Barking Up The Right Tree

With Silkk The Shocker, Kurupt, Mystikal and others.

Top Dogg is the jump-from-the-foul-line slam dunk that Snoop fans

have been waiting for since Doggystyle (1993), an album that spawned

legions of imitators possessed of little talent and even less charm.

Snoop's Tha Doggfather (1996) was an unfocused attempt at G-funk. His

Da Game Is To Be Sold, Not To Be Told (1998) was a misguided effort

to turn tha Dogg into a Dirty South rapper. Casting around for a focus and

finding his strengths is not a problem on Top Dogg. In fact, there

isn't much on this album that's a problem. It's not about hard-hitting Dirty

South beats or dance grooves mined from the Gap Band and P-Funk; it

is about soulful, smoke-friendly loops inspired by Blaxploitation

soundtracks and Isaac Hayes' Hot Buttered Soul.

Unlike Tha Doggfather and Da Game Is To Be Sold, Not To Be

Told, this record is packed with highlights. On "Buck 'Em," "Bitch

Please" and "Just Dippin'," Dr. Dre proves that he hasn't forgotten how to

make the smooth, yet aggro-synth dominated tracks that serve Snoop's mellow

flow so well. Among the other guests on the album, special props go to: Sylk

E. Fyne, for her expert sparring with Snoop on "Trust Me"; Sticky Fingers from Onyx, for showing

he can rhyme without screaming on "Buck 'Em"; and Xzibit, for playing the

bad cop to Snoop's deceptively good cop on "Bitch Please."

The "Hard To Handle" loop on "Ghetto Symphony" makes "Symphony" the best No Limit posse track since Master P's "Make 'Em Say Uhh" (quite an

accomplishment, considering the number of No Limit albums unleashed since

then). Also worth mentioning here is "Snoopafella," Snoop's cover of Dana

Dane's "Cinderfella Dana Dane." In the past, Snoop has covered hits by Slick

Rick, Biz Markie, N.W.A, Boogie Down Productions and, uh, himself. This time

he dug deeper for inspiration and came up with a dusty gem.

The only trouble with this album is that Dogg's still gnawing on the same

old bone. Rhymes about weed, women, parties and hustling dominate. Maybe

next time around we'll see Snoop expand his territory ... maybe not.