Snoop Doggy Dogg – Tha Doggfather (November 12, 1996)

Alongside his mentor, Dr. Dre, Snoop Doggy Dogg made quite the first impression with his cool persona and smooth flow on the 1992 title track for the Deep Cover Soundtrack (shoutout to the underappreciated, Larry Fishburne). Snoop would build on the “Deep Cover” momentum with an outstanding contribution to Dr. Dre’s 1992 classic, The Chronic, and the following year he would release his own classic with his debut solo album, Doggystyle. Snoop seemed to have the world in the palm of his hand, as he was quickly becoming a superstar, but he was also facing legal charges that could have him sent away for a very long time. Snoop and his bodyguard were charged with the 1993 murder of a rival gang member who his bodyguard allegedly shot while Snoop was driving the car the shots were fired from. But thanks to Suge Knight and Death Row, Snoop was able to obtain the services of Johnnie Cochran (rip) to defend him and his bodyguard, and they were both acquitted in February of 1996. With all of his legal troubles behind him, Snoop could finally focus on the music, but he’d have to do it without his mentor, Dr. Dre, who left Death Row earlier in ‘96. Almost exactly three years after Doggystyle’s release, Snoop would finally return with his sophomore effort, Tha Doggfather.

With Dre no longer maestroing the music, Snoop would have to look elsewhere for beats to back his rhymes. Tha Doggfather would take an all-hands-on deck approach to production, with instrumentals from the likes of DJ Pooh, Warren G, Daz Dillinger and a host of others. The album would go on to receive mostly favorable reviews, and it would climb to number one on both the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Albums charts and the Billboard Top 200. In January of 1997, less than sixty days after its release, Tha Doggfather would be certified double platinum. As the thoroughly documented story goes, Snoop and Suge would begin to beef, which would spell the end of the road for Snoop at Death Row, as he would defect to Master P’s No Limit label next. But things would come full circle in February of 2022, when Snoop would become the owner of Death Row Records. Time is, truly, illmatic.

I was a huge fan of The Chronic and Doggystyle (both of which deserve top ten hip-hop album of all-time consideration), so I’m not sure why I didn’t buy Tha Doggfather way back when it came out back in ‘96. I found a used copy a few years back and this post marks my first time listening to it, so let’s see how this goes.

Side note: In Tha Doggfather liner notes, Snoop dedicates two full pages to 2Pac (and shouts him out in his “Thank You’s”), which is probably the first acknowledgement and memorial to the fallen rapper by an artist on an album.

IntroTha Doggfather begins with elegant strings playing behind a collage of news reports about Snoop’s legal woes. Then our host shares a quick blip before the next song begins.

Doggfather – This was the third single released from Tha Doggfather. Daz lays down a smooth groove that falls somewhere in between sounding sultry and spooky. Snoop sounds refreshed after his forced hiatus, as he talks a little shit, briefly addresses his murder case (“Man I’m on this paper chase, like them white boy D.A.’s was on the case, but you know I ain’t tryna floss, but uh, murder, murder, murder was the case that they lost”) and celebrates his return to the mic; and his smooth nasally flow sounds as slick as his perm looks on the album cover and liner notes. Charlie Wilson contributes his always welcomed strong vocals to the hook (and an uncredited female vocalist sprinkles some pretty adlibs at end of the track as well), serving as the cherry on top of this enjoyable opening record.

Ride 4 Me – This short skit finds Snoop trying to convince a young gangsta (who sounds like he’s trying to earn some stripes) to run up in a rival’s crib and shoot him up, to which the young buck obliges. Interesting skit for someone who just beat a murder case, but whatever.

Up Jump Tha Boogie – DJ Pooh (aka Red from Friday) gets his first production credit of the evening, as he slides Snoop and Kurupt a decent synthed-up backdrop to rhyme over. I found it pretty hypocritical for Snoop to rap lines like “You put it in their head (referring to the young homies), that at thirteen their better off dead” and “Before I give a nigga a nine, I’d rather give a nigga a mic and write ‘em a rhyme,” after his shenanigans on the previous skit, but who am I to judge? The liner notes credit Charlie Wilson and Teena Marie for this track, but after at least fifteen listens to this song in the past three weeks, I don’t hear either one of them. This was passable, but far from potent enough to be sequenced this early in the album.

Freestyle Conversation – This one starts with some random cat approaching Snoop and telling him that without Dre in the Death Row camp his beats are going to be delicate (which I found hi-larious for some reason), to which Snoop doesn’t respond kindly to (his exact words are: “I don’t give a fuck about no beat!”). Then Soopafly’s intense instrumental, built around dramatic key stabs, drops and Snoop spits three freestyle verses in conversational form, but it sounds more like a rambling demo session. The instrumental was solid, but Snoop sounds horrible on this one.

When I Grow Up – Not sure what the point of this skit was, but…moving on…

Snoop Bounce – DJ Pooh interpolates Zapp’s “More Bounce To The Ounce,” giving it a rubbery, slightly zany makeover. Snoop spits passable rhymes and pays respect to EPMD and their classic record, “You Gots To Chill” (which was also built around a sample of Zapp’s hit record) on a few of his bars, while Charlie Wilson fills in the bald spots and the hook with a little crooning. I appreciate the EPMD homage, but I don’t want to hear Snoop rapping over a lazy remake of “More Bounce To The Ounce.”

Gold Rush – Snoop is joined by his band of outlaws (Kurupt, Techniec and Badd Azz) on this road trip to the Gold Rush, as they collectively form the fearless four horsemen, mixing hood shit with clever cowboy references and lingo on this gangsta and western musical (Snoop: “Ain’t no John Wayne, these niggas gangbang”). All four parties sound locked in and committed to the theme (Bad Azz sounds like a completely different man than the sleepy sedated rapper we heard on the lackadaisical “Krazy” from Makaveli’s 7 Day Theory) and the brilliantly rugged rock-tinged backdrop (credited to a duo I’ve never heard of before, Arkim & Flair) sounds amazing supporting their wild west content. I was waiting for the cameo whore of the year candidate, Sadat X to show up for this posse cut (no pun intended), considering the song concept and all. But no cigar.

(Tear ‘Em Off) Me & My Doggz – After a short news clip plays of a crying woman explaining to a reporter how bad a dog injured her husband, Snoop gets off a couple of verses about his dogs, human and canine. Snoop sounds like he just woke up from or is getting ready for a nap, as he spits what sounds like an off the top freestyle or best-case scenario, a written rough draft. Either way, this was dog pooh, and L.T.’s wacky backdrop only makes matters worse.

You Thought – DJ EZ Dick (rip to Ricky Harris) from Doggystyle’s W-Ballz makes his first appearance of the evening on this skit that sets up the song. Snoop invites Soopafly (who also receives credit for the instrumental) and Too Short to join him on this, as DJ EZ Dick calls it in the intro, “Pimp fun under the sun,” which is really just code for musical misogyny. All Snoop’s big girl fetish talk gave me visions of Kyle and Rhonda’s (rip) bed scene in Road Trip, and if you’re going to objectify women on a hip-hop song, you might as well invite the best to ever do it, Too Short, who also makes sure to get off his signature “beeatch” just before starting his verse. The trio didn’t cover any new ground, but I did enjoy the enormous jazzy horn stabs in Soopafly’s instrumental.

Vapors – This remake of Biz Markie’s (rip) classic record of the same name was also the second single off Tha Doggfather. Snoop swaps out TJ Swan, Big Daddy Kane, Cool V and Biz Markie’s rags to riches stories with verses about Nate Dogg (rip), Daz, Warren G and himself, making just enough tweaks and adjustments in the rhymes to make it his own. Now this is the proper way to page homage to a legend and his classic record.

Groupie – After a super questionable opening skit that would never fly in today’s social media driven world, Snoop and the gang try to rekindle the playful magic they created on “Ain’t No Fun” from Doggystyle. Daz (who along with Dre and Warren G received production credit for “Ain’t No Fun”) hooks up a warm, seductive G-Funk groove that he, Kurupt, Nate Dogg, Warren G and Snoop rap about a few different lady groupies they’ve entertained. Uncle Charlie once again lends his timeless vocals to enhance the hook and sprinkles the track with tasteful adlibs. It’s not as classic as “Ain’t No Fun,” but still an enjoyable record in its own right.

2001 – DJ Pooh’s responsible for this bouncy energetic backdrop that’s sprinkled with a hint of fright. Snoop comes out the gates, guns a blazing with his flow, and though he sounds good, I was a bit disappointed to see he didn’t write his rhymes for this one (the liner notes credit Badd Azz, Kurupt and Threatt). I still love the energy of this record, which makes for a very solid album cut.

Sixx Minutes – Snoop gets off another undirected freestyle, while paying respect to another vintage East Coast hip-hop record (Doug E. Fresh & The Get Fresh Crew’s “The Show”) during the hook. Arkim & Flair supply the understated funk groove, while Raphael Saadiq puts the funk in the groove with his guitar play, and an uncredited K-Ci (who along with his brother JoJo, must have been honorary members of Death Row by this point) sprinkles his signature raw vocals on a few adlibs. If you can block out Snoop’s lyrical rubbish and just take in the music, you’ll enjoy this one.

(O.J.) Wake Up – After a simple but hi-larious song opening joke from Snoop (I literally lol every time I hear it), our host and L.T. mix a primitive Larry Smith-esque Run DMC drumbeat with nineties G-Funk synth chords, which might sound like a train wreck on paper, but it sounds pretty amazing bangin’ through your headphones or speakers. Snoop (like the drumbeat, pays homage to Run DMC’s record of the same name during the hook) is joined by Tray Dee on the mic, as the duo manage to wrangle the unorthodox beat and rock over it effectively (the instrumental gets even more interesting during Tray’s second verse when luscious strings are brought into the musical equation). This is a fire album cut that makes me want to pop lock every time I hear it.

Snoop’s Upside Ya Head – This was the lead single from Tha Doggfather and one of the few songs I was familiar with going into this post. DJ Pooh builds another instrumental around a low-hanging fruit sample, this time, tapping The Gap Band’s “Oops Up Side Your Head.” But low-hanging fruit or not, the buzzing bass lined funk banger sounds great, and the fact that the voice that powered the O.G. version (Charlie Wilson) sings live on it, only enhances the experience. This track is also one of the few times on Tha Doggfather that Snoop sounds focused and locked in with his rhymes. This joint definitely sounds better than it did twenty-seven years ago.

Blueberry – Sam Sneed hooks up one of his pristine suspenseful synth-heavy blockbusters that Ital Joe, Kurupt, Daz, Bad Azz and Techniec handle well, while Snoop cheers them on from the sideline. This was hard, but I do have one question: Where the hell is Lady of Rage at?

Traffic Jam – Another DJ EZ Dick interlude.

Doggyland – Does your life have more problems than an algebra test? Well, Snoop knows a place where you don’t have to worry about baby mama drama, money, guns, crime, prison, or any other forms of stress; and all you need to get in is your gold card. Welcome to Doggyland! Snoop’s rhymes are kind of corny, but the playful positive energy is welcomed, and DJ Pooh’s quirky backdrop follows suit.

Downtown Assassins – The peaceful fantasy land that Snoop painted during the previous song gets completely erased, as Daz, Snoop and Tray Dee bring things back to the darkside, sharing their sinister drug dealer tales, while a bootleg Tony Montana narrates. Daz cooks up (no pun intended) a cinematic thriller that he jumps on first, followed by another solid performance from Tray Dee (I wasn’t familiar with him before this post, but after two solid cameos on this album, I’d definitely like to hear more from him) and Snoop wraps things up, turning in what’s probably his strongest performance of the evening, as his flow sounds as sharp as the creases in his khakis, but once again, he didn’t write his rhymes for this one (Daz and Tray Dee are the credited writers in the liner notes). Snoop’s puppet antics aside, this was still fire.

Outro – Snoop ends Tha Doggfather with a snippet of he and 2pac performing “2 Of Amerikaz Most Wanted” live as a tribute to his fallen comrade.

After a stressful three years of court hearings and legal issues, then finally being acquitted of murder charges in February of ‘96, I’m sure Snoop felt like the weight of the world had been lifted off his shoulders. But with his legal woes behind him, he now faced a new pressure. How would he follow up his critically acclaimed, commercially successful, classic debut album, without the security blanket and Midas touch of the production juggernaut that was no longer at his disposal in Dr. Dre? Well…

At the beginning of the underwhelming, “Freestyle Conversation,” a random brother suggests that without Dre at the production helm, Snoop’s beats might be subpar (“delicate” is the exact word he uses *still laughing*), to which Snoop replies, “fuck a beat,” because he feels he’s such a dope emcee that a beat doesn’t define him, and he’s right. A beat doesn’t define a great emcee, but the production definitely plays a significant part in defining a great album. DJ Pooh and company manage to provide a handful of solid instrumentals, but every time they hit, they miss as well. And I’m sure since it had been three years since Snoop released an album, he felt obligated to give his fans an abundance of music, but there is absolutely no reason Tha Doggfather should have been twenty-one tracks, as more than half of its filler and half of the filler is empty garbage, serving as evidence that quality is better than quantity. But the biggest problem with Tha Doggfather is the doggfather himself. For most of the album, Snoop sounds unfocused, spewing lazy rhymes and aimless freestyles in the form of half-baked ideas and song concepts; and on the rare occasions he does sound focused and motivated, the rhymes are credited to other writers.

I love the respect and appreciation Snoop shows for east coast hip-hop and its pioneering artists throughout Tha Doggfather, and the fact that he steered clear of the East/West beef, even while being associated with one of the major players in the feud (Death Row Records), is highly commendable. There are a handful of solid records on the album, but let’s be honest. To say that Tha Doggfather is a disappointment would be an understatement, and there is no doubt in my mind, had Snoop still been a patient of the good doctor, this would have been a much healthier album.


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