It's been a long time since Snoop Dogg's career has been defined by his music. The 40-year-old rapper from Long Beach, Calif., exists in a rare pop-culture stratosphere where most of his headlines are garnered for decisions made outside of the recording booth. He's directing porn (thanks, Hustler)! He's a reality TV dad ("Snoop Dogg's Father Hood")! He's been rechristened as Snoop Lion during a spiritual trip to Jamaica!
And, oh yeah, he releases music sometimes, too (most recently the Major Lazer-produced reggae track "La La La"). Next year marks the 20th anniversary of Snoop's seminal debut, "Doggystyle," still his best work. Yet his popularity has grown, as Snoop has become something more than a just rapper or even just musician. He's an icon and a novelty, a star that grows brighter with each endorsement and slick pop move.
So it made sense his concert at Rams Head Live didn't feel much about the music either. Snoop — backed by a DJ, keyboardist and back-up singer — strolled on stage at 10:35 p.m., after doors had opened at 7 for a pre-party.
(The warm-up party from 92Q's DJ Angel Baby could have its own review, so here's a short one: The excellent, effective set was filled with high-energy pop-rap. The crowd was ready to rage by the time Snoop came on, as songs such as French Montana's exuberant posse-cut "Pop That" and Juicy J's latest strip-club anthem "Bands a Make Her Dance" did the heavy lifting. When the latter's booming beat hit the speakers, dollar bills came raining down from the balcony. It felt appropriate.)
Snoop let the familiarity of his hits carry him throughout his brief set. The energy remained high all night, with recent hits ("I Wanna Rock") mixed with older tracks ("Snoop's Upside Ya Head" translated nicely in the live setting). When the timeless classics came mid-set — the West Coast-era defining "Nuthin' But a G Thang," "What's My Name," still one of the most confident rap songs announcing an MC's arrival ever — there was a palpable sense of euphoria in the diverse crowd.
But there was also something bland and even cheesy about Snoop's performance. I had hoped for a full-band (or at least something with a drummer), but got a man wearing a comic dog head, doing West Coast dance moves across the stage. It also seemed strange to hear Snoop's saccharine pop side, such as his verse on Katy Perry's "California Gurls." As he rapped "Toned, tanned, fit and ready," two pretty dancers flanked the towering rapper, adding little with stale, choreographed moves. I really wanted to complain about this detour to Snoop's pandering side, but the girls near me loved when "California Gurls" came on, so I guess Snoop just knows his audience.
As a performer, Snoop is serviceable in an endearingly old-school way. "Say, 'Go Snoop Dogg, go Snoop Dogg, go,'" he instructed the crowd like an MC from the late '80s. His voice has survived years of blunts and performing. His melodic, sing-songy tone and flow have held up well over the years ("Sensual Seduction" was a goofy highlight), despite the fact a back-up singer's microphone sounded almost as loud as Snoop's all night. He pitched in on every hook, adding muscle so Snoop never strained.
The show unceremoniously ended at around 11:30, less than an hour after Snoop took the stage. He milked the hook of "Young, Wild and Free" (a collaboration with Wiz Khalifa, a rapper indebted to Snoop's persona and vocal style), asking the audience to sing the silly, infectious hook a capella a few times before launching into the real version.
And then, before the crowd realized, Snoop was gone, walking off the stage to Bob Marley's "Jamming." There was no encore (I stood there, frozen, unable to comprehend a Snoop set without hearing the Pharrell-assisted "Beautiful"), just the lights turning on and a crowd surprised the show was already over.
Snoop hasn't had to prove anything musically for a long time; he seems content with releasing OK albums every couple years and being Snoop the Brand instead of Snoop the Gifted Rapper. So rather fittingly, his Rams Head Live set felt like he had been cut a large check to start a party (cue flashbacks to his "Old School" cameo) and then leave before it really popped off, which is a shame because I'm pretty sure Snoop can make a great host.