Did you know that sometimes I teach kids how to write about music?
It’s true. And the below is a very CLEAN version of a review that originally appeared in L.A. RECORD a few months back. Hope the kids like it!
Dâm-Funk and Snoopzilla
7 Days of Funk
Chuck D once told me, in an interview, that he envied rock ‘n’ roll for allowing artists to become established over time. “In rock and roll, there’s such a thing as classic rock. Bruce Springsteen just performed at the Super Bowl.” Whereas hip-hop has so often been about killing your father, or at least lobbing disses at him, and to the detriment of artists’ long-term popularity. Run DMC, the “Beatles of hip-hop,” built their careers on differentiating themselves from the flashy, Jheri curled party rappers who preceded them. But they no longer sell out arenas: their Def Jam style in turn was eclipsed by Boogie Down Productions, Public Enemy, Miami Bass, New Jack Swing, Gangsta Rap, and on and on, with few artists capable of making the transition from one new trend to the next. With all the riches-to-rags transitions in hip hop’s present-focused past, it’s no wonder Hollywood has become a refuge, almost a retirement home, for people named “Ice” and “LL.”
Snoop Dogg, whose Dre-produced G-funk opuses of the 90s made him the most popular artist in the world and a game-changer in hip-hop’s sound, has never entirely gone away—he’s had Top Ten albums all the way through the 2000s. But he’s struggled to make his gin and juice, Colt 45 everyman’s hip-hop relevant in a world where Jay Z and Kanye drink Patron and donate money to hurricane relief. This album has come on the heels of some fantastic triumphs (e.g. his Coachella appearance with Dre was great fun, regardless of holograms) and the misstep (or glorious Neil Young-style triumph, depending on your view) of his Snoop Lion reggae album. At its best, 7 Days of Funk combines the creative joy of the latter with the smarts of the former.
I think it might actually have been at Coachella that Snoop, now “Snoopzilla,” was first sighted in a Dâm-Funk audience, taking in the latter’s keytar-clad boogie rock performance wide-eyed as tens of thousands of scantily-clad rock and rollers embraced the boogie. Really no one, not even Peanut Butter Wolf, has done as much to evangelize the history of obscure flavors of funk as has Dâm-Funk. It’s smart of Snoop to recognize that in Dâm-Funk, he could have a potentially powerful ally like no other, someone both cutting-edge and funky as hell, with indie cred and a foot in a whole new scene that could lend Snoop some much-needed hipness points. And it’s magnanimous of Dâm to put his own thing aside and really engage with a project to help make one of the greatest rap artists of our lifetimes blossom with a newfound vivaciousness.
Snoop has said that he considers 7 Days of Funk itself to be a group, and not a Snoop solo album. But Dâm-Funk plays it like a producer. Rather than make Snoopzilla into a boogie funk monster pastiched from all Dâm’s favorite eras of funky music, he does what Rick Rubin might do to Johnny Cash or Donovan: he adds some amazingness, but generally plays to Snoop’s strengths, bringing freshness to a sound that people who are already fans might recognize and enjoy.
In Snoop’s case, that means G-Funk, which basically means P-Funk, including an appearance by Bootsy Collins himself on the first track. But listen closely and you’ll hear that the funk is a little more robotized than what we might have heard in the 90s, a little more Uncle Jam than Mothership, with some bonus whiffs of Zapp or Cameo or Rick James. Some critics have already been attacking Dâm-Funk’s thin synth chords here and there, as if they are somehow indicative of “cheap production.” But those who know the funk can recognize authenticity when they hear it! This is not only the keyboard sound of classic 80s R&B, but the sound of now, of Thundercat and Flying Lotus and, heck, any one of dozens of indie rock bands who now brandish the keytar unironically. When Dâm-Funk pairs that key sound with the occasional Prince-y, almost Robert Fripp-esque guitar explosion in the background, you get a friction that’s sensual with a hint of sleaze. I’m sure Dâm-Funk has hundreds of records he’s actually referencing, but it makes me think of the sexy ballads by electro innovators Egyptian Lover, Cybotron, or more recently, Squarepusher’s amazing Shobaleader One project.
But again, that’s not to say that this album feels like a grand experiment for Snoop, at least not musically: his seemingly effortless but complex rhymes, and the deep gangsta bass, if anything, hearken back more to his classic 90s works than some of his late 2000s albums. And of course, Tha Dogg Pound jumps in here and there. Kurupt seems a little confused on “Ride,” where he pops in with a bizarre four-line ramble only to have Snoop swoop down and crush him with one hand tied behind his back. But the combo is perfect on the bonus track “Systematic,” which showcases them rhyming like old friends over a heavily synthed-out tune that feels more “Dâm-Funk” than the regular album tracks.
The album is so deliciously funky that it took me a whole listen before I realized that “holy crap, Snoop is really singing on this thing!” Again, theoretically that’s not a radical departure for Snoop, who has always thrown in some soulful falsetto right into his rhymes: just think of how he lamented about other rappers stealing his flow in “Doggy Dogg World.” But on songs like “Let It Go,” Snoop’s really going for it, with not a hint of irony, just a little personal naked beauty in amongst the grooves.
Again, some of my fellow critics have lambasted him for exceeding his voice’s grasp, and he definitely is not belting it out like Smokey or Curtis Mayfield. But some of the most soulful singers of the 70s and 80s had limited ranges that they did a lot with, from Gil Scott-Heron and Shuggie Otis to Vanity and Janet Jackson, and when Snoop croons in conjunction with Dâm’s amazing production (sure, there’s pitch correction, but it sounds awesome, like a Vocoder), I find it charming rather than cloying. Like Stephen Colbert’s sing-alongs on the Colbert Report, at least Snoop is bringing ringers like Steve Arrington of Slave to join him. And unlike Colbert, he knows to turn himself down and turn them up when it’s their turn to shine.
If you’re more of a Dâm-Funk fan than a Snoop fan, and were hoping for a little more Dâm-Funk flavor than is present here, you should definitely check out the collaboration between Arrington and Dâm-Funk that came out on Stones Throw half a year ago. In a way, that one shows more love on the tracks than here, where Dâm is showing a little more restraint. But Arrington’s appearance here, on the track “1Question?” is not to be missed: it’s a joyous opportunity for Snoop to come full circle and celebrate Arrington’s music on its own terms, not folding Arrington’s samples into his own G-Funk as he did so often back in the day, but kind of meeting Arrington on his own terms, or at least the neutral turf of Dâm-Funk’s production.
Actually, I’ve just got “1Question?” to ask Snoop, which is, how do you think your audience is going to respond to this album? Let’s talk units. Will this track “bang in the club,” as you rhyme in “Do My Thang,” shortly before the alien voice comes in to deliver a Parliament-esque message of positive affirmation about being yourself during the bridge?
The album, at seven-eight songs depending on which packaging you go for, is pretty short, well under 40 minutes. Snoop has said in interviews that this was to make us “want more.” And I do. But I worry. A part of me thinks, hopes, expects that modern audiences will see this for the funky, laid-back jam that it is and that it’ll be another game-changer as big as Doggystyle, and that once promotion and word of mouth and distribution kick in, it’ll eventually go Platinum. But the cynical part of me, the part of me that watched Run DMC fade away to obscurity, worries that this original collaboration with a unique producer on an independent label might not sit as well with the same Snoop Dogg fan base that cheered him on for dancing around with the ghost of Tupac Shakur as he and Dre did quick medleys of all their hits on the Coachella stage.
Then again, that same Coachella audience also went crazy for Dâm-Funk, and that was less than a year ago—surely those tens of thousands of fans wouldn’t want to miss out on seeing both their heroes together? No matter how the album is received, Snoop, Snoopzilla, hear me out: I implore you, don’t give up on this personal and very funky reinvention. I have a feeling that both Dâm-Funk and you have a lot more ideas and concepts up their sleeves, and this record, as good and fun as it is, doesn’t even scratch the surface of what you’re capable of together.
Maybe Chuck D was right. Maybe there’s no way for rappers to grow old gracefully, like the rockers of old. But why try to be Crosby, Stills, and Nash? With 7 Days of Funk, you’re well on your way to being rap’s Neil Young.