Over the past year or two, Snoop Dogg has made his lane as a cultural reference point. At 43 years old, he’s the presence who tethers genre-crossing ambition to terrestrial foundations. Kendrick Lamar’s “Institutionalized” finds footing with Uncle Snoop, while on “Dead Man’s Tetris”, Snoop’s slapstick humor purposefully offsets Flying Lotus’ surrealism. With Dam-Funk, he’s more or less a guiding principle. Regardless of his role, none of these collaborators really need Snoop all that much; at his current state, he’s inessential. Then again, he’s rarely an accoutrement.
A peripheral presence and a central one are two different things, and Snoop hasn’t really been great at being the latter for a while. Pharrell Williams is a celebrated entertainer just like Snoop, and together, they brought us the joy that is “Drop It Like It’s Hot”. The problem with Bush is that their pairing isn’t a particularly adventurous one. It gives them an avenue to play it safe.
That’s not to say that Bush is a bad album — it’s actually Snoop’s best since 2008’s Ego Trippin’. Earth, Wind & Fire, Maze, George Clinton, and other VHS-era R&B kings show their influence here. The whole thing is in part an homage to the days when Uncle Snoop was a nephew, but with hardly a hint of innovation, Bush loses its nostalgic sheen quickly.
Certain guests really work here (Stevie Wonder, a perpetually grinning Charlie Wilson), while others are forgettable (Kendrick and Rick Ross are letdowns on the album’s closer, “I’m Ya Dogg”). But Bush’s averageness mostly comes from Snoop and Pharrell. They’re here, but not here here. Snoop’s delivery has always been laid-back, but at its best, there’s some sinew behind it. You won’t hear that on Bush, which leaves Snoop to float around within Pharrell’s colorful landscape. It leads to some unfortunate moments. The free love concept of “R U a Freak” gets done in easily with lyrics like “She’s DTF ‘cause she’s down to feel” and “I’m just a squirrel trying to get a nut.” “I Knew That” drops us into a conga line in media res, pulling a hook out of nowhere amid stale sexual politics.
Pharrell makes the throwback beats and cautiously stands back as Snoop does his static electric slide. The album may be polychromatic, but it defeats its own purpose when each hue lacks personality. There are groovy bass lines. There are major chord synths. There are festival claps. All show up seemingly out of obligation, as if they’re hanging around because Snoop wanted a throwback album. Either that or Pharrell was so invested in drawing color from his musical ancestors that he forgot to look to his own innovation. Riffs swing in, build to a hook, and putter out before they get a chance to leave much of an impression.
As tame as Bush’s formula is, there are times when it works. A call-and-response bridge and dreamy keys make “Peaches N Cream” indelible — it could become one of the summer’s barbecue staples. Snoop nearly kills the momentum of “So Many Pros” with his atonal singing, but Wilson comes through as if he’s trying to will the song away from failure. By the time the bridge hits, it clicks into place.
Bush, however, feels like a missed chance for Snoop to solidify his place as an OG with distant familial connections to Parliament-Funkadelic. Although it’s well-intentioned, you’re very aware that the only reason you’re at this party is because Snoop invited you.
Essential Tracks: “Peaches N Cream”, “So Many Pros”