Rhythm & Gangsta delivers what it promises: a fusion of smooth, soulful R&B with the harder-edged elements of gangsta rap. While not a hip-hop classic, it's easily Snoop's best album in a decade, with occasional flashes of gangstafied pop brilliance (such as "Ups and Downs," featuring the Bee Gees). From jump street, Snoop's staccato flow is on point, the tight production could make you forget about Dre, and the cavalcade of featured guests underscores the rapper-actor's A-list status. Sure, Snoop devotes several songs to reveling in his own celebrity, but he hasn't gone so far Hollywood that he's forgotten his Crip roots.
But while R&G completes Snoop's evolution from li'l ghetto boy to superfly mack daddy, it breaks little new ground. Sure, the Neptunes-produced single "Drop It Like It's Hot" is da bomb, loaded with booming 808 drums and guilty-pleasure lyrics. But we've heard it all before, right down to the boasts about expensive watches and champagne. Similarly, "Perfect" is basically a remake of last year's "Beautiful," while the self-referential tale Snoop relates on the gospel-tinged "I Love to Give You Light" follows the autobiographical formula of Jay-Z's "December 4." R&G's funkiest tune, "No Thang on Me," which features live instrumentation by the Snoopadelics, comes far too late in the game to make an impact amid the obligatory duets with 50 Cent and Nelly, the crunk track with Lil Jon and Trina, cameos by R&B OGs Charlie Wilson and Bootsy Collins, classic old-school hip-hop updates and, lest we forget, numerous bitch/ho anthems. The misogyny is so blatant at times, it can't be overlooked, which makes Snoop's romantic sentiments seem insincere.
Few could blame the unfadeable Dogg for living the American Dream, yet in doing so he has turned into a paradox. No longer the outsider rebel of Doggystyle, the inner-city accoutrements Snoop surrounds himself with can't disguise the fact he has become an icon of capitalism, with his mind on his money and his money on his mind.
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