Monday, 29 April 2013

Snoop Lion - Reincarnated

You can pinpoint the exact moment Snoop Dogg stopped being dangerous. In November 2006, Tha Blue Carpet Treatment was released, with lead single 'Vato' being an unquestionable standout (run motherfucka run!). Then, it all stopped. Snoop decided to become a family man, with reality shows and a string of other endorsements turning him into an 'Uncle Snoopy' figure, unrecognisable from the menacing, whip-smart youth that dominated the hip hop world through the 1990's.
As one of hip hop's elder statesmen he did, however, continue to release music. Ego Trippin' was a slightly bizarre, if ultimately disappointing follow up while, the less said about Malice n Wonderland the better. If these were poor, it was nothing compared to the disastrous Doggumentary. Snoop even had the nerve to bill it as the sequel to first classic album Doggystyle, an appalling comparison that did the project no favours at all. Somehow, the magic had gone.
In July 2012, Snoop Dogg threw a curveball. Announcing he was changing his stage name to 'Snoop Lion', and was embracing the Rastafarian faith, the eccentric rapper declared his next album would be an exclusively reggae affair. Assuaging all doubts about the validity and even existence of the project, Snoop Lion has delivered Reincarnated on schedule to a fan base he has yet to convince about his change of direction.

Early signs were not good. Lead single 'La La La' did nothing to soothe fears the Doggfather had finally lost his marbles. It was with trepidation that I downloaded and began to listen to album, bracing myself for a car crash in musical form. It wasn't the first time I have done this with a new Snoop Dogg LP...

My fears were almost instantly dissipated. Opener 'Rebel Way' has Mr Lion crooning over a relaxed Major Lazer beat. The first surprise is the fact that Snoop can actually sing a little. Not especially well, but it isn't painful in the same way as listening to some of his peers (I'm looking at Diddy especially). He's Kid Cudi good if you're looking for a point of reference.
With his mildly weak vocals seemingly in mind, Snoop enlists a variety of reggae singers to assist with many of the hooks. Angela Hunte assists on the ludicrously catchy 'Here Comes the King', and pops up again on 'So Long'. Both tracks are perfect reggae-pop, as deep as a puddle but suitably party-ready. Backed up by the aforementioned Major Lazer production team, Reinarnated is rarely allowed to slide into boring territory. Just when it appears certain tracks are about to sag, Diplo throws in a random horn section or thumping bass line to keep things ticking over. The project works better if you don't think about it too hard and allow the music to wash over you, Major Lazer working effectively to give the album a sense of continuity.

The technique of not taking things too seriously is useful when exposed to some of Snoop's unorthodox subject matter. While it is refreshing to hear him avoid profanity and explicit material, the fact he chooses to replace it with lyrics about fruit juice and the healing powers of nature do raise the eyebrows slightly. It is his sketchy grip on the Rastafarian religion that amuses most, something forgivable if you regard the album as the oddity that it is.

There is, however, the odd note of sincerity. 'No Guns Allowed' is particularly resonant given the recent tragedies that have occurred in the USA recently, while Drake provides an affecting verse about the problems across the border in Canada. In a similar vein, 'Tired of Running' finds Snoop ruminating on the impact his music may have had on relations between the public and the police.

The perceived vocal weakness occasionally gives way to unnecessary guest spots. Akon drops by for absolutely no reason on the aforementioned 'Tired of Running', adding nothing to a song Snoop is quite able to handle on his own, while the decision to allow Chris Brown to appear on 'Remedy' is baffling on an album exclusively about peace and love. The track is, however, notable for a fired up, Jamaican-mode Busta Rhymes (WADADANG, WADADADANGDANG?) The featured artists seem to reflect an anxious Snoop Lion, needlessly worried about being unable to carry his own album and instead flooding the project with needless guests.

Track by Track:

1. Rebel Way (7/10)
2. Here Comes the King (Feat. Angela Hunte) (7/10)
3. Lighters Up (Feat. Mavado & Popcaan) (7/10)
4. So Long (Feat. Angela Hunte) (8/10)
5. Get Away (Feat. Angela Hunte) (7/10)
6. No Guns Allowed (Feat Drake & Cori B) (7/10)
7. Fruit Juice (Feat. Mr. Vegas) (7/10)
8. Smoke the Weed (Feat. Collie Budz) (5/10)
9. Tired of Running (Feat. Akon) (7/10)
10. The Good Good (Feat. Iza) (7/10)
11. Torn Apart (Feat. Rita Ora) (7/10)
12. Ashtrays & Heartbreaks (Feat. Miley Cyrus) (6/10)
13. Boulevard (Feat. Jahdan Blakkamoore) (6/10)
14. Remedy (Feat. Busta Rhymes & Chris Brown) (6/10)
15. La La La (5/10)
16. Harder Times (Feat. Jahdan Blakkamoore) (7/10)

The Verdict

A pleasant surprise, Snoop Lion has delivered an album full of charm and personality, albeit with a skewed Rastafarian vision and a loose grip on what reggae music actually entails. Enlisting the services of Major Lazer for the majority of the production proves to be a masterstroke, giving Reincarnated a pleasingly cohesive feel. Against all expectations, Snoop Dogg has delivered his best album since 2006.


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