His debut album sold over 11 million copies worldwide. And then things went sideways…
By the graces of God, the West Coast’s most promising new artist beat a murder rap in February 1996 which would’ve sent him away for a *very* long time. Given the non-guilty verdict, the most damning thing to happen to Snoop that year was Dr. Dre’s departure from Death Row Records. Sick of the many distractions surrounding the label, Dre took his talents East and formed Aftermath Entertainment. While the short-term work product from Aftermath didn’t prove to be transformative, Dre would end up having the last laugh…
In the meantime, Snoop would find himself wallowing. With expectations building and his musical secret weapon now camped out in New York, Snoop’s sophomore set would come hot on the heels of the untimely demise of Tupac Shakur -- which in hindsight would signal the end of the powerhouse that was Death Row Records.
The album would sell nearly 500,000 copies in its first week. Eventually millions would be sold worldwide. And by all accounts, “Tha Doggfather” would have been a smashing success if not for the gigantic shadow cast by Snoop’s debut “Doggystyle”.
Listening to the album more than 20 years removed from its launch date, you develop a newfound appreciation for what this album represented in the evolution of Snoop. Not just sonically different due to heavy production roles played by DJ Pooh, Soopafly and Daz; not Dre, but a formidable bunch nonetheless. But also different from a lyrical perspective. Snoop was trying hard to fashion himself as less of a silky smooth gangsta rapper with a spotted past and more of lyricist. He tried - albeit in vain - to show that his lyrical stylings were far more valuable than the trademark sound that he and Dre had nurtured on “The Chronic” (1992) and “Doggystyle” (1993). Over two decades later, those two album are universally revered as bonafide classics, while “Tha Doggfather” serves as record of Snoop Dogg’s missed attempt at becoming the West Coast’s most iconic rapper of all time.
Sure...we all love Uncle Snoop. But it’s hard no to think back to the anticipation in ‘96 and what we were all hoping to hear when the album dropped on November 12th. Here’s a taste of what he gave us….
The Death of A Gansta. The Birth of A Pimp.
Today, it’s hard to see beyond the pimp persona that Snoop adopted. The freshly pressed hair and the chalices and the absurdity of Bishop Don “Magic” Juan. But, if you revisit “Doggystyle”, you’ll find that this element of Snoop really only appeared on one track: “Doggy Dogg World” featuring The Dramatics. On his debut album, Snoop was smooth, yet his songs still packed an undeniable punch. Go back and listen to “The Shiznit” if you can’t fully remember how hard Snoop’s must have hit at the time and how timeless the sounds from his debut set truly are.
Likely fueled by his recent legal woes, Snoop pivoted aggressively towards a softer and more soulful sound; at times even appearing to reach for a more mainstream sound. Which I remember being confusing to me as a kid because N.W.A., Dre and - yes - Snoop had cemented gansta rap as a staple of mainstream American music.
The Failings of "Tha Doggfather"
For all of the album’s merits, there were more missteps. “Groupie” felt like nothing short of a shameless attempt to recreate the magic of “Ain’t No Fun”, and “Freestyle Conversation” was an explicit indication of Snoop’s insecurities about have been abandoned by Dre. On the track Snoop hoped to flex his lyrical prowess, but in the end he only confirmed the suspicions of his post-Dre doubters and seemed to be shamelessly putting on an East Coast rhyming affect.
Pooh and Daz would over time prove to be production geniuses in their own right. However, there was no unifying thread to be found in this project. There was no clear indication of where Snoop was trying to go and there were far too few sightings of the 1993 Snoop that literally turned the rap game on its head and let the world know that the West Coast was not to be fucked with.
On March 16th, 2018 Snoop Dogg released his 16th album, “Bible of Love.” A gospel-themed album that took many by surprise. Along the way, he’s dabbled in RnB, reggae and virtually everything else. More than 20 years after the release of “Tha Doggfather”, it’s still unclear who Snoop Dogg is and what Snoop Dogg could have been.
But then again, maybe it’s our inability to pin him down and categorize him as one thing that makes him so iconic.