Song of the Day: Snoop Dogg feat. Mia X, Fiend, C-Murder, Silkk the Shocker, Mystikal & Goldie Loc, "Ghetto Symphony"
Snoop Dogg's discography is completely insane. Doggystyle is one of the most incredible debuts of all time, featuring a fully-formed MC rapping over some of Dr. Dre's most dynamic beats. (The fact that they were both at the peak of their powers in 1993 remains one of the more powerful minor miracles in music history.) Then he got embroiled in a legal battle, had a complicated extraction from Death Row Records, and eventually settled into a multi-faceted role of hip-hop ambassador that simultaneously involves a Woody Allen-esque schedule of releasing music and co-hosting a cooking show with Martha Stewart.
What's most impressive is that after the crossover success of Doggystyle (both "What's My Name?" and "Gin and Juice" were Hot 100 top 10s), Snoop essentially vanished from the pop mainstream for the better part of a decade (he re-emerged with the Pharrell-assisted one-two punch of "Beautiful" and "Drop It Like It's Hot"). During that in-between time, he was given a post-Death Row boost by Master P's No Limit Records, for whom he released a trio of albums at the turn of the century. They're all of reasonable-enough quality, though the best one is the middle entry, 1999's No Limit Top Dogg.
At the time, No Limit was a huge commercial and critical force in rap music. Lead star and central impresario Master P graduated from selling burned CDs out of his trunk to moving nearly a half million first week copies of the double album MP Da Last Don. At the time, Snoop's fluid, refined style seemed like it would not blend well with the minimalist trunk-thumping undercarriage provided by P's Beats by the Pound crew. It didn't always work, but No Limit Top Dogg has two things going for him. First, there are a handful of outside producers that contribute (including a returning Dr. Dre and old West Coast cohort DJ Quik), which makes it feel like a more dynamic record. The other thing that works remarkably well is that just about all the other rappers on the album (and there are a ton of guest spots) are operating at their peak and have finally figured out how to gel with Snoop's style. There's no greater example of that than on "Ghetto Symphony," which transposes the same sample of Otis Redding's "Hard to Handle" that Marley Marl used on "The Symphony" back in 1988. (Remarkably, that same sample has been used a bunch of times by a number of different hip-hop acts, including the Diplomats, 2 Live Crew, Everlast, GZA and Big Daddy Kane.) Everybody is on point here, particularly a not-yet-famous Mystikal (he was a little over a year away from "Shake Ya Ass") and a remarkably sharp Mia X (who on balance was probably the best pure rapper in the No Limit crew). It's a banger of a posse cut, and it lets Snoop be both playfully nimble and a tough roughneck simultaneously. It's the best version of Snoop, and my favorite.