Snoop’s bark still strong, but no love for his crew
The eminent gangsta rap superstar Snoop Dogg turned in a good performance of his own in Halifax last Sunday night. However, his backline didn’t measure up, the sound quality at the venue was awful, and the performances of both of his opening acts were almost entirely without merit.
Snoop Dogg, a.k.a. Snoop Doggy Dogg, a.k.a. Calvin Broadus, 37, performed at the Metro Centre in Halifax on Sunday, September 13th, 2009. He was preceded on stage by two acts: the first being a drummer who played accompaniment to a string of drum-and-bass/house tracks played from his laptop; and the second being a singer/guitarist who performed what seemed to be original compositions accompanied by a string of backing tracks which were also played from his laptop.
The first artist had good clear vocals on the mic, but the substance of his performance lost my interest after the first two tunes. I also indicted him on three counts of malfeasance in performance practice:
- He performed live on stage with no other musicians than those found on the static, pre-mixed tracks on his laptop (in fact, there’s no reason not to suspect that he just launched an iTunes playlist for his whole set).
- He played completely unadorned backbeats on the drums without a single improvised fill or solo of any description.
- He played along with his laptop at seemingly random intervals and for random lengths of time in relation to each of the tracks played, showing neither awareness nor regard for what scant musical structure existed on those tracks.
The second artist deserves no further description other than his having been a unskilled singer who performed poorly-written tunes with infantile lyrics. When taken as a whole, Snoop’s opening acts were at best boring, and at worst an insult to the audience’s musical intelligence.
Snoop’s portion of the night was much better. He was introduced by a bonafide emcee with lots of pimp and circumstance (sic). The O.G. (Original Gangsta) emerged onto the stage with a bright orange hoodie, a glittering, jewel-encrusted microphone, and an angry look on his face. From that first moment on, the audience knew that Snoop came to play.
Snoop Dogg was backed up by a keyboardist, a drummer, a bassist, a DJ, and two other emcees. He took occasional breaks of no longer than one tune to refresh himself at the back of the stage, and during those breaks the other two rappers would step up and deliver. It didn’t take long before the venue’s sound started to break down the show, though.
Within the first 10 minutes of the roughly 70-minute set, it became obvious that Snoop had the only mic with sufficient volume and clarity to be heard and understood; almost all of what the other emcees said was unintelligible. Furthermore, the backup tracks under Snoop’s rapping were too loud, were distorted, and were also totally imbalanced from an EQ perspective: true, they had lots of nice, heavy bass, but there was also far too much midrange (which brings about a transistor-radio-like sound effect) and too little high range (which exacerbates that transistor-radio effect). That EQ imbalance made all of his music sound as though it was being played from the next room, and it didn’t allow those great low, buzzy basslines in Snoop’s music to punch through as they do so well on the studio recordings. His tracks often being produced by such artists as Dr. Dre, it would be understandable if the entire dynamic range wasn’t represented in the live show. But the sound quality at this venue was truly unacceptable and proved highly deleterious to Snoop’s performance.
Another major downside to the music was that almost every tune was played with a fully-produced backup track underneath it, meaning that the musicians were essentially just playing along with a record all night. Aside from how artistically banal this was, it forced the musicians to overplay severely in terms of volume and intensity just to distinguish themselves from the backup tracks, and this was distracting and unmusical. At its best, rap and hip-hop music are creative musical forms based on deeply funky grooves played by live musicians or sampled by DJs from live musical recordings. Snoop’s set paid precious little tribute to that tradition in terms of its musical production values, and so it severely disappointed the musician in me.
On the plus side, Snoop’s look, attitude and demeanour were very amusing and entertaining. He gave the suburban, mostly white audience a purported glimpse into the gangsta lifestyle, but it was also obvious that he wasn’t taking himself too seriously (after all, he has a family now and coaches his son’s football team). Snoop Dogg is also an excellent rapper in his own right, and he performs his raps with funky, rhythmic, and musical aplomb. It was only because of Snoop’s personal performance and his sincere engagement with the audience that paying for my ticket didn’t feel like robbery. There was certainly a number of significant factors that downgraded the enjoyment of this concert, but Snoop himself was well worth the relatively modest admission price of about $60.