One-trick ponies don't last too long in pop, especially in the fragmented, attention-deficient iPod age. But amazingly Snoop Dogg - the lanky charismatic rapper with the famed laconic flow - has remained relevant for 15 years, more or less hawking the same persona. He's the high-rolling, cognac-smooth smack talker who openly loves marijuana, occasionally glorifies violence and habitually objectifies women.
Over the years, Snoop has shrewdly survived the pop game by selling a somewhat softer version of his image in movies, commercials and lately on a hit reality TV show on E!, Snoop Dogg's Father Hood. The show chronicles his sometimes amusing interactions with his warmly authoritative wife, Shante Broadus, whom Snoop calls the "Boss Lady," and their three kids: two mischievous boys, Corde and Cordell, and a precocious girl, Cori.
But musically, Snoop is the same old dog for the most part. On his new album - the aptly titled Ego Trippin, in stores today - the rapper, 36, only reveals flashes of the personal growth seen on the TV show. Certainly self-indulgent with 21 tracks and at times lyrically incongruous, the CD largely burnishes and celebrates Snoop's image as the untouchable, strangely charming pimp and gangsta.
Sure, the rapper continues to perpetuate warped images of black masculinity in his music. But with his infectious beats and a liquescent, sharply rhythmic flow all his own, Snoop is hard to ignore.
"It's become increasingly difficult for any artist to maintain longevity. This holds true particularly for rappers," says Kurt Patat, an editor for theboombox.com, an urban music Web site from AOL Music. "He's been able to develop and keep a strong fan base by staying musically relevant through a variety of high-profile collaborations. He's one of those rare acts that's universally loved across the board."
Snoop is the only figure of the gangsta rap era whose albums still sell gold or multi-platinum. "Drop It Like It's Hot," his 2004 smash collaboration with the Neptunes, soared to No. 1 on the pop charts. Unfortunately, there's nothing that sleek and fresh-sounding on Ego Trippin, the rapper's ninth album. But Snoop shows more of a winking sense of humor, something he doesn't usually bring to the studio.
On the album's first single - the comedic Top 10 hit "Sensual Seduction" (aka "Sexual Eruption") - Snoop sings. His thin vocals, filtered through a vocoder, sail over an airy, synth-based arrangement steeped in '80s R&B.; The retro approach and humorously clumsy come-ons are fleshed out in the song's cheesy video, which spoofs, among other things, Purple Rain-era Prince.
Amid all the raps about how hard, fly and irresistible he is, Snoop tosses in unconvincing lyrical reflections of his family-man role seen on Father Hood. "Been Around Tha World," an ode to his wife, is still more about Snoop as he front-loads the cut with boasts about his international fame. But his commitment to his marriage - something he apparently wasn't feeling three years ago when he filed for divorce - is more tenderly displayed on the show.
Snoop's reconciliation with his wife was the inspiration behind "One Chance (Make It Good)." On the ho-hum track, he doles out simplistic relationship tidbits such as "if you like her/wife her." However, this is preceded by "Those Gurlz," a shimmering, laid-back cut where Snoop sounds much more convincing as the swaggering, potty-mouthed seducer.
With production by Snoop, Teddy Riley, DJ Quik and Everlast, Ego Trippin is the rapper's most musically chameleonic CD. "My Medicine," for instance, is the album's most outlandish departure. Dedicating the cut to a "real American gangsta," Johnny Cash, Snoop puts a country spin on his pimp game backed by a twangy combo of bass, drums and guitar. The result, though slightly corny, is still amusing.
Overall, the new CD is redundant and much too long. Studded with a few duds, the CD still offers several cuts that showcase Snoop's peerless skills on the mike. Refreshing dashes of humor surface here and there. But Ego Trippin mostly comes off as a confused character study. The rapper clearly wants to continue selling the over-the-top gangsta-pimp image. But he wants to show more of the aging hip-hop superstar who's settling into family life. One side has long been repackaged over and over again; the other seen on Father Hood is still evolving.
But on Ego Trippin, he hasn't quite figured out how to reconcile the two.