Snoop Dogg first landed on the music world’s radar as Dr. Dre’s preferred collaborator on 1992’s The Chronic, and since then, he has unleashed solo albums and collaborative joints that have taken him to the top of the hip-hop world and always dancing on the fringes of pop music. In honor of his fine new album Bush, which is in stores Tuesday, here’s a deeply scientific ranking of Snoop’s albums, from worst to first.
The title for this album was originally batted around as some variation on Doggystyle 2, and it’s fortunate that cooler heads prevailed to jettison that name, as Doggumentary has no business associating with Snoop’s finest work. It takes the form of a lot of his latter-day outings, but for some reason the chemistry is all wrong. As I noted in my review of Snoop’s latest album Bush, he’s pretty much the same on every release (which is to say there’s a baseline of quality work at the outset), and it’s up to his collaborators to tease out greater levels of his ineffable Snoopness. Just about everybody strikes out on Doggumentary, even though the list of guests includes Kanye West, Gorillaz, R. Kelly, Wiz Khalifa, Willie Nelson, and peaking-at-the-time T-Pain. Doggumentary is the longest album in Snoop’s catalog, and it feels even longer.
Tha Doggfather (1996)
In the three years between Snoop’s breakout debut Doggystyle and the follow-up, the dude crammed in an awful lot of living: He became estranged from mentor Dr. Dre, watched as friend Tupac Shakur was shot to death, and went on trial for murder himself. (He was cleared of all charges in February ’96.) All that drama should have made for compelling rhymes, but Tha Doggfather suffers from chintzy production (mostly handled by Dre understudies DJ Pooh and Dat N—a Daz) and an underlying sense that gangsta rap was on its way out (indeed, it was). What sounded tough just a few years ago now just sounded cartoonish, and without Dre’s G-Funk holding down the low end, Tha Doggfather sounds like somebody trying to make a Snoop album—a classic sophomore slump.
Malice n Wonderland (2009)
Malice abruptly ended a streak of good-to-great Snoop albums and started the most fallow period of his career. (The phoned-in expanded edition More Malice, which arrived less than a year later, didn’t help.) It’s got a deeply underrated single in “I Wanna Rock” (produced by Scoop DeVille, who would later craft “Poetic Justice” for Kendrick Lamar), but Malice does too much floating in one place for it to be all that memorable.
Da Game Is To Be Sold, Not To Be Told (1998)
Snoop’s tenure as one of Master P’s No Limit Soldiers was as odd as it was fascinating. At the time, it was a major coup for both parties: P got himself a bona fide platinum-seller to help with his already-in-motion assault on mainstream radio, and Snoop got enough physical distance from his old life with Dr. Dre and Suge Knight to convincingly reinvent himself. Da Game, his first release on No Limit, suffers a bit from the culture clash, as even the most ham-fisted latter-day Death Row beats were far more polished than the low-fi thump crafted by P’s in-house Beats by the Pound crew. Snoop sounds like he’s having a hard time getting comfortable, and his smooth, polished flow sounds especially ludicrous when rapping next to the marble-mouthed Silkk the Shocker or machine-gun spitting Mystikal. The less said about the twists on old hits (“Still a G Thang,” “Gin & Juice II”), the better. But Da Game is not without its charms, and Snoop acts as a pretty good foil for P himself, and they’re up-the-game intensity on the claustrophobic “Whatcha Gon Do?” is as powerful as anything either has put out since.
Technically this album shouldn’t even be here, as it was recorded by Snoop Lion, but since that alter-ego is basically Snoop Dogg with access to some steel drums, it’s hard to ignore it. It’s a deeply unnecessary foray into reggae, but Snoop is clearly so invigorated by the newness of the material (and the Jamaican way of life) that he’s able to call forth all manner of charisma reserves and sell even the most inane tracks on Reincarnated (which, for the sake of this argument, is the super dumb but deeply charming “Fruit Juice”). The fact that the Miley Cyrus-assisted “Ashtrays and Heartbreaks” didn’t become a massive hit is borderline criminal, as it was the ideal combination of both of their skill sets.
Tha Last Meal (2000)
The Last Meal was an identity crisis for Snoop. It was his final release on No Limit, but Master P’s fingerprints are almost entirely burned off, replaced by a ton of his old SoCal pals, including Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, and Nate Dogg. The most confounding element is the presence of Timbaland, who contributes a pair of tracks that included the lead single “Snoop Dogg (What’s My Name Pt. 2).” Timbaland is great, but his rigid robo-funk style never really gelled with Snoop’s laconic flow, and those songs really throw off the balance of The Last Meal. But the rest of the songs start laying the groundwork for Snoop’s 21st century transition from young gangbanger to fun-loving elder sage. Plus, “Hennesey n Buddah” and “Brake Fluid” are both could-have-been classics.
Mac & Devin Go to High School (2011)
You could leave this album off the definitive discography (after all, I’m not including either of the albums by Tha Eastsidaz, nor the album he put out with Warren G and Nate Dogg as 213), but why would you deny such a joyous collection? Not only did Mac & Devin break Snoop’s minor slump, it also provided us with his highest-charting song in a decade in “Young, Wild & Free.” Wiz Khalifa is a natural collaborator for Snoop, and Wiz’s youthful hunger really seems to have rubbed off on Snoop, as this is ironically one of the tightest albums either have ever made (ironic considering the metric ton of weed that must have been smoked during these sessions). “I Get Lifted” recalls vintage G-Funk (appropriate considering it was produced by Warren G), and “French Inhale” is the best thing Mike Posner was ever attached to.
It’ll take a minute to get some distance from Snoop’s latest before we can safely tell where it sits in his greater catalog, but at the moment it’s definitely in the top half of his output. Pharrell produced the whole thing, and his current style—all disco hi-hats and post-Robin Thicke lounge funk—suits Snoop perfectly. He doesn’t rap as much as he does speak-sing, but that oddly makes him into an effective party toaster—as true an MC as he has ever been.
The Blue Carpet Treatment (2006)
From this point on this list, it’s all gold. Snoop was in the midst of a serious career renaissance when The Blue Carpet Treatment dropped, and this album really drove home that the difference between good Snoop albums and not-as-good Snoop albums is the cast of characters surrounding him. He’s got a great cross-section of assistants on Blue Carpet, including B-Real (the hard-hitting “Vato”), Damian Marley (“Get a Light,” possibly better than anything on Reincarnated), and Dr. Dre & D’Angelo, who both contribute to the stirring after-hours banger “Imagine,” which totally rules. It’s a little long, but Blue Carpet is the sound of Snoop figuring out what his strengths are and playing to them exquisitely.
Ego Trippin’ (2008)
This is probably the most controversial placement on this list, as despite the Top 10 popularity of the single “Sexual Eruption,” Ego Trippin’ was somewhat overlooked at the time of its release. It never really had a big second single, and much of the album seems like a novelty from the outside (thanks to its borderline-goofy viral video, it was pretty easy to dismiss “Sexual Eruption”). But Ego Trippin’ hits way more than it misses, from the album-opening “Press Play” (with an Isley Brothers-sampling track from SoCal legend DJ Quik) to the vaguely Caribbean vibe of the Neptunes-produced “Sets Up” to the country-rap of “My Medicine,” which features a drop-in from Everlast (and which is dedicated to Johnny Cash and features a shout-out to the Grand Ole Opry). It’s a great mix of the different types of Snoop Dogg, each one working to his fullest potential.
R&G (Rhythm & Gangsta): The Masterpiece (2004)
Snoop was a cross-cultural icon by the time R&G landed—the last time we heard from him, he was goofing around on MTV as the host of his odd variety show Doggy Fizzle Televizzle, which only lasted one weird season. He had also reached the pinnacle of his relationship with Pharrell, and the Neptunes-produced “Drop It Like It’s Hot” became the most unlikely hit of the year. The other Neptunes tracks are also killer: “Let’s Get Blown” predicted “Blurred Lines” a decade out, and the Justin Timberlake-assisted “Signs” is a near-perfect dance track. Plus, R&G opens with the super dope “Bang Out,” as fine an album opener as there has been in Snoop’s career.
No Limit Top Dogg (1999)
Though Snoop’s No Limit run was bookended by uneven efforts, the center is all cream. No Limit Top Dogg finds the perfect bridge between the grime of Master P’s New Orleans bounce (along with about half of P’s MP Da Last Don, these are the most dynamic tracks Beats by the Pound ever crafted) and Snoop’s roots (this album brought Snoop back together with Dr. Dre). All three Dre tracks are fantastic: The album-opening “Buck ‘Em” announces itself with peak low-rider bass, “Just Dippin'” is a classic house party groove, and the thumping “B Please” would not have sounded out of place on The Chronic. The balance of the album is all solid-to-great, and even the obligatory No Limit posse cut “Ghetto Symphony” (built on a sample of Marley Marl’s “The Symphony,” which itself was a re-jiggered version of the riff from Otis Redding’s “Hard to Handle”) shows off the Soldiers at their strongest (it’s probably the best Mia X verse there’s ever been). No Limit Top Dogg wasn’t just a clever name.
Paid Tha Cost to Be Da Boss (2002)
Though Snoop proved he could stay in the hip-hop conversation by the turn of the century, it was still doubtful that he could be as transcendent an artist as he was in the beginning. But Paid Tha Cost is top-to-bottom stellar, and also proof that Snoop could exist without Dr. Dre, who is nowhere to be found. Instead, Snoop teamed with a handful of top-shelf producers (Just Blaze, DJ Premier, and Hi-Tek among them) and began a long-running and fruitful relationship with Pharrell Williams, who guested on both of Paid Tha Cost’s sweet singles “From tha Chuuuch to da Palace” and “Beautiful.” The rest of the album is well-split between the effervescent pop tunes (“Stoplight,” “You Got What I Want”) and some of the sharpest rapping is his career (the lively posse cut “From Long Beach 2 Brick City,” the Eric B & Rakim tribute “Paper’d Up”). Musically, Paid Tha Cost might even be Snoop’s best album, though it can’t hold a candle to the historical significance of the No. 1.
The Chronic forced the mainstream to embrace West Coast rap on a global level, and Snoop Doggy Dogg’s remarkable charisma had a lot to do with that revolution. Doggystyle took The Chronic’s sensibilities and jacked them up, blowing Snoop’s worldview into a cinematic wonderland. Dr. Dre, who crafted every beat on the album, suppressed the beef-ready hardcore of The Chronic and cranked up the rubber band bass and lollipop keyboards. Snoop is remarkably confident throughout, and he lords over the songs on Doggystyle—particularly the next-level single “Gin and Juice” and the sonic high five “Ain’t No Fun (If the Homies Can’t Have None)”—like a proper master of ceremonies. Even 22 years later, it’s still amazing how huge Doggystyle became considering how outlandish it was—this album went platinum many times over despite having the startlingly aggressive “For All My N—-z & B—-s” on it. But that’s just how powerful Snoop’s pop psychology was, and that power keeps Doggystyle in essential heavy rotation.