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A master at mixing the pieces

November 21, 2004|Soren Baker; Agustin Gurza

Snoop Dogg

"R&G (Rhythm & Gangsta): The Masterpiece"

(DoggyStyle/Star Trak/Geffen)

***

The Long Beach rapper helped make Death Row Records the epicenter of gangster rap in the early 1990s. More recently, his music has taken a decidedly 1970s-soulful, player-centric turn. He combines the two styles, often masterfully, on his seventh studio album, and even gives it a name in Snoop slanguage: "Rhythm & Gangsta."

"Oh No," with 50 Cent, and the sample-heavy "The Bidness" are gripping examples of Snoop Dogg the lyrical gangster, while "I'm Threw Witchu" is a devilish display of his sexual humor, set to a soulful backdrop. Elsewhere, he samples the Ohio Players, Sade and even the Bee Gees, showing that the creative arsenal of Snoop and such A-List producers as the Neptunes, Lil Jon, the Alchemist and Warryn "Baby Dubb" Campbell are willing to experiment with the rapper who commercialized gangster rap.

Typical of Snoop, there are some mixed messages on the album. He is vile toward women on "Step Yo Game Up" and lovey-dovey on "Perfect," for instance. But it sure sounds good.

-- Soren Baker

A welcome return to the spotlight

Jorge Ben Jor

"Reactivus Amor Est" (Universal Music Latina)

*** 1/2

This Brazilian singer-songwriter was born in the slums around Rio and nurtured as a teenager on the balmy sounds of bossa nova. He became an instant international star with "Mas Que Nada," the irresistibly happy hit on his 1963 debut album that's been covered by Sergio Mendes and countless others. Ben Jor later merged with the movement known as tropicalia, a radical fusion of international styles that helped launch the careers of his contemporaries Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil.

While Gil and Veloso have remained in the spotlight in the U.S., Ben Jor's career faded with a series of albums during the 1990s that captured minimal interest and sales. He returns now with a smart and dynamic new work that showcases his undiminished strengths -- clever songwriting, great grooves and a restrained yet passionate vocal style that commands attention, even if you don't understand Portuguese.

The music is an accessible and accomplished blend of samba, soul, pop and sundry rhythms from his pais tropical, to borrow the title of another Ben Jor hit.

Throughout, his rhythmic guitar provides tasty accents and propulsive undercurrents. On the closing track -- just 1 minute, 16 seconds long -- he plays bluesy riffs under a satirical, hymn-like verse, which must be the world's first pop fusion with Gregorian chant.

With Gil busy as Brazil's minister of culture and Veloso reduced to making embarrassing covers of English-language tunes, Ben Jor now moves in to reclaim his role as a significant figure on Brazil's ever-crowded musical landscape.

-- Agustin Gurza

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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