For critics and music fans alike, there isn't a more difficult record to grapple with this year than DoggyStyle, the droolingly anticipated debut album by Snoop Doggy Dogg. Like most gangsta rap, it chronicles a world of tossed-off threats and toking, a world of ''bitches'' and ''hoes'' who only want a man's money, a world where ''nigga'' is a term of endearment. Then there are moments like ''Pump Pump,'' in which Snoop gets into an argument with another man over his woman. After some verbal blows''Yo' bitch chose me!'' snips Snoopcomes the sound of gunshots, followed by the rapper's deadpan voice: ''That's what's up, nigga.'' And then Snoop laughs.
As fantasy and role-playing, gangsta rap has been as much a part of pop as Ozzy Osbourne's pretending to be a satanist, or white, middle-class lads like the Rolling Stones' playing at being children of the blues. Even soand despite gangsta rap's having lost most of its shock valuemoments like ''Pump Pump'' are chillingly real. And for a reason: Snoop, a.k.a. Calvin Broadus, is set to be arraigned on Dec. 8, charged with the murder of an L.A. man last summer. That incident has rendered Doggystyle's stance more complex than it otherwise would have been, turning it into an album destined to separate hard-core rap fans from the rest of the planet.
Doggystyle would be easy to lump with mediocre recent gangsta products from MC Ren and Scarface if not for several factors. First is the music, courtesy of Dr. Dre, Snoop's mentor and producer. It was Dre's production touches that made earlier, uglier gangsta treatises like N.W.A's Niggaz4Life listenable. In the few short years since, he's refined his studio skills even more. The mix of samples and live music on Dre's latest, The Chronic, gave it texture and depth, and he continues his knob-turning growth on Doggystyle, fluidly weaving together a gaggle of background singers and rappers, quirky samples, his trademark horror-flick keyboard lines, even the veteran R&B vocal group the Dramatics.
The result is what Dre and Snoop call ''G Funk'': the most limber, low-rider gangsta album to date. You'll feel like you're in the front seat of a Jeep with bad shock absorbers, bumpin' your way through an inner-city block party.
Then there are Snoop's undeniably charismatic vocals. His cameos on Dre singles like ''Deep Cover'' and ''Dre Day'' nicely balanced out Dre's blunter, blander rapping, and Doggystyle fulfills the promise of those records. Snoop's nasal voice swings from playful, sing-songy rhythms to steelycold toughness, never losing its slinky personalityhe's a hustler with charm to burn. Add it all up, and Doggystyle is state-of-the-art gangsta rap.
But then-and this is a massive ''but then''comes a song like ''Aint No Fun (If the Homies Cant Have None).'' Sure, it's a swinging, hard-thumping piece of R&B craft that easily outstrips anything new jack crooner Keith Sweat has offered lately, but it also touts gang-banging as a male-bonding sports event: ''Pass it to the homie/Now you hit it,'' raps one of Snoop's posse in the most callous tone possible. It's an example of how musically artful, yet lyrically repellent, this album can be.
So it goes throughout Doggystyle. It's easy to be impressed one moment and appalled the next. Snoop flashes his skill as a storyteller in the creepy-crawly ''Murder Was the Case,'' in which he's shot during a drive-by and ends up being sent to what sounds like heaven's chain gang, lamenting the young son who ''probably won't make it to see 22.'' For once, he sounds like he's sensitive to other people's livesbut he blows it later with boasts like ''How many hoes in '94 will I be bangin'?''
The shooting incident that could send him to prison for life occurred during the time he was recording, but anyone hoping for Snoop's insights better look elsewhere. Instead, he and his posse seem to subscribe mostly to the repugnant philosophy that labels women whores if they sleep with a man too soon and condemns them if they don't. We've come to expect such dunderheaded sentiments from meatheads like Eazy-E, but given Snoop's obvious talent, it all comes off as wasted opportunity.
Beneath the frat-party grooves and Snoop's mellow voice, Doggystyle is a grim, bleak-faced record. It's set in a dead-end, no-tomorrow world of cheap thrills, and there's a lesson here for everyone, even if Snoop himself missed it. By the time you read this, a jury may have decided if Snoop will have to learn it for himselfthe hardest way.