Befitting these roller coaster times, the hip hop world more than ever feels like the stock market. Master P’s once indomitable stock is down, while Dr. Dre’s slumping portfolio is now soaring on a huge point gain, thanks to his protégé Eminem — and Dre’s glaringly cynical reembrace of the hardcore style he’d once so bluntly denounced.
Eminem isn’t the only one Dre should thank for his commercial revitalization. The producer auteur also received a boost from his renewed collaboration with onetime partner in rhyme Snoop Dogg, who’s recently emerged from a rut of his own to become the hardest working — and most in demand — guest in show business. At 28, Snoop is a patriarch, revered for the icy calm, pot hazy nonchalance of his delivery. He and Dre reunited in 1999 on Snoop’s ”No Limit Top Dogg” and have joined forces again on Snoop’s latest, Tha Last Meal, on which his lilting, instantly recognizable voice — that vaguely sinister singsong — still floats above and around the beats.
Alas, Snoop uses that voice to impart alarmingly few words of wisdom. Its 19 tracks all amount to variations on his one theme: His name is Snoop, he loves weed and raw sex, and he doesn’t trust anybody, male or female. The song titles — ”Leave Me Alone,” ”Go Away” — say as much as the lyrics, while ”Snoop Dogg (What’s My Name Pt. 2)” and ”Hennesey N Buddah” are weak retreads of early hits. On ”Loosen’ Control,” he actually feels vulnerable after a breakup, then snaps out of it and denounces the woman as a bitch.
The beats — laid down by producers from Dre and Timbaland to Dre protégé Battle Cat — range from indestructible (”Issues” and ”Ready 2 Ryde,” Snoop’s duet with Eve) to negligible (too many of the rest). Like everything he’s done since 1993’s ”Doggystyle,” ”Tha Last Meal,” starting with its tacky cartoon cover art, feels cut rate — yet another minor album from a major talent.