Arts & Books: Pop: It's fun, and it's even legal (almost)

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The Independent Culture
INEVITABLY ONE sad fact will survive Snoop Dogg's first appearance in the UK since the mid-Nineties: a gun report, almost certainly a blank, was heard halfway through his appearance in a packed, small, west London nightclub on Tuesday night. The person deemed responsible was quickly bundled out while Snoop Dogg was hustled off stage by his minders. What you won't hear was that this idiocy took place at one of the most engaging gigs of the year.

Gangsta rap always seemed destined to repeat itself first as tragedy then as farce. When Calvin Broadus AKA Snoop Doggy Dogg first joined ex- NWA member Dr Dre to produce The Chronic six years ago, the result was a slick, understated fusion of P-funk and streetwise parables of life in black America's rougher neighbourhoods. The fierce, politicised rap of Dr Dre's earlier group and Public Enemy appeared to have given way to a dissipated celebration of an amoral "gangsta" existence, obsessed with status, violence and the degradation of women. However, as long as you didn't pay too much attention to what guns were being pulled on which "bitches" and "ho's", gangsta rap, as it was tagged, was the sleaziest fun you could have without breaking the law. It was an appeal consolidated by Snoop Dogg's 1993 follow-up, Doggystyle, one of the biggest-selling rap albums.

The trouble was that Snoop Dogg and other leading exponents never exhibited much by way of irony, no matter what their apologists claimed. "Keepin' it real", the obsessive maxim of gangsta rap, led ultimately to the fatal shootings of Tupac Shakur and the Notorious BIG. Even Snoop Dogg himself was up on a murder charge in 1995, which he escaped. So, when someone let off the blank, it had a pathetic logic. Snoop initially took to the stage provocatively in a balaclava and, between voluble reminders that this was "a gangsta party", exhorted us to wave our guns in the air. This being Ladbroke Grove, not Compton, a raised ciggy had to do. You had to smile and, to his credit, Snoop did.

Hearteningly, there was little acknowledgement from a relaxed Dogg that the Wu-Tang Clan and its various offshoots have long since usurped his rap throne. Sporting elegant pigtails and supported by a couple of good-natured fellow rappers, a virtuoso DJ and a phalanx of "security", the Dogg was straight out of his trap with "Murder Was The Case". He never looked back. Much has been made of the absence of production genius Dr Dre on Dogg's last album, Da Game Is To Be Sold, Not To Be Told, butlive tracks like "Gin & Juice II" and "Still A G-Thang" show the rapper's sinewy delivery to great effect. These recalled what the man himself dubbed "Classic Dogg", the era which he seemed more than happy to evoke. He was a mesmerising performer, rearing himself up to his full height to conduct the audience through his vintage G-funk, "Who Am I (What's My Name?)" and "Snoops Upside Your Head". Every dog has its day, and this one got to have it all over again.