Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Snoop Dogg - Rap Music Analysis

An excellent example of someone with dope rhymes, but a lack of a technical control over rhymes. A simplification of his problem is that he doesn't use longer rhymes; the correct evaluation is that he doesn't know what to do with long rhymes. Certainly, Snoop is one of the most original rappers of all time. Although he spawned a legion of imitators, in no small part because of his inseparable association with the funk rhythms of G-funk (go figure!). It's only farther testament to his skills that no imitator quite approached his apparent and complete lack of caring that his every word is being recorded. His best rhymes on Doggystyle or The Chronic, as great as the rhythms that they have are, consist largely of repetitions of him spelling his name, and him counting numbers. So that’s also the problem: that EVERY WORD HE SAYS IS BEING RECORDED. The result is verbal content that is pretty devoid of anything beyond rhythmic meaning; Snoop's insights into life will never be confused with that of Mos Def on “Mathematics” or Talib Kweli on “Black Girl Pain”. Sometimes people marvel at how Jay-Z and Lil’ Wayne never write down their rhymes; in fact, I find this extremely believable, and that’s because of the vapid content that they have recently been putting out.
Because of this innate feel for flow, almost rivaling Biggie’s, combined with some pretty vanilla poetic content, Snoop spawned a generation of imitators. It’s a testament to Snoop’s originality that no one ever quite got it down. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I most closely compare Snoop to his fellow California brethren who’s largely been forgotten: Hittman. If we compare the two, we’ll see how Snoop approaches his rhymes, and how Hittman imitates this. Let’s take Snoop’s rhymes on the famous “Gin And Juice.” These rhymes are the ones we want:

[but i / some how some way keep comin’ up with / funky ass shit like every single DAY] /
[MAY i kick a little something for the / G’S, and
make a few ends as i / BREEZE THROUGH]
[TWO in the morning and the / party’s still jumpin’
‘cause my momma ain’t HOME] /

This type of rhyming that eschews tight phrasing is typical of Snoop’s style. For instance, look at where the rhymes, capitalized here, happen in the sentences that are indicated by the brackets. Each rhyme group is flipped from the end of one sentence to the start of the next. For instance, “day” ends one sentence, and then the rhyme “may” starts the next one. Then, “through” ends the sentence after that one, and then the rhyme on the word “two” starts the next sentence. Finally, these bars, indicated by slashes, end with a word that doesn’t rhyme on any of the previous rhymes (but does start a rhyme group in the next bar.) This is what makes Snoop’s style: rhymes coming in unexpected places at unexpected times.

This is what Hittman does, and probably picked up from Snoop, being from California himself, and working with Snoop’s man Dr. Dre. Check out these rhymes from Hittman on the Chronic: 2001 song “Ackrite”:

[yo chase them girls in the black MAXIMA] [the PASSENGER almost FRACTURED her neckbone looking BACK AT US] [PLUS they on the dick ‘cause the cat is PLUSH] [they BLUSH I bumRUSH the HUSH]

Here, Hittman also ends sentences with rhymes that start the next sentence, just like Snoop did. “Maxima” ends the first sentence, and “passenger” opens the next one. Then, “us” ends the second sentence, and is rhymed on the first word of the next, “plus.” Then, the second sentence’s last word, “plush,” is rhymed on “blush,” that starts the last sentence here. So we see similarities, but what really makes them similar is their similar rhythms, which is harder to describe for non-musicians.

Qualitatively, Hittman’s and Snoop’s rhythms are more flowing, with longer syllables that are pronounced for a longer time. To really appreciate Snoop (or Hittman,) listen to those changes in how long the syllables last. Their rhymes aren’t gonna knock you out with crazy lengths and frequency, like for Eminem, such as on “Brain Damage.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C8F8RkPaQNM

While this use of this rhyming style is original to Snoop, Snoop can’t then make new methods of phrasing out of old ones, which is what all my GOATs, like Jean Grae, can do. For instance, check out Snoop’s opening lines on “Gin And Juice:”

[with so much drama in the l.b.C, It’s kinda / hard being snoop d-o double-G, but Ii /
[somehow, someWAY, keep coming up with / funky ass shit like every single DAY]

Here, the phrasing is more traditional. It’s an AABB form, where the A’s represent the “-ee” rhyme sound on the letters “C” and “G,” and the B’s represents the rhyme vowel sound on “-ay,” on “way” and “day.” That’s a simple couplet form, with external, single-syllable rhymes that come at the end of sentences. Pretty boring. But to really get Snoop, listen to how the syllables “every single day” are pronounced. They’d look something like: “ev-RY SIN…gle…..day.” But snoop doesn’t know how to take this simple couplet form and move past it.

For instance, because I analyzed this just yesterday, take a line from Your Old Droog. You can hear this track, “Nutty Bars,” here. I'm feeling this song a bit because Droog keeps changing up the type of rhymes he uses. Just check out the first lines he's got, sorry if the words are a little wrong:

[she knew that i would smash a little debbie and i still bagged the HOSTESS] /
[don't fuck with ENTENMANN'S] [GHOST from the TENAMENTS] /

I like this line a lot because Droog does what you expect, but slightly varies it, which Snoop doesn’t really do. That first sentence quoted, as indicated by the pairs of brackets, is exactly a bar long. (Again, the rhymed words are capitalized.) The obvious thing for an emcee to do here, then, is to make another external (end of sentence) rhyme on "hostess" in the next bar, which is shown where those slashes start and stop. For instance, this is exactly what Big Daddy Kane, and a lot of other rappers, do very often. Check Kane's song "Calling Mr. Welfare," you can hear it here. These are the opening lines:

[you know the lady on the top floor of my BUILDING] /
[the heavy set one with about ten CHILDREN ] /

Kane does what so many rappers have done before: there are 2 sentences, 1 bar each, with external rhymes. This is the first half of Snoop Dogg’s couplet form, just the AA. Being so natural, is what I thought Droog would do when I first heard the song.

But Droog doesn't complete that couplet, because he introduces a different rhyme from one that could be rhymed on "hostess." Instead, he rhymes “entenmann's” with “tenaments”, which new rhyme I didn't expect him to insert. But he still rhymes on "hostess," with the syllable "ghost." But, unlike Kane's external rhymes, he makes "ghost" an internal rhyme at the start of a sentence. However, Droog still has external rhymes on entenmann's/tenaments, just not the rhyme you expect, and these 2 bars still end and start with the bar line, just like Kane did. But now there are 3 sentences. So Droog has kept these elements traditional:

1. Length of 2 bars
2. Rhyme on external rhyme
3. 1-bar long opening sentences

But changed these elements:

1. New rhyme group introduced
2. External rhyme is now on internal rhyme
3. 3 sentences, not 2
4. 3-syllable rhyme, not 2-syllable rhyme

This is what Snoop doesn’t know how to do.

As original as Snoop's flow is today, still sounding fresh today after 20 years, he never moved comfortably beyond it. Snoop die-hards may point out the harder, more aggressive approaches of his post-Doggystyle albums, but he never seemed to convincingly pull off a more aggressive flow. As innate as it seems to 2pac, that's how foreign aggression seems to Snoop Dogg. No matter whether it's good or not, I give Snoop a lot of props for Snoop Lion, even if he seems to take the persona too far at times. It's in the same way I respect Lil’ Wayne for his rock album, even if it did suck. But Snoop Lion is reggae, not rap, and so I haven’t taken it into consideration here.

It boils down to this, and what separates so many of the rappers here from my top 10: Snoop doesn't have a complete and total control over every aspect of rap in the same way that Jean Grae does. When this is combined with a lack of compelling verbal content, the result is a very original, very talented rapper who is not quite a GOAT. He may top other top 10 lists, but my list relies only on rap: not how popular a rapper is, how long they’ve stuck around, or the great beats they’ve picked, all of which Snoop excelled at. However, top 10 here? No.