Snoop Doggy Dogg
Tha Doggfather
(Death Row)

Snoop Doggy Dogg raps the way Clint Eastwood acts--dryly but deeply. Snoop's a bit more talkative, but his mostly impassive overtones--punctuated by spasms of spontaneous combustion--are pure Dirty Harry.

The essence of Snoop's message is almost subliminal, derived as much from the stomach-turning tension of the long, hissing fuse as from the startling detonation. The impact of Snoop's disaffection is only as great as his potential for disaster: He depends on context. And it is context that is often missing from Snoop's long-awaited second solo album, Tha Doggfather.

More to the point, what's missing is Dr. Dre. The production genius left Death Row to start his own record label last spring, just after Snoop's acquittal in a two-and-a-half-year-old murder case. Bad timing. The collaboration between Snoop and Dre was one of the most dynamic and successful in popular music. It was Snoop's brushfire vocals on Dre's debut album, The Chronic, that cemented the producer's reputation--and sold three million copies. It was Dre's lushly ominous beats on Snoop's first solo album, Doggystyle, that established the Long Beach rapper as a hip-hop icon--and sold four million more.

Tha Doggfather is a production hodge-podge. Eight people spent time behind the mixing board, including Snoop himself. Some of them--DJ Pooh, Dat Nigga Daz, Priest "Soopafly" Brooks--are among the most talented on the West Coast. But none of them is the most talented--none of them is Dr. Dre. It would be unfair to condemn them for that, and it's laudable that each producer was clearly intent on being his own man. But Snoop's style isn't always well-served by the smorgasbord of approaches on Tha Doggfather. Too often there is too little contrast between his subtle intonations and the musically sparse tracks. Unlike his previous recordings, where Snoop's voice was carefully layered atop the mix, it frequently gets lost on this album. The lack of a single producer also deprives the record of a consistent, atmospheric theme.

Nonetheless, there is plenty to like about Tha Doggfather. Snoop's skills, among the finest in rap, are as sharp as ever. On a cut called "Freestyle Conversation," he shows he can keep up with the up-and-comers who arrived while he was on hiatus, delivering a stream-of-consciousness soliloquy with the efficiency of a snare drum. Snoop's themes can get a little repetitive: The odes to sexual prowess and ruthless violence have lost much of their shock value; we're more apt to roll our eyes than recoil in horror. And the invocations of Death Row's dominance don't ring quite so true in light of the label's recent troubles, from Dr. Dre's defection to Tupac Shakur's murder to CEO "Suge" Knight's incarceration.

But Snoop's lyrics foray off the beaten path often enough to keep us alert. Among his most valuable insights are an illumination of the seductive trap of gang life, his embrace of success over turf wars and his rejection of the violent aspects of rap's East Coast/West Coast rivalry. Then there is the subtle victory celebration of his highly publicized murder trial, when in the midst of the album's title track he pauses and says, "I ain't tryin' to floss, but murder was the case that they lost!"

But the best songs on Tha Doggfather are a couple of covers--"Snoop Upside Ya Head," a remake of the Gap Band hit complete with vocals by Charlie Wilson, and "Vapors," a spin on the where-were-you-when-I-was-down-and-out song by rapper Biz Markie. Like a mob boss out of exile, Snoop Doggy Dogg is back, but even though Tha Doggfather sometimes is inspired, it's rarely inspirational. If it falls short of fully restoring the authority and status that Snoop once enjoyed, it positions him to fight another day. Ultimately, it's less an epic drama than a spaghetti Western. Eastwood would understand.

--Dave Wielenga

Death Ride 69
Screaming Down the Gravity Well
(Fifth Colvm)

East Side Militia
(Metal Blade/Fifth Colvm)

Beneath the Skin

There's a gathering host of upstart, independent industrial record labels in America ready to war with the heavy hitters. It won't be an easy fight, since labels like Metropolis, Ras Dva, Cleopatra and 21st Circuitry don't have huge promotional budgets or radio airplay (except on low-powered college stations). The small labels' primary "weapons" are their music, and it is by their music they will live or die.

Fifth Colvm is looking tough. If you like hard-edged, dancey industrial rock with strong female vocals, you won't be disappointed by Death Ride 69's second album, Screaming Down the Gravity Well. Death Ride is the brain child of "The Beatmistress," a.k.a. Linda LeSabre, who plays live percussion and sings in a style roughly similar to Exene Cervenka channeling the vocal richness of the B-52's and making it dangerous.

The album opens with "Needle," an anthemic dance powerhouse, with LeSabre exhorting you to "drop the needle and raise your fist." In "Fucked Up Generation," in which a bouncy, almost junglish programmed/live beat is sliced open by a rough metallic staccato synth line, the chant changes to "Steal it and live/Fuck it and kill . . . the choice of a fucked-up generation." And in the sultry-yet-threatening whisper/moan of the album's title track, LeSabre promises "I will have you/And I will take you/And I will fuck you . . ." Death Ride 69 knows how to temper raw anger with big, fat hooks, be they vocal or instrumental.

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