10 Years, 100 Songs: #70. “I’m a Gangsta, But Y’all Knew That”
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on July 24, 2009
Over the final months of our fine decade, Intensities in Ten Suburbs will be sending the Naughty Oughties out in style with a series of essays devoted to the top 100 songs of the decade–the ones we will most remember as we look back fondly on this period of pop music years down the road. The archives can be found here. If you want to argue about the order, you can’t, because we’re not totally sure what the qualifications are either. Otherwise, sit back and enjoy.
Snoop’s career has reached an impressive longevity at this point, considering (or maybe because of) the fact that he’s basically just been a trend-hopper for the bast decade and a half. After Tha Doggfather flopped in ’96, he dropped the G-Funk sound that made him a star and never looked back. Since then, he’s signed to No Limit and collaborated with Master P when he was the hot name in rap, jumped on the autotune bandwagon as that was getting big (as previously discussed), and most notably, rode the Neptunes’ hot streak like there was no tomorrow back when everything Chad & Pharrell touched turned to platinum. The initial fruits of these labors were the fun “From the Church to the Palace” and the pleasant-enough “Beautiful,” for which Pharrell nonetheless kept the only really good part for himself. Luckily, they were mere preludes to the main event: “Drop It Like It’s Hot,” the instant classic that got Snoop his first chart-topper, and cemented his status as a once-again relevant artist in the 21st century.
The beat slayed from the second it kicked in. It was hardly the first time the Neptunes had gone the minimalist route–a song still long yet to come on this list had long kicked down the doors on that front–but I had never heard a minimal beat that sounded so simultaneously retro and forward-looking. It hit hard, with a basic, brute force, like an early Run-DMC single, but it also buzzed and glitched like a post-Kid A Radiohead album track. Tongue clicks abound, static hisses from ear to ear, and it’s all tied together by that endless, unwavering, practically instrumental-sounding “SNOOOOOOOOOOP!!” The best way I ever managed to describe the sound of the beat was to compare it to a bowl of Rice Krispies snapping, crackling and popping in electrically-charged, neon-glowing milk. Well OK, it made sense to me at the time–but at the very least, that should demonstrate just how weird, confusing and downright fucking awesome the beat to this thing is.
It was a breathless wait to see what Snoop could do on top of such a beat, but first we had to wait for Pharrell to get his guest verse out of the way. It’s hard to remember just how potentially disastrous this was–Pharrell was no stranger to singing the hooks on songs he produced, certainly, and even had a solo hit on his own (the commendable “Frontin‘,” responsible for my most disastrous karaoke outing to date), but we’d never heard him rap before, and frankly, he seemed a little too…well, nice for a beat like this. To his credit, though, dude mostly rapped within himself–laying low and lazy, namedropping his clothing brand and eventual hip-hop alias, sneaking in one genuinely filthy line (“Million dollar boat / That’s whiter than what’s spilling down your throat”) and getting out of the way for Snoop to do his thing. (Meanwhile, poor Chad Hugo only gets to duck in to mime the song’s keyboard part in the video, about a second and a half’s worth of screen time total).
In any event, when it came time for Snoop to do his thing, he did not disappoint. Generally speaking, Snoop was always at his best at his most relaxed-sounding, his most collected authoritative. One of the problems with “Beautiful” was that the beat was too busy, too energetic for his laconic drawl, but while there was certainly a lot going on in the “Drop It” beat, its barebones stylings left him with a whole lot of breathing room. And he took advantage of it–many of his lines are more spoken than they are rapped, laid down as simple matters of fact. Not that he couldn’t handle a little wordplay dexterity–the rapid-fire “I can’t fake it, just break it and when I take it / See I specialize in making all the girls get naked” showed he still had it–but Snoop was well into his 30s by then, and really, there was no point in trying to keep up with youngn’s when he could just sit back and tell them all a thing or two about a thing or two.
His second verse drives this point home, and then some. Halfway through the verse, rapping about the unfortunate fate that befell a faker who half-stepped to him, he starts taking big pauses in between his points–“Cement shoes…now I’m on the move…Yo’ family’s cryin’…Now you on the news…They can’t find you…And now they miss you…Must I remind you, I’m only here to twist you…” It’s a funny verse, one that showcases Snoop’s verve for narrative, but the most lingering impression is of those pauses, which basically suggest that the recently departed in the verse isn’t even worth wasting his breath over, so Mr. Broadus is only going to use the minimum amount to tell your story (and take his sweet-ass time doing so as well). But of course, a verse as cold-blooded as this needs a beat to match, and with the Neptunes’ bug-zapper still humming away in the background throughout, it’s a truly glorious union.
There’s one element still remaining though, and if you’ve been reading this series at all, I’m sure you know what it is: The video. Nothing says class in hip-hop like going black and white against an empty, blue-screened background, a time-honored tradition that’s done right for Craig Mack, Q-Tip, Kanye West and countless others. Director Paul Hunter was certainly the man for the job, and he basically played it like The Neptunes played the song–skeletal, but infused with badass energy. You got cool little sights like Snoop doing the “park it” motion with two back-up dancers, a nice car tilted on its side for no particular reason, and a kid (Snoop’s?) playing a marching-band drum to imitate the pulse of the beat (plenty of champagne, stacks of money and shed clothing as well, of course–Snoop was too much of a vet not to know the genre’s visual bread and butter by that point). The best was saved for the end, though, when Snoop imitated the tongue-clicking sound of the hook while shrugging and working a near-Billy Idol sneer–which in itself says more than any lyrics in the song possibly could.
“Drop It Like It’s Hot” was predictably gigantic, and Snoop was able to coast his way through a couple further Neptunes collabs, some inspired (the silky smooth JT-featuring “Signs,” whose lack of blockbuster success I’m still grappling with, and the pretty cool B-Real featuring “Vato,” whose failure was less surprising) and some miserable (“Let’s Get Blown,” for which all parties involved couldn’t muster enough effort to even properly phone it in), before the well dried up and Snoop moved on to the next big thing. Snoop has stayed loose and limber in the years since, though, even scoring a second #1 as a guest on Akon’s “I Wanna Love You,” and though hip-hop is a genre notoriously unkind to the elderly, I wouldn’t put it past Snoop to be as popular and beloved in 2014 as he was in 1994 and 2004–the Dogg has proven his willingness to learn new tricks, and I can’t wait to hear him jump on the cyberhop, hyphycore and skunk (ska/crunk) movements in the ages to come.
The List So Far:
100. Green Day – “Jesus of Suburbia”
99. The Ying Yang Twins – “Wait (The Whisper Song)”
98. Crazytown – “Butterfly”
97. Taylor Swift – “Teardrops on My Guitar”
96. The Fray – “Over My Head (Cable Car)”
95. Fergie – “Fergalicious”
94. Lidstrom – “I Feel Space”
93. Chevelle – “Send the Pain Below”
92. T-Pain f/ Yung Joc – “Buy U a Drank (Shawty Snappin’)”
91. The Arctic Monkeys – “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor”
90. Cassie – “Me & U”
89. Nelly Furtado – “Maneater”
88. Mike Jones f/ Slim Thug & Paul Wall – “Still Tippin’”
87. Bat for Lashes – “Daniel”
86. The Darkness – “I Believe in a Thing Called Love”
85. Dynamite Hack – “Boyz n the Hood”
84. DJ Khaled f/ T.I., Rick Ross, Fat Joe, Birdman, Lil’ Wayne & Akon – “We Takin’ Over”
83. Matchbox20 – “Bent”
82. The Game f/ 50 Cent – “Hate It or Love It”
81. 311 – “Amber”
80. 3 Doors Down – “Krptonite”
79. Nas – “Made You Look”
78. Royksopp – “Eple”
77. The Pussycat Dolls – “Don’t Cha”
76. DMX – “Party Up (Up in Here)”
75. Junior Senior – “Move Your Feet”
74. Twista f/ Kanye West & Jamie Foxx – “Slow Jamz”
73. The Streets – “Weak Become Heroes”
72. Jimmy Eat World – “The Middle”
71. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs – “Maps”
70. Snoop Dogg f/ Pharrell – “Drop It Like It’s Hot”