When Snoop Dogg hooked up with Master P's No Limit label last year, many thought he would recapture his status as rap's premier figure. But with "Da Game Is to Be Sold, Not to Be Told," his No Limit solo bow, the former Death Row Records star was seemingly transformed into one of the many faceless rappers on No Limit's extensive roster. He was even outperformed, arguably, by the album's guest artists.
With this release, however (due in stores Tuesday), the Long Beach native sounds as sharp as he did on his debut collection, 1993's "Doggystyle." Part of the renewed vigor in Snoop's voice may be credited to his reunion with producer Dr. Dre, who handles three of the strongest songs on this 21-track package.
Dre's sinister soundscapes help provide the energy that was lacking in the production of some of Snoop's recent recordings. In fact, the album further veers from the No Limit assembly-line sound thanks to the decidedly West Coast beats supplied by DJ Quik, Bud'da and others.
Lyrically, Snoop balances subject matter better than he ever has. A mix of gangster tales, contemplative reflections, love songs and rough braggadocio, "No Limit Topp Dogg" should reestablish Snoop as a top-tier rapper.
Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent). The albums are already released unless otherwise noted.
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* Excerpts from these and other recent releases are available on The Times' World Wide Web site. Point your browser to: http://www. calendarlive.com/soundclips