Artist: 213Title: The Hard WayRating: 2 1/2 StarsReviewed by: Paine
213 has always been revered as the West Coast super-group that the public never got to hear. But the demo tapes and leaked basement sessions were always a tease to the fans of the braidless Snoop Dogg, the DJ Warren G, and the pre-fedora Nate Dogg. For the last five years, each of the aforementioned has promised this album on a list of different labels, different title and different themes. What it boiled down to was Snoop, Nate and Warren finding themselves with some spare time on their hands. The Hard Way portrays a crew of artists in search of the creative vigor they had a dozen plus years ago as the original 213.
Warren G has trademarked himself as the laid back MC. From hits like “This DJ”, to the more recent, “I Want it All”, he’s never been expected to raise his voice, or stray from his effortless flow. Snoop, on the other hand, was at one time an edgy MC with range and emotion. From his sharp and venomous verses on tracks like, “Pump Pump” and “The Shiznit,” Snoop was deft at sticking words up under your ribcage. Older tracks are reference points because those are the days that 213 hail from. It was not the overly laid back Snoop, the slightly less laid back Warren, and the impromptu Nate. That is exactly what we’re getting. A too smooth, thus energy-lacking effort, that sounds more like a Gap Band album than any Hip-Hop triad. The most blatant rap tracks like, “213 Tha Gangsta Clicc” and “MLK” are dominated by aggressive synthesized beats. The softer side of things shine through because the better half of this album comes from smooth tracks like, “Another Summer”, “Run On Up”, and “Lil’ Girl.” Warren G’s cadences throughout the album are taking on an all-too close resemblance to his half-brother, Dr. Dre’s style of delivery. “MLK” and “Absolutely” are major proof of that. On the lyrical side of things, Nate steals the show. “Mary Jane” and “So Fly” are two of the album’s more exciting cuts that reveal Nate’s fabulous quality. He doesn’t stay boxed-in by hooks, but rather Nate Dogg dances around most verses of this album with that one-of-a-kind baritone croon. Luckily, Dave Chapelle’s Rick James persona is the only guest, lasting an interlude. But, in the wake of Rick’s death, the humor is lost. While 213 didn’t water-down their album with outsiders, much is to be desired considering the years of hype.
One of the most disturbing facts of a 213 album is that it has no producer. Warren G has refused to produce anything since the lackluster sales of his last album. As a result, this album uses music supplied by producers who have no cognition of what the original 213 was, is or should sound like. The only reputable producer that fits the mold is DJ Pooh, who is responsible for “Groupie Luv.” While Nottz, Hi-Tek, and Kanye West are wonderful producers, this wasn’t their place. The one effort that does seem to match an early vibe, is “Joysticc.” This track uses “Juicy Fruit” percussion, with thick synth tones and a new wave chorus. Another track that Nate dominates is “So Fly.” This outstanding soul chop (with vinyl hiss) is provided by none other than Missy Eliot. We can even forget that Smilez & Southstar tried this same beat before. Otherwise, this album barely separates itself from an Eastsidaz album.
Perhaps the hardest reality of this album is the jaded element. It’s hard to watch your heroes get so cocky they forget why they’re originally in it. It had been widely hoped that this album would be a return to the way things were. Instead, we have three aging stars in total ignorance of their history together, using their fame and wealth as large subject matter, over foreign production. After a dozen years of believing that 213 was the West’s super group, this album only affirms the fact that it’s truly Westside Connection who wears that crown.