In the late 1990′s, backpack sporting interviewers would often ask their aging rap idols the same tired question, “What do you think of the current state of hip-hop right now?” And naturally, the disgruntled and soon-to-be dropped emcee would usually respond with something like “it sucks” or “I’m not feeling it”. But in the last few years, with commercial hip-hop improving and underground hip-hop defining its leaders, most people can say hip-hop is pretty good right now, with everyone crowing their individual kings of the genre. But 213′s “The Hard Way” opens up with a different question, as Snoop Dogg poses to Nate Dogg, “What do you feel about the state of the game as far as west coast rap”, to which Nate replies with disappointment in his voice, “I ain’t heard no west coast rap”.
Could this statement be any further from the truth? Turn on Rap City, take a shot of Vodka every time you see a west coast rap video, and you’ll be having a pretty sober, uneventful party. Fortunately for 213 – (Doggs Snoop and Nate, along with Warren G), Snoop has paid enough dues to have a lifetime pass in hip-hop, as he lends a helping hand to help his fellow sunshine state brethren, just as he’s done so many times before. However, make no mistake, 213 ain’t new to this. As a matter of fact, the unsigned Long Beach 213 trio existed long before there was even an undercover cop for Snoop and Dr. Dre to put a 187 on. As the story goes, Dr. Dre’s step-brother, Warren G, introduced his partner in rhyme, Snoop Doggy Dogg to Dre, which led to overnight success in the forms of classic Dre & Snoop collabos, “Deep Cover”, “Nuthin’ But A G Thing”, “Dre Dre”, and so on. Leading to the dissipation of 213, simultaneously Nate Dogg and Warren G saw their own short-lived success with “Regulate”, another undeniable track that defined the G-Funk era. For years, fans begged for the 213 reunion, which seemed like an obvious match made in heaven, but with record contracts, red tape, and red bandanas getting in the way, it seemed like this album would never happen. But the dust has finally settled in the west, Death Row is up in smoke, 2Pac is up in heaven, Dre’s finally got his damn label off, and Snoop’s a household name. The cost of all this unfortunately was the implosion of the West Coast rap scene, but luckily we have 213′s “The Hard Way”, to help usher in a new era.
Their aspirations haven’t changed over the years, as all 213 really wants is good weed, a fat billfold, some down-ass hoes, and the always loyal nine riding shotgun. How all this translates into wonderfully funky music is forever a mystery, but as always, Snoop and the crew have managed to crank out 19 joints, with a few undeniable blazers that even the most finicky heads would nod to. The album opens with the Hi-Tek produced “Twist Yo Body”, which brings Tek’s trademark rolling baselines and sparse pianos, and meshes them with the crew’s classic gangster attitude. But while the album begins with a well-known producer like Tek, some of it’s more notable selections come from new producers who make their big debut here. Newcomer B-Sharp proves he’s no slouch on the keyboard, delivering sticky-icky funk on standouts “Keep It Gangsta” and “Ups and Downs”, while rookie Quaze does the same for “Absolutely”. The rookies hold it down for most of the album, as a matter of fact. Tha Chill chimes in on the nighttime cruiser “Run On Up”, Josef propels the hydraulic bounce of “213 The Gangster Clicc”, and Terrance Martin & Marlon Williams bang out the next possible single with the amazing “Joysticc”, which brilliantly flips the drum breakdown from Mtume’s “Juicy Fruit”. 213′s definitely been doing their homework, and made some decent selections on budget beats, but the best track of all probably cost them a pretty penny. The Kanye West assisted “Another Summer” is the overlooked b-side track to the first single, a flawless meeting of the minds between five people - K. West, Snoop Dogg, Nate Dogg, Warren G, and Latoiya Williams. Everyone plays their role to hilt here, on a track so incredibly smooth that it needs no chaser (although “213 Tha Gangsta Clicc” works just fine).
However at 19 joints, there’s still plenty of room for error, and there’s enough sub-par material here to keep this from garnering more than a 3.5 out 5. Recycling is the big problem with this album, whether it’s ripping off old school classics or today’s club hits. Nothing is sacred, not Rick James’ “Mary Jane” (“Mary Jane”), not Oran Juice Jones’ “The Rain” (“My Dirty Ho”), and not the done-to-death Herbie Hancock “Chamelion” bassline (“Groupie Love”), as countless classics are reused in typical fashion. Even worse though are the more subtle rip-offs, which almost suggest that the producers might not have even realized they were interpolating 50 Cent’s “In The Club” (“MLK”) or Eve’s “Let Me Blow Your Mind” (“Lonely Girl”). By the time the last four joints roll on up, many won’t even be interested in listening any more.
Nevertheless, Snoop and crew have to be given props on the album’s stronger selections, as any one of them would have been worthy contenders for inclusion on any year end Snoop solo LP. Even more so, the crew deserves their props for hooking back up and making this long-overdue album a reality, even if it wasn’t fashionable to do so. Finally, extra credit goes to Nate Dogg, the album’s unsung hero, who works as the “glue” of the group, holding almost every song together with those addictive gangsta melodies and fly-ass hooks.
Truth be told, this album has been in demand for over ten years, but probably only took one summer to record. That being said, the lingering thought of what this record would have sounded like had it been released in the height of The G-Funk era will forever remain in the back of longtime fans’ heads. But taking it for what it is, rather than what it isn’t, The Hard Way will easily deliver at least some satisfaction to those still proudly throwing up W’s and riding high.
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