Snoop Dogg

R&G - Rhythm and Gangsta: The Masterpiece (Geffen)

"Drop It Like It's Hot," Rhythm and Gangsta's lead single, is a sublime slice of pop-rap. The Neptunes bring the cheesiest of '80s synth lines, drizzled over a slew of percussion layers. Big, round, proto-808 bass booms below. Hisses bounce from ear to ear. The video ho's click their mouths in time. All this sets the stage for subdued flows: an opening act by Pharrell himself, then two buttery verses from Snoop. Lyrics bookended by a rough hook. Perfection. With any luck, the next single will be another of the five Neptunes collaborations on Rhythm and Gangsta. The Justin-Timberlake-as-young-Michael-Jackson vehicle "Signs"? The Billy-Ocean-channeling "Let's Get Blown"? Even "Perfect," a warming-over of 2003's "Beautiful," would satisfy.

The chemistry between the Neptunes' production and Snoop's pimpin' on wax is undeniable. In a perfect world, The Masterpiece would be maybe 52 minutes of Snoop over the Neptunes. In the real world, it is a bloated 77 minutes, crammed full of cuts that, while not all that bad, pale in comparison to anything with the Neptunes' stamp.

Snoop's talent is never in question; the topics are predictable (with a questionable emphasis on smacking down women), but the charm and flow that made him famous remain. He goes blade to blade with 50 Cent on "Oh No." He croons alongside Soopafly (kind of like the poor man's Nate Dogg) on "Can You Control Yo Hoe?" With Snoop's versatility, Rhythm is never unpleasant. The non-Neptunes productions even sound fresh, given their Southern Cali funk influence. Only on Lil Jon's hype "Step Yo Game Up" does the laid-back Snoop sound out of place. But between "Drop It Like It's Hot" and the similarly brilliant "Pass It Pass It," also a Neptunes gem, Rhythm and Gangsta stinks of pop-radio appeasement and a missed chance at a classic.

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