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Mellow Snoop Doggreturns with new album

‘R&G’ captures rapper in transition
/ Source: The Associated Press

Not unlike many dominant ’90s rappers whose careers have stretched into this decade, Snoop Dogg appears to approaching something of a crossroads.

While never as purebred a gangsta MC as some other West Coast artists, Snoop nonetheless has always managed to blend just the right amount of gangbanger menace with his wit, charm and taffy-elastic flow. Even though his new album, “R&G (Rhythm & Gangsta): The Masterpiece” (Geffen) certainly doesn’t abandon Snoop’s ’hood roots, it does find the rapper settling much more comfortably into the avuncular “Renaissance Man” posture the actor/TV producer/fashion designer has been cultivating in recent years.

No longer the street tough who once threatened cop killings on “Deep Cover,” he’s more the blue-collar uncle. Snoop’s cool and street-wise, still pimped-out and not to be trifled with, but also cured by years of hard knocks and ready with words of advice that can be as wise as wrongheaded.

The opening track, “I Love To Give You Light,” finds Snoop amid gospel piano strains, hand claps and soaring church-choir vocals, giving testimony worthy of a church revival. Backed by a sample of Andrae Crouch’s “I Come That You Might Have Life,” the song revists Snoop’s childhood screw-ups and repeated attempts at redemption.

Though a bit maudlin, the song has a sense of penitence that’s real enough. Of course, he doesn’t stay on bended knee for too long, shifting gears on the next song, “Bang Out,” to remind us that though Uncle Snoop may have found himself some religion, he still stays strapped. He draws down again on the dirge-like “Oh No,” featuring 50 Cent, but otherwise Snoop is more concerned with keeping the party going than with breaking it up.

To this end, Snoop makes extensive use of The Neptunes production team. In addition to serving as co-executive producers, the The Neptunes produced five of the album’s 20 songs, including the album’s template marijuana paeans “Let’s Get Blown” and “Pass It Pass It,” songs that seem to contradict Snoop’s declaration elsewhere on the album that he no longer smokes weed.

Meanwhile, Neptunes frontman Pharrell assists with the rhymes on “Drop It Like It’s Hot,” a spare, syncopated number that serves as the album’s white-hot first single. Pharrell makes an encore appearance on “Perfect,” a breezy love ode clearly designed to recapture the success the two enjoyed with the hit “Beautiful.” It works, too, in large part because another guest, Gap Band legend Charlie Wilson, does much of the heavy vocal lifting.

Wilson lends Snoop another hand on the radio-ready “Signs,” a saccharine dance cut that also features Justin Timberlake. Snoop tries going heartfelt again on “Girl Like U,” a duet with Nelly, but this one comes off more as a series of canned lines uttered in a dark nightclub than like any sort of love ballad. Of course, this is still preferable to the vile counsel Snoop offers on the misogynistic “Can U Control Yo Hoe,” a virtual primer on false machismo and domestic abuse.

Bootsy Collins helps Snoop close the album on “No Thang On Me,” a Curtis Mayfield-inspired cut in which Snoop, in falsetto, sings of the joy “a natural high” and talks contentedly about quitting weed and “coaching the little kids on the football field.”

Despite its contradictions and occasional lapses, “R&G” is a solid musical effort that manages the difficult task of capturing an artist in transition without blurring the picture. Uncle Snoop may be nearing the crossroads, but as his latest album proves, that doesn’t mean the party has to stop.