Tha Dogg Pound ~ Dogg Food (1995)

Posted on July 15, 2012

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Dogg Food was the third official studio album issued by Death Row Records, the foreboding gangsta rap label co-founded by Dr. Dre and Suge Knight in the early 1990’s. Following on the heels of Dr. Dre (1992’s The Chronic), and Snoop Dogg (1993’s DoggyStyle), Dogg Food furthered the stranglehold Death Row had on the rap industry in the mid 90’s, through the center stage debut of two young guns named Daz Dillinger and Kurupt the Kingpin, together known as Tha Dogg Pound.

Unlike many musical acts, whose members have long-tenured friendships that lead to their professional unions, Tha Dogg Pound was birthed through its members’ associations with Dr. Dre. Dat Nigga Daz, a.k.a. Daz Dillinger (Delmar Arnaud), an MC/producer from Long Beach, California, was the younger cousin of Death Row Records front liner Snoop Dogg, who like his cousin found his way into the Death Row family through Snoop’s longtime friend and musical collaborator Warren G. Warren, the half-brother of Dr. Dre, introduced Dre to both Snoop and Daz, and after being inducted into Tha Row, Daz began to hone his production skills under the tutelage of the legendary doctor. While at Tha Row, Daz met Kurupt (Ricardo Brown), a mic mangler from Philadelphia who’d moved west in the late 80’s as a teen, and settled in the Los Angeles suburb of Hawthorne. The teenager connected with a South L.A. entrepreneur named Lamont Bloomfield, who helped the eager Philadelphian score cameos on three songs on One of Many Nights, a little-heard 1991 album from the R&B/Funk troupe The SOS Band. A copy of One of Many Nights ended up in the hands of Dr. Dre, who reached out to Bloomfield to secure the services of the Philly flamethrower he’d heard on the album. After joining Tha Row in ’91, Kurupt connected with Daz, and from 1992 through 1994, the two mavericks made invaluable contributions to The Chronic, DoggyStyle, and several gold and platinum film soundtracks. On Halloween Day 1995, Tha Dogg Pound gave Death Row followers everywhere a treat to savor: their full-length debut Dogg Food.

Sonically speaking, Dogg Food doesn’t have the immediate stunning capacity of The Chronic or DoggyStyle, but like their predecessors Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg, Tha Dogg Pound delivers a gangsta funk album that bangs from beginning to end. Unlike The Chronic and DoggyStyle, which were produced entirely by Dr. Dre, Daz Dillinger – then known as Dat Nigga Daz – laces most of Dogg Food, and unveils the musicality and beatmaking acumen that made him one of the West Coast’s most respected producers in the years to come. Daz and Kurupt the Kingpin begin the album in inspired fashion, with the sinister speaker rattler “Dogg Pound Gangstaz”, a cut where Daz and Kurupt follow separate lyrical vectors, with Kurupt throwing ninja stars and flaunting his Philly-bred battle skills, while Daz flips into Long Beach Crip mode, and threatens foes with his semi-automatic firmly in hand. Up next is “Respect”, a reggae-dipped cut where Dr. Dre ad-libs, Daz and Kurupt free-wheel over a spacey, fluttering filter of Parliament’s “Flashlight”, and dancehall artist Prince Ital Joe chants ragamuffin style on the hooks and fadeout. A crop of special guests check in for the next few tracks; starting with Compton artisan DJ Pooh, who produces both the throwback gem “New York, New York” and the self-explanatory “Smooth”, and Snoop Dogg, who makes cameos on both cuts. “New York, New York”, the album’s second single, employs twilight synths and a drum line similar to EPMD’s “You’re A Customer”, which support a cipher exhibition for Kurupt, who zones out and spits cerebral metaphors, while Snoop updates the chorus from Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five’s “New York, New York” for this song’s hook. “Smooth” features comedian Ricky Harris reprising his DoggyStyle interlude character DJ Eazy Dick, and rendering the intro and fadeout, as Snoop and Kurupt drop slick verses over a lovely, mid-tempo funk track, and long-tenured soul vocalist Val Young sings the chorus. And the gangsta-boogie thumper “Cyco-Lic-No” features Daz, Kurupt, and Dogg Pound affiliate Mr. Malik, one-half of the teen rap duo Illegal, getting their swag on and blasting like a firing squad side by side, while Snoop Dogg chants the hook.

As the album plays on, Dogg Food seems to get better, and funkier. “Ridin’, Slipin’ and Slidin” conjures images of sunny California days and drop-top Impalas, and finds Daz and Kurupt hustling with speed for their bankrolls, and Daz doing splendid double duty with this song’s sinewy percussion groove. “Big Pimpin 2” is a sequel to Tha Dogg Pound classic “Big Pimpin”, from 1994’s Above the Rim soundtrack, and finds Dogg Pound associate Big Pimpin’ Delemond reprising his mack philosopher role from the original, and dispensing more poetic parables over an inverted version of the original’s fluid, corner-bending instrumental. “Let’s Play House” is a rumbling romancer with Long Beach crooner Nate Dogg and Death Row singer Michel’le teaming on the chorus, and assisting Daz and Kurupt as they chase skirts and play love games. And “I Don’t Like To Dream About Gettin Paid” may be the crown jewel of Dogg Food, and the perfect blend of style and substance. Daz Dillinger supplies most of this song’s weight; first by matching measured drum pounds and hypnotizing synths with a sample of Lionel Richie’s “Love Will Find A Way”, and then by telling a first-person tale of a drug lord’s rise and fall; while Kurupt speaks on being forced to come up fast due to family pressures. Everything on this song seems to gel perfectly, from the sublime canvas Daz lays out, to the liquid hook sung by Nate Dogg, and the female chorus that backs Nate’s play; and these factors result in one of the best songs Tha Dogg Pound ever made.

The remaining songs on Dogg Food aren’t as memorable as those found on the disc’s first half and midsection, but there’s still some tight material here. The Lady of Rage, the resident mic mistress of Death Row Records, blesses “Do What I Feel”; and as only she could, Rage flows magnificently, and steals the show in just one verse. Snoop Dogg reappears on two standard sexcapade numbers, the pimp strutting, train running anthem “If We All Fuc”, and “Some Bomb Azz Pussy”, an ode to punani filled out by a breezy gangsta lean groove, orgasmic moans, and pigeon-baiting verses from Daz, Kurupt, and Snoop. “A Doggz Day Afternoon” has stark keys, interplanetary synths and a Zapp-styled clapping drum line, which Daz and Kurupt shoot the freestyle gift over, and which Kurupt proceeds to murder with his hollow tip bars. Tray Deee, of the Snoop Dogg-affiliated groups LBC Crew and Tha Eastsidaz, guests on “Reality”, a pensive look at the hustling life, and the constant threats of robbery, betrayal, and death affecting those grinding in the streets. And Dogg Pound comrades Ovadose and Soopafly produce the album finale “Sooo Much Style”, and fit Daz and Kurupt with a morose New York-type boom bap track, which Kurupt the Kingpin layers with a nice array of quotables.

Dogg Food was an immediate commercial success when it first dropped; a given fact considering the label it came from. The album entered the Billboard 200 at #1, en route to selling more than 3 million units. Besides giving Death Row Records yet another multi-platinum platter, Dogg Food proved pivotal for far more important reasons. This album led to the separation between Interscope Records, Death Row’s distributing label, and its corporate parent Time Warner, who sold its 50 percent stake in Interscope to Interscope co-founders Ted Field and Jimmy Iovine, just weeks before this album’s release. Due to the controversy surrounding Snoop Dogg’s 1993 debut DoggyStyle, Death Row Records wound up on the business end of a censorship blitzkrieg, the goal of which was to prevent Tha Row’s next high profile release (this album) from hitting stores. Media watchdog and activist C. Delores Tucker, in conjunction with conservative pundit Bill Bennett, pressured Time Warner exec Michael Fuchs into severing ties with both Death Row and Interscope over Dogg Food, and Time Warner subsequently refused to distribute the album. But Death Row and Interscope got the last laugh, as the album made a mint for its new distributor – West Coast indie Priority Records – and Interscope later joined the Universal/MCA conglomerate, and became one of the most profitable labels in the history of recorded music.

As for Tha Dogg Pound, Dogg Food would be the creative and commercial highpoint of their career. It’d also be a source of drama; with the group becoming embroiled in the East Coast-West Coast conflict of the mid-1990’s over their single “New York, New York”, and having their video trailers shot at in December of 1995, while filming the “New York, New York” clip in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Death Row Records began to come apart at the seams in the year after this album’s release; with Dr. Dre leaving in March 1996 to found Aftermath Entertainment, the label’s new shining sun 2Pac being killed in September 1996, and Suge Knight being imprisoned on a probation violation in February 1997. Kurupt the Kingpin himself would leave Death Row in 1997 over unpaid royalties, and leave Daz Dillinger to continue on as a soloist, as well as Death Row’s primary in-house producer. Both Daz and Kurupt have become longstanding icons of West Coast rap over the last decade-plus; partly due to the music they’ve each produced since their debut, but primarily because of Dogg Food; a true landmark in 90s Hip Hop. Looks like the censors just couldn’t stop the reign.

To Listen to Dogg Food, click here.

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