Snoop Dogg’s career was in a bit of an uneasy place in the spring of 1999. No longer stranded on Tha Row, Tha Doggfather had successfully maneuvered his way down south to Master P’s No Limit imprint and, within months, quickly churned out his 3rd solo offering, Da Game Is To Be Sold…Not To Be Sold. The album sold over two million copies but left longtime fans utterly disappointed. The silky delivery and breezy melodies of his Death Row days had been replaced with hard 808’s and countless No Limit cameos.
The Tank kept on rolling (releasing a whopping 23 albums in 1998) but it wasn’t long before the general public began growing tired of the No Limit sound. To make matters worse, Snoop’s follow-up to Da Game…, tentatively titled Top Dogg, was already being advertised in the liner notes of his No Limit debut. The cover sported the standard glossy Pen & Pixel design and was sure to be more of the same. And thus, Snoop found himself at a crossroads.
He could rally the troops, head right back into the studio with Beats By The Pound and probably hit platinum again…but at what cost? He risked further alienating his core fan base and, even worse, might be relegated to “washed up” status in the minds of many. Sometime in early 1999 though, something significant happened. Snoop began creeping back to California and reconnecting with comrades of old. These visits soon turned into studio sessions and the results of these sessions served as the introduction to a new West Coast renaissance.
With Master P pursuing NBA dreams, Snoop was in complete creative control and the music was sounding good. He quickly reshot the album cover to better reflect his return to form, pushed the release date up to May 11, 1999 and changed the title to No Limit Top Dogg. The latter change was a proud tribute to No Limit’s support for stabilizing his career, but also acted as a calculated shot at Death Row Records and their new Snoop clone, Top Dogg (we’ll get to that later). Thrust into stores a mere 8 months after the release of Da Game…, No Limit Top Dogg was a fork-in-the-road project that had the potential to make or break Snoop’s career.
Blaxploitation icon, Rudy Ray Moore, revives his legendary Dolemite persona for No Limit Top Dogg’s Intro – a brief, but entertaining, salute to Snoop for being the “Dogg of all Doggs.” The album’s first song Buck Em is significant for a number of reasons, most importantly of which is Snoop’s reunion with mentor, Dr. Dre. And Dre’s sound has evolved for the duo’s first collaboration since 1995. The Parliament-Funkadelic feel is all but gone as Dre supplies a new brand of sparse, poignant California flavor. The production feels lean and eerie – a perfect backdrop for Snoop’s relaxed style.
Trust Me is the rap reincarnation of Bobby Womack’s I Wish I Didn’t Trust Me So Much (right down to the chorus). And who better to spit game with Snoop on this 70’s-inspired gem than the pimp of all pimps, Suga Free? Sylk-E. Fine also guests but this number is for the players, and both Suga Free and Snoop sound incredibly comfortable in their respective roles. Snoop’s lone West Coast lifeline in 1998 was, for the most part, unsung producer Meech Wells. Meech supplied Snoop’s first single for No Limit (Still A G Thang) and returns here for the similarly-sounding My Heat Goes Boom. The song is simplistic but catchy. Snoop even takes the opportunity to call out critics and detractors alike:
“Look here fool, I know this game in and out…
And quit trying to tell me bout them niggas down south…
Don’t try to slide with that Westside love shit…
That dove shit, eat a dick, bitch!”
Dolemite is back with a brief, self-titled skit but doesn’t interrupt the strong start to the album. And speaking of strong starts, who could forget Snoop’s classic cover of Slick Rick’s Lodi Dodi way back in 1993? Well, he takes a similar approach with No Limit Top Dogg’s next song, Snoopafella. This time Snoop reworks Dana Dane’s 1987 smash, Cinderfella, into a fresh, G-Funkish fairy tale. Snoopafella wasn’t without it’s fair share of controversy though. Remember Death Row’s new artist (conveniently named Top Dogg) we mentioned earlier in this review? Turns out incarcerated CEO, Suge Knight, caught wind that Snoop was remaking Cinderfella and had his clone rush-record a Death Row version. It was even released as the lead single to their shamelessly-titled compilation, The Chronic 2000. Snoop’s version was far superior but Suge’s pettiness clearly knew no limits.
In Love With A Thug, with its laughable title and tired tale of a good girl that likes bad boys, is the first track worth skipping. And while G Bedtime Stories sports solid production, Snoop struggles to keep pace with its uptempo feel and ultimately comes up short. The next entry is the first true No Limit contribution and a song whose inclusion might surprise people. Down 4 My Niggaz may very well be the biggest southern anthem of all time (and undoubtedly C-Murder’s biggest hit) but it made its first appearance on No Limit Top Dogg. This iconic club banger was actually a direct response to Death Row’s Easy 2 Be A Soldier When There Ain’t No War – a self-explanatory shot at both Snoop and No Limit. Fuming, C-Murder immediately hit the studio with Magic before KLC slid it to Snoop to unleash on. The result was a truly timeless record.
The intensity of Down 4 My Niggaz is tapered back with the next two numbers – Betta Days and Somethin’ Bout Yo Bidness. These songs find Snoop musically drifting along California’s coastline but still feel a bit flat and uninspired. Thankfully, NL Top Dogg’s momentum picks right back up with another Dr. Dre-produced classic, Bitch Please. Xzibit, who was rapidly becoming a star in his own right, sets it off with his distinctively gruff delivery. And once again, Snoop confirms what most already believed – he’s at his absolute best when working with the good doctor. Even Nate Dogg shows up for the fun, perfectly crooning this single’s memorable outro.
Doin’ Too Much features the legendary DJ Quik on the boards and, like Dre, Quik knows what works for Snoop and what doesn’t. This one is dedicated to everyone out there trying a little too hard to make it happen. A deeper listen reveals he’s actually calling out cousin (and Doggystyle illustrator) Joe Cool about his crack addiction. Silkk The Shocker makes his first appearance on the funky Gangsta Ride. Say what you will about Silkk’s erratic flow but every now and then he’ll find a pocket in the beat and deliver; this is one of those occasions. The chemistry between the two is especially impressive, considering how different their respective approaches are. Ghetto Symphony revamps Marley Marl’s The Symphony with a clear No Limit influence. This KLC cut features the label’s most recognizable names (Mia X, Fiend, C-Murder, Silkk and Mystikal) and adds a nice touch of variety to No Limit Top Dogg.
Party With A D.P.G. is a breezy Jelly Roll-produced interpolation of Earth Wind & Fire’s Shining Star. And while it doesn’t rank with the best of the album, it is an enjoyable song tailored for summertime barbecues. Buss’n Rocks is the second of three DJ Quik collaborations but doesn’t pack as much punch. Outside of average production, Snoop’s left recycling material from Hit Rocks (a song recorded four years prior on Tha Row to greater effect). Thankfully, Dre is right back on the boards (and the mic!) with the infectious Just Dippin’. This song just feels so West Coast and with Jewell crooning the outro – you can’t help but feel like this is the evolution of The Chronic’s innovative sound.
The premiere song for me personally, and it comes over an hour into the project, is the A-list accompanied Don’t Tell. Warren G, up-and-comer Mausberg and Nate Dogg couldn’t sound better over David Blake’s velvety instrumental; Nate even puts an updated spin on It Ain’t No Fun (If The Homies Can’t Have None) that rivals the original.
20 Minutes is a haunting, Zapp-esque dedication to Snoop’s set, the Rollin’ 20s Crips. It’s also an effective launchpad for one of Snoop’s first Dogghouse signees, Goldie Loc, and he doesn’t disappoint over this C-Walk classic. No Limit Top Dogg reaches its end with I Love My Momma – a (yup, you guessed it) tribute to Snoop’s love for the woman that brought him into this world and raised him. These songs usually straddle the fence between heartfelt and cliche, but you feel where he’s coming from on this Meech Wells beat.
No Limit Top Dogg was released to critical praise, with most acknowledging it as an album that truly returned Snoop to the highs of his early career. There was certainly some filler but not enough to dilute its quality. The production was lush and varied throughout, the guest appearances were calculated and Tha Doggfather sounded hungry again. He later peaked creatively with 2000’s Tha Last Meal (his last album for No Limit Records), but No Limit Top Dogg showed the world, and maybe even Snoop himself, that he still had a lot of bite left.
Overall Vibes: 8.6/10