Snoop Dogg Unleashes No Limit Debut

First album off Death Row is selling well as fans debate its merits.

Free at last from Death Row Records, the artist formerly known as

Snoop Doggy Dogg seems to be experiencing something of a rebirth.

Not only has Snoop changed his name by dropping the "Doggy" since

leaving his old label, but his new album, Da Game Is To Be Sold,

Not To Be Told, which debuted Tuesday on Master P's No Limit

label, is proving to be a hit with record buyers and fans.

Record stores from his hometown of Los Angeles to his new label

headquarters in Louisiana are reporting strong first-day sales

for the gangsta rapper's No Limit debut.

"[The album] is flying out the door," said Melissa Bieniek, an

assistant manager at Camelot Music in New Orleans. Kila Marzette,

an assistant manager at VIP Records in Long Beach, Calif., reported

that "everyone who comes in the door is asking for it."

And despite a heavy rainstorm Tuesday in Hyde Park, Ill., Coconuts

Records sales associate Angela Underwood said Snoop fans were so

anxious to get the album that they began checking in a day before

its release.

Bieniek, for one, said she thinks that this release will be one

of the strongest to ever come out of the No Limit camp. "This won't

be like [the sales for] other No Limit albums, which are awesome at

first and then completely die down a week later," she predicted.

"He's the biggest artist on No Limit, which distinguishes him from

everyone else."

In the grand No Limit tradition, Snoop raps with new labelmates

such as C-Murder, Master P, Mystikal, Mia-X and Silkk the Shocker

over rugged beats supplied by such No Limit Beats By The Pound

producers as KLC, Craig B and O'Dell.

However, Snoop breaks with tradition by not exclusively using the

Beats By The Pound production team, which, up until now, had produced

every album on the label. Of the album's 21 tracks, five of the

songs were produced by outside collaborators. Snoop works with such

longtime collaborators as Soopafly and Daz Dillinger on

"Hoes, Money and Clout" (RealAudio excerpt) and produces "Payin' for P..." on his own.

The album features Snoop Dogg (born Calvin Broadus) redoing his Doggystyle hit "Gin & Juice" as a slow-rolling "Dirty South" party anthem entitled "Gin & Juice II" (RealAudio excerpt), as well as "interpolated" versions of the Time's "Gigolos Get Lonely Too" ("D.O.G.'s Get Lonely 2"), Dr. Dre's "Nuthin' But A 'G' Thang" ("Still A 'G' Thang") and N.W.A's "Gangsta Gangsta" ("DP Gangsta").

In the Los Angeles area, where Snoop Dogg started down his road to fame by hooking up with Dr. Dre and Death Row Records, stores report brisk sales for the album. That seemingly sweeps away any concerns that Snoop's hometown fans might abandon the rapper because he left local label Death Row Records for the Southern-based No Limit.

"We'll probably be sold out of it by the end of the day," Marzette said Tuesday afternoon. "It's doing very well, probably better than we expected."

William Hernadez, a sales associate at Blockbuster Music in Long Beach, said the Snoop album was easily the strongest seller of the day. "We've got it on a listening station and people have been listening to it and then picking it up."

Meanwhile, in Master P's stomping grounds of New Orleans and Baton Rouge, La., employees at record stores that are well accustomed to bracing for a rush of customers interested in No Limit products expressed surprise at the greater amount of interest in the new Snoop Dogg album. "Everyone down here is interested in No Limit albums," Bieniek explained, "but this is Snoop, so he has some added extra interest."

The story was the same at Paradise Records & Tapes in Baton Rouge. Sales director Roger Tippin said there had been a constant flow of customers looking for the album. "We've sold 57 today, which is a bit better than average for No Limit artists," he said. "I expected it to be that strong, so I'm glad I stocked up."

While stores that were not on Snoop's or Master P's home turf were also moving a lot of copies, a few retailers reported a disappointing response. At the Lincoln Center location of Tower Records in Manhattan, N.Y., supervisor Kevin Maxwell said the lack of an accompanying video or single hurt sales. "We've only sold two out of the 300 copies we ordered," he said, "which is pretty bad compared to our first-day sales for rappers like Big Pun, Cam'ron or Noreaga."

Snoop Dogg first hit the rap scene in 1992 as the right-hand man on Dr. Dre's "Deep Cover," from the soundtrack to the film of the same name. He also was prominently featured on Dr. Dre's groundbreaking gangsta-rap album, The Chronic, adding his vocals to such hits as "Wit Dre Day (And Everybody's Celebratin')" and "Nuthin' But A 'G' Thang." Doggystyle, Snoop's solo debut, introduced the world to the Dogg Pound (Daz Dillinger and Kurupt) and became the first album from a new artist to debut at #1 on the Billboard 200 albums chart. It spawned major hits in the form of "Gin & Juice" and "What's My Name."

By the time 1996's Tha Doggfather came out, Dr. Dre had left Death Row Records, the label he shared with Snoop. Tha Doggfather suffered from critical arrows and its sales were softer. In the following years, Snoop's labelmate Tupac Shakur was gunned down in Las Vegas and label chief Marion "Suge" Knight went back to prison for violating parole. Earlier this year, Snoop's contract was bought from Death Row by No Limit.

Some fans say that Snoop's switch to No Limit may be one change that turned

record-buyers off. "I think [Snoop] needs to sit back and think why he isn't making platinum records anymore, why his fans are not fascinated with his laid-back rhyme style showing no originality," wrote John Gause, a DJ based in Omaha, Neb., in an e-mail.

Overall, Gause said he wishes that the album had more work from such artists as Dr. Dre, Nate Dogg, Warren G and Daz Dillinger.

Nonetheless, Kirby Castro, an assistant manager at the Harlem Music Hut in New York City, reported that Snoop album sales have been brisk. "We have a big display up for it," he explained, "so a lot of people are looking at it and most of those people are picking it up."

Responses from the fans themselves have been mixed. Early postings on webpages, newsgroups and mailing lists have revealed a range of opinions about the album. BB Bashore, the webmaster for Snoop's Dogghouse (http://www.hiphopspot.com/snoopsdogghouse), is an enthusiastic supporter of the album, noting in an e-mail that Da Game Is To Be Sold, Not To Be Told "is a very solid debut album for Snoop on No Limit."

While acknowledging some fans' criticism of Snoop's predominant use of the Beats By The Pound production team in lieu of his usual collaborators, Bashore said he understands why Snoop would choose to do things that way. "I think if Snoop got some outside help, along with mixing it with some No Limit as well, he could create an incredible album. In general, I think fans are happy with this album though."