New Stuff: Here Comes the King

Snoop Dogg released his seminal debut Doggystyle twenty years ago. In those twenty years since the release, Dr. Dre became a headphone salesman (and the third richest man in hip-hop), Ice-T started acting, and Ice Cube started directing. Eazy-E succumbed to AIDS, Tupac was assasinated, and Nate Dogg passed most recently. Lil B took over the internet, Odd Future took over Los Angeles, Kendrick Lamar charmed the critics, and California regained its position as the most fertile location for quality rap. All the while, despite a string of mediocre releases and questionable side projects, Snoop Dogg remains the unquestionable king of West Coast hip hop.

Can anybody else challenge him? His pioneering laid-back flow is the most imitated rapping style ever, his footprint found in every hip hop release out of Southern California, his empire stretching from football fields in Long Beach to soccer stadiums in Scotland, and his legion of fans not hesitating to plop down hundreds of dollars for festival tickets for the opportunity to see the Doggfather appear on stage (perhaps with the ghost of another rapper). He’s not the greatest rapper alive (he never was), but is their a rapper more comfortably nailed to a throne than him? I suggest not.

So then of course it makes no sense why he should change his name, spend months in Jamaica, claim a spiritual renewal, document his experiences, and release a pseudo-reggae album to add to his collection of hip-hop mastery. In terms of career 180s, it approaches Lil Wayne playing the guitar and Beck doing anything. The doc is a week old and the album isn’t even out yet, and the move has already been universally panned. The quejas are typical: cocky American musician re-appropriating foreign culture for profit and exposure, cocky American musician using “spiritual renewal” tag to dick off and smoke weed, cocky American musician thinking he can succeed in something other than his own forum. Whatever. His kids are grown up. Snoop Dogg can do whatever he wants.

As for the music, I don’t totally hate it. In fact, his second single, “Here Comes the King,” is a halfway decent pop song. Is it faithful to reggae’s identity? Probably not, but that hasn’t been a problem for the hundreds of white musicians re-appropriating ska into their own sound for the last fifty years. In fact, other Long Beach legend Bradley Nowell introduced Jamaican sounds into his band Sublime’s music with great fanfare. Why is Snoop getting criticism for his tropical foray?

Snoop claims he faced a spiritual crisis after his close friend Nate Dogg’s early passing, and that’s as good a reason for any sojourn. As far as I see it, Snoop owes us nothing, and if he wants to take a stab at reggae and Rastafarianism, Jahspeed. He remains a statistical positive in the world, and anything he attempts brings noteworthy attention and potential help to the endeavor. I wish him all the best, though it’s going to take a few more weeks to get used to the whole different name thing.

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