If Snoop Dogg's debut, Doggystyle, doesn't seem like a debut, it's because in many ways it's not. Snoop had already debuted as a featured rapper on Dr. Dre's 1992 album, The Chronic, rapping on half of the 16 tracks, including all the hit singles, so it wasn't like he was an unknown force when Doggystyle was released in late 1993. If anything, he was the biggest star in hip-hop, with legions of fans anxiously awaiting new material, and they were the ones who snapped up the album, making it the first debut album to enter the Billboard charts at number one. It wasn't like they were buying an unknown quantity. They knew that the album would essentially be the de facto sequel to The Chronic, providing another round of P-Funk-inspired grooves and languid gangsta and ganja tales, just like Dre's album. Which is exactly what Doggystyle is -- a continuation of The Chronic, with the same production, same aesthetic and themes, and same reliance on guest rappers. The miracle is, it's as good as that record. There are two keys to its success, one belonging to Dre, the other to Snoop. Dre realized that it wasn't time to push the limits of G-funk, and instead decided to deepen it musically, creating easy-rolling productions that have more layers than they appear. They're laid-back funky, continuing to resonate after many listens, but their greatest strength is that they never overshadow the laconic drawl of Snoop, who confirms that he's one of hip-hop's greatest vocal stylists with this record. Other gangsta rappers were all about aggression and anger -- even Dre, as a rapper, is as blunt as a thug -- but Snoop takes his time, playing with the flow of his words, giving his rhymes a nearly melodic eloquence. Compare his delivery to many guest rappers here: Nate Dogg, Kurupt, and Dat Nigga Daz are all good rappers, but they're good in a conventional sense, where Snoop is something special, with unpredictable turns of phrase, evocative imagery, and a distinctive, addictive flow. If Doggystyle doesn't surprise or offer anything that wasn't already on The Chronic, it nevertheless is the best showcase for Snoop's prodigious talents, not just because he's given the room to run wild, but because he knows what to do with that freedom and Dre presents it all with imagination and a narrative thrust. If it doesn't have the shock of the new, the way that The Chronic did, so be it: Over the years, the pervasive influence of that record and its countless ripoffs has dulled its innovations, so it doesn't have the shock of the new either. Now, Doggystyle and The Chronic stand proudly together as the twin pinnacles of West Coast G-funk hip-hop of the early '90s.
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