With hip-hop now decades old and its place in pop culture more paramount than ever, we've entered the strange new era of the fortysomething rapper, and each of the genre's aging superstars is adapting in a different way. Jay-Z is a global brand whose latest album was as much a Samsung commercial as it was art; Eminem seems to have accepted his role as a toothless legacy act of the classic-rock kind. But the most intriguing approach—at least on paper—is that of Snoop Dogg, who was always a versatile performer, but in the last few years has turned downright chameleonic, foraying into reggae as Snoop Lion, dance music as DJ Snoopadelic, and now, as “Snoopzilla,” a collaboration with funk virtuoso Damon “Dâm-Funk” Riddick.
7 Days of Funk, as the duo have christened themselves, is not just a much-needed palate cleanser to the creative quagmire that was the Snoop Lion project; it's the antithesis, flipping the script on nearly everything that ailed April's Reincarnated. Gone is the pomp and circumstance that surrounded that album, the talk of spiritual conversion and accompanying Vice-produced infomercial; 7 Days of Funk plays like a casual jam session, a low-pressure labor of love, its quiet year-end release attended by no hype whatsoever. Gone are brand-name collaborators Diplo, Drake, and Miley Cyrus, and except for a lone Kurupt feature and a vocal turn by funk icon Steve Arrington, this is purely a Snoop and Dâm-Funk affair, and their partnership feels so natural that it's a wonder it didn't happen years ago.
Most of all, Snoop's quest to make a funk album is simply not much of a leap for an artist whose output, from the raw G-funk of his early Death Row releases to the Auto-Tuned gloss of “Sexual Eruption,” has always bridged the gap between the hood and the Mothership. Even when he's doing his best Bootsy Collins impression on lead single “Faden Away,” 7 Days of Funk never comes off as cheap pastiche, only a reverent tribute from a pair of true believers. And not even Snoop's considerable star power can outshine the master class in silky-smooth funktronica production Dâm-Funk puts on here, fusing age-old ingredients—808 boom-bap, blown-out bass, cosmic keys—with exotic flourishes like the thick Phrygian-scale synth hook of “Faden Away” and the celeste that floats through “I'll Be There 4U.”
Riddick is a little too cagey at times; when he caps off “Let It Go” with a sludging, screeching guitar solo, it's all too brief and low in the mix, seemingly wary of getting in Snoop's way as he repeats the chorus for a sixth time. One wonders what the album could gain from a little more of such instrumental flair and fewer cheeseball “Snoopy Collins” interludes, and there are plenty of other imperfections. No amount of pitch correction and filtering can change the fact that Calvin Broadus, no matter what he calls himself, can't sing, and 7 Days of Funk is as lyrically empty an album as you'll hear this year; any message it may have is exclusively vibe-based. But it's a welcome sign of life from an MC who many assumed to be over the hill, and where it fails, it fails on its own terms—and that's a kind of success in itself.