Snoop Dogg's career has felt like the result of an escalation of dares—some of which have paid off surprisingly well. On 2008's Ego Trippin, the veteran G-funker reinvented himself as an Auto-Tuned grown-n'-sexy crooner; on 2013's Reincarnated, he renamed himself Snoop Lion and cut reggae-influenced tracks with producer Diplo. Now, with Bible of Love, he's attempted his biggest gambit yet: an actual, honest-to-goodness gospel album.
Bible of Love is often surprisingly traditional. Featured artists include major names in gospel like Chris Bolton, Marvin Sapp, Rance Allen, and the Clark Sisters, often performing for whole stretches with Snoop nowhere to be heard. At least half of the album could pass for any given Sunday morning radio gospel show; Snoop Dogg himself doesn't even get a verse until the third track, the '70s soul-flavored “Always Got Something to Say.”
Snoop's diminished presence is unfortunate, because Bible of Love is most interesting when it's as much a rap album as it a gospel one. The tracks featuring Sly Pyper are more contemporary R&B than contemporary Christian, with the singer sounding a bit like a watered-down Frank Ocean. “Changed,” featuring gospel singer Isaac Carree and Atlanta rap producer Jazze Pha, grafts gospel-themed lyrics on top of a trap beat, complete with de rigeur ad libs. More successfully, “Blessed & Highly Favored” recalls, with its juxtaposition of traditional gospel and contemporary rap sounds, The Life of Pablo.
Kanye West described The Life of Pablo as a gospel album with “a whole lot of cursing on it.” Would that any song here had any of that album's friction between the sacred and the secular; even a reference to Snoop's beloved weed gets muted out on closing track and lead single “Words Are Few.” This is, instead, a profoundly conservative album: On “Always Got Something to Say,” Snoop waxes nostalgically, “Back in the days for talkin' back we got a whoopin'/It was all respect, discipline was the key/And every Sunday we in church bowin' down our knees.” Even Kim Burrell, best known outside gospel circles for her homophobic sermons, shows up for a couple of features.
Twenty-five years ago, it would have been bizarre to imagine the skinny, laconic delinquent behind Doggystyle recording an album of sacred music. But Snoop's slow evolution into the rap scene's goofy uncle, his career an endless cookout soundtracked by old Zapp records and head-shaking ruminations about the good ol' days, feels like it could only have come to this: a stultifying two discs of competent but generic Christian platitudes.