When it was announced that Snoop Dogg had inked a three-album deal with the surging No Limit Records in March of 1998, the rap world stood still. Not only did Tha Doggfather successfully escape Death Row, he had managed to partner with the hottest label in music at the time. It wasn’t just the fact that nearly every No Limit release was shipping gold or platinum – they were dropping albums monthly from previously-unknown artists that managed to sell off the Tank’s brand alone. While the move certainly made sense from a business standpoint, many wondered if Snoop would slip further away from his signature sound by joining a team with a distinctly New Orleans flavor.
From the moment Snoop’s No Limit debut, Da Game Is To Be Sold, Not To Be Told, was announced and the glossy, diamond-encrusted Pen & Pixel cover started popping up in the liner notes of No Limit albums, it was evident that this was going to be a No Limit product through-and-through. To the general public, the album was doomed before a single was released.
It almost didn’t matter what Snoop Dogg was cooking up in New Orleans – if Dr. Dre wasn’t producing it or Tha Dogg Pound wasn’t heavily involved, it was going to be viewed as another lukewarm release that paled in comparison to his stellar debut, Doggystyle. Doggystyle, much like Nas’ Illmatic, proved to be a gift and a curse; a timeless debut that set a gold standard nearly impossible to top. Truthfully, none of this really appeared to matter to Snoop. As evidenced by his numerous appearances on No Limit releases leading up to Da Game…, he was more than happy to be a lieutenant amongst Master P’s army of soldiers. So how did the actual album fare?
The album opens with the KLC-produced “Snoop World” featuring Master P. Even the most casual hip hop fans will recognize this Bootsy Collins sample, most popularized by Tupac Shakur on “Str8 Ballin.” Snoop immediately embraces his status as a No Limit Soldier over KL’s smooth production before Master P joins for a forgettable verse. The second entry on the album finds Beats By The Pound producer, O’Dell, interpolating Loose Ends’ “Slow Down” with Mia X. This remake actually works quite well, with O’Dell crooning the hook while Snoop and Mia show surprising chemistry.
“N-O-L-I-M-I-T, cause we gon’ make you say Woof! until you muthafuckas demand that nigga named Snoop!”
“Woof!” was promoted as Da Game…’s second single and features Snoop at his rowdiest. Clearly aimed at capitalizing on the success of Master P’s monstrous single “Make Em Say Ugh!”, the former is certainly a departure from the Snoop Dogg of old but the song itself is nothing short of excellent. Featuring No Limit all-stars Fiend and Mystikal, all three artists bring their best to this Craig B-produced gem.
“Gin & Juice II” is exactly what it sounds like – Snoop attempting to recreate the colossal hit from his Death Row days. The result is a mixed bag. If you venture into this cut expecting anything on the level of the original, you’re going to be disappointed. At face value though, it’s a fairly enjoyable listen. “Show Me Love” is reminiscent of Snoop’s second album, Tha Doggfather, in that it features both DJ Pooh and former Gap Band front man, Charlie Wilson. Unlike their collaborations on Tha Doggfather, however, this track lacks. Pooh’s production is flat and Snoop does nothing to save what should’ve been an album highlight.
Thankfully, the album gets back on track with the next series of songs, “Hustle & Ball” and “Don’t Let Go.” The former features O’Dell’s haunting piano keys over a menacing backdrop as Snoop let’s it be known he’s ‘bringing gangsta shit to this No Limit click.’ The latter welcomes (“Keep Ya Head Up”) producer DJ Daryl into the fold. Quite possibly one of the smoothest cuts on the album, “Don’t Let Go” showcases Snoop at his best, as he effortlessly weaves over a bouncy instrumental, warning aspiring artists of the danger that comes with being in the rap game.
If ever there were a beat that described KLC’s signature sound, “TRU Tank Doggs” is it. Accompanied by a strong feature from Mystikal, Snoop dips back down south, while the two trade verses threatening to make you ‘boot up or shut up.’ Master P returns to lend a hook and is surprisingly listed as the producer of the next song, “Whatcha Gon’ Do?”. This teaser of a track is Snoop in his natural element while the West Coast influence of this instrumental makes P’s involvement that much more puzzling.
Released as the album’s first single on July 3, 1998, “Still A G Thang” deviates from the No Limit formula just enough to let his core audience know he’s still that same old Snoop Dogg. Over a funky Meech Wells bassline, this song is notable for a number of reasons. Subtle shots at Death Row are thrown with Snoop proudly boasting that ‘No Limit is the label that pays me.’ He also uses the smooth summer single to reach out to his mentor Dr. Dre on wax. The song is an enjoyable entry in Snoop’s deep catalogue of classics.
Following ‘G Thang’ is “20 Dollars To My Name”, a classic No Limit posse cut featuring the ever-energetic Fiend, Silkk The Shocker, Master P and the late Soulja Slim. Slim steals the show here and despite being incarcerated at the time of the album’s release, it’s obvious why Snoop opted to save this song for his album. Arriving to No Limit at the same time, Slim and Snoop immediately formed a friendship that lasted until the young rapper’s death in 2003. “D.O.G.’s Get Lonely 2” is a clunky attempt at remixing Jon B’s 1997 smash, “They Don’t Know.” Even with Jon showing up to provide backing vocals, the song doesn’t gel with the rest of the project.
“Ain’t Nut’n Personal” marks the first appearance by C-Murder and it’s instantly apparent that the two artists’ styles mesh perfectly together. Not without reason, C-Murder’s delivery was compared to Tupac Shakur throughout much of 1998 and over a simplistic (but hard) Craig B beat, the two bring their A-game. Silkk is also featured here but sounds like he’s battling a cold and doesn’t add much to what was already a classic No Limit track. “DP Gangsta” recreates N.W.A.’s “Gangsta Gangsta” with C-Murder slipping into (his favorite rapper) Eazy-E’s role. While the original simply can’t be topped, it’s still a refreshing update.
“Game Of Life” and “See Ya When I Get There” illustrate how this album is able to travel seamlessly from the gulf coast to the left coast in a matter of minutes. California cohorts Steady Mobb’n bless ‘Game…’ with some Bay Area flavor while ‘See Ya…’ features a melancholic Snoop and Mystikal reflecting on dead friends and family, while C-Murder croons a very Tupac-esque hook.
The album loses its footing for the next three songs (a pointless interlude featuring Big Pimpin, a way-too-short collaboration with Mia X and a bland remake of “Love’s Gonna Get’cha” by Boogie Down Productions). It quickly regains momentum though with “Hoes, Money & Clout”, produced by longtime Snoop collaborator, Soopafly. This proves to be one of Da Game…’s best with Snoop throwing more potshots at his former employers (‘game stronger, no longer on Tha Row’). Concluding with the 21st cut, “Get Bout It & Rowdy”, on paper, would appear to be nothing more than a rehashed version of the southern anthem, “Bout It, Bout It.” And to a certain extent – it is. The inner fan in me though will never get tired of hearing that classic KL synth. This is a much more polished version and solidifies Da Game… as a respectable foray into southern hip hop for Snoop.
Produced almost entirely by the Tank’s in-house production team, Beats By The Pound, with features predominantly comprised of No Limit artists, Da Game… was unanimously crucified as a rushed attempt by Snoop to capitalize on Master P’s wave. Despite considerable commercial success (the album was certified double platinum within months), the public perception was that Snoop’s career was in grave danger.
This assessment, of course, proved to be incredibly reactionary. Snoop did go on to reunite with Dr. Dre, and rekindle that Chronic-era magic, less than a year later with his 2nd No Limit release, No Limit Top Dogg. In fact, it could be argued that his best albums (not named Doggystyle) were during his time on No Limit. The stability they provided his career can’t be understated. Taking all of this into consideration is imperative when revisiting Da Game Is To Be Sold, Not To Be Told. You’re able to absorb the music for what it is and what it proved to be was a regional classic in its own right.
Overall Vibes: 7.7/10