For a celebrity with one of the most distinctly recognizable public personas, Snoop Dogg always seems to be tinkering with his identity as an artist. His rap name alone has gone through multiple permutations from Snoop Doggy Dogg to Snoop Dogg to Snoop Lion to Snoopzilla and back again. The basics always stay the same—his everlasting love of weed, the women, the blue flag pride, the unfortunate retrograde misogyny—but each incarnation—from Death Row inmate to No Limit Soldier to Rastafarian spiritualist—offers a slightly different look upon the life of Calvin Broadus.
In recent years, Snoop has been tinkering with his basic identity as a musician. After a 23-year career, Snoop Dogg has seemingly grown bored with rap music, choosing instead to expand his reach into new musical territory. 2013’s documentary/album Reincarnated found Snoop Dogg awkwardly trying on the mantle of a reggae artist in a controversial move that left purists like legendary Bob Marley-associate Bunny Wailer accusing Snoop of fraudulent appropriation of Rastafarian culture. A year later, Snoop would find greater success teaming up with neo-funk artist Dâm-Funk for their collaborative album 7 Days of Funk that paid tribute to their mutual love of the Gap Band, vocoder boxes, and vintage synthesizers. This year, Snoop Dogg has undergone yet another shift in his ever-changing identity with the release of his solid new pop album, Bush, a collaboration with long-time producer Pharrell Williams.
On Bush, Pharrell acts as the album’s sole producer. Pharrell has enjoyed a career renaissance in recent years as the go-to producer for happy-go-lucky R&B-tinged pop singles from artists like Robin Thick and Daft Punk. By moving away from the strident, interstellar rap production of his Neptunes days, Pharrell has re-established his commercial ubiquity as a platinum producer. Thus it is no surprise that Snoop’s Bush is analogous to the radio-friendly unit-shifting pop of Pharrell’s commercially successful G I R L. Powered by danceable, syncopated grooves, breezy melodies, and soulful vocals from a variety of guest stars, Snoop’s album has the same bright and smooth veneer that Pharrell’s gold-selling album had. It’s a playful sound that Snoop seems surprisingly comfortable on despite the ex-Crip’s roots in sneering gangster rap.
Powered by danceable, syncopated grooves, breezy melodies, and soulful vocals from a variety of guest stars, Snoop’s album has the same bright and smooth veneer that Pharrell’s gold-selling album had.
Snoop doesn’t rap much on the record. Instead, he harmonizes his trademark laconic drawl into an off-beat singing style that blends smoothly into Pharrell’s funk-flavored melodies. It is a style that doesn’t seem too far removed from the melodic, laid-back delivery that initially made him a crossover star in his Death Row days. Snoop might not be the most talented vocalist in the traditional sense, but he’s resourceful enough a musician to fill in the gaps in his vocal’s registers with a variety of guest artists who are. Pharrell is on hand to bring his trademark falsetto while funk legend and longtime Snoop collaborator Charlie Wilson provides leading and background vocals on multiple tracks (singles “So Many Pros” and “Peaches N Cream”) bringing an elegant, vintage soul to the proceedings. Kendrick Lamar, Rick Ross, and T.I. also drop in to contribute verses but don’t do much to shift the album’s focus. Meanwhile, the legendary Stevie Wonder emerges to provide lead vocals on the album’s opener, “California Roll,” and Gwen Stefani brings her punk-pixie energy to standout “Run Away” later on the record.
Unlike much of Pharrell’s recent work, Bush lacks a signature single. There’s no “Get Lucky,” “Blurred Lines,” or “Happy” on the album that might power Snoop to wedding dance floor omnipresence. “Peaches N Cream” and “So Many Pros” are fun, low-stakes singles, but there isn’t anything about them that makes them essential to the pop canon. The album flies by at a brisk pace, but there is no song that truly sticks with you. In addition, I imagine for longtime Snoop fans, it might be a little jarring to hear the man on something this nakedly pop. There isn’t anything outright offensive to the senses, but if you are a bit of curmudgeon Bush might strike you as a little corny.
Regardless, these are relatively minor concerns as Bush is a warm, pop pleasure. As an extension of Snoop’s ever-mutating musical identity this decade, this album might be his most successful non-traditional hip-hop album. There is something inherently impressive to see a successful, 40-ish artist—on his 13th solo album, no less—continually attempt to re-invent his sound with such craft. The fact that he’s doing it so successfully so long after his artistic prime might suggest that Snoop can be more than the avuncular, smoked-out jester he’s become in pop culture over recent years.
B.J. Steiner is a writer living in New York. Follow him @DocZeus.