharell bridge the gap between the bygone genre and the recently revatilized stylings of West Coast hip-hop that it influenced. Thanks to the likes of Black Hippy, DJ Mustard, and the HBK Gang, West Coast rap is back in a big way; it’s only fitting that Snoop, as one of the genre’s defining voices, steps away (even if just briefly) from everything else going on in his absurd career to show that he’s still one of the most important figures in West Coast music.