The Times, Trials, and Hardcore Truths of Snoop Dogg

By Snoop Dogg with Davin Seay

Morrow. 229 pp. $23

As one of the most commercially successful hip-hop acts ever, Snoop Dogg, you would think, ought to have something to say. Snoop was a major piece of Death Row Records, one of the top-selling rap labels of the '90s. His 1993 debut album, "Doggystyle," became the first rap album ever to reach No. 1 on the Billboard charts. He repeated that feat with his 1997 follow-up, "Tha Doggfather." On almost every Death Row album that has achieved platinum status, he has made an appearance. Snoop himself has never released an album that did not go platinum. With the exception of Puff Daddy, perhaps no artist has done more to push hip-hop into the sphere of popular music.

But if Snoop Dogg's new memoir, also called "Tha Doggfather," proves anything, it is that the ability to sell a lot of records has almost nothing to do with insight or maturity. "Doggfather" is a perspectiveless and unremarkable tale of the author's rise from crack merchant to rapper. The book purports to give "an unexpurgated look at life on the edge in the modern urban jungle." It does nothing of the sort. It offers nothing new to the urban black male dialogue, and its author is seemingly incapable of self-examination. It's not that Snoop doesn't discuss his life in the "modern urban jungle"-- the book is bloated with info on his early years. But because he really has nothing new to say, the lengthy rehashing of his early days is utterly unengaging. We've all seen "Boyz N the Hood"; we don't have to read the script.

Yet even without a decent perspective on his early life, "Doggfather" could have been saved had Snoop chosen to write in detail about becoming arguably the most popular rapper ever. But he is silent about his days at Death Row and the rumors of violence that dogged the label. Instead he retreats behind religious platitudes, empty sloganeering and half-truths. The result is a memoir that reads like a lengthy news release and fails to win the trust of its readers.

Snoop begins his tale in Long Beach, Calif. He was born to a single mother and had several father figures throughout his childhood, most of them appearing and disappearing at various points in his life. He got mixed up with the wrong crowd in high school, joining a notorious gang, the Crips. After leaving his mother's house, he sold crack for a number of years until he hooked up with rap producer Dr. Dre and began his music career.

Unfortunately, Snoop adds nothing to the parable of the inner-city black male. When he does attempt to be insightful, the results are twisted at best. After recounting how, as a child, he would steal from the homes of some of his rich white friends, he offers this healthy thought for the reader: "If I owned a big fine house on the hill . . . I sure as [expletive] wouldn't let some little [expletive] kid from Long Beach have the run of the place without a full cavity search at the end of the day."

Snoop never claimed to be an intellectual, so perhaps his lack of perspective can be excused. What cannot be excused is that he hedges and ultimately backs off as the story moves toward his affiliations with Death Row Records. Death Row's rumored business tactics are legendary in the rap world. Death Row's CEO, Marion "Suge" Knight, allegedly browbeat his way to the top of rap's charts. Knight, who is in prison for violating his parole, has recently emerged as a suspect in the murder of rapper Notorious B.I.G. Furthermore, Death Row was at the center of the East-West feud that ended only after the murders of Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G. Yet Snoop only vaguely hints at Death Row's business practices and passes off the blame for the feud onto the media. Then he attempts to rationalize his lack of candor: "Have I got something to hide? You're damn straight. It's called my ass, and I'm going to keep it out the line of fire for as long as I can."

For years fans maligned mainstream media and the popular music world for ignoring rap. Artists asserted that rap was the voice of urban youth and that it should not be silenced. "Tha Doggfather" offers 250 pages of evidence to the contrary. If Snoop is a spokesman for urban youth, one wonders whether rap really is the unheard but inspired voice that it claims to be.

Once Chuck D asserted that rap was "the CNN of black America." But through the lens of "Tha Doggfather," rap looks like a cheap pay-per-view channel.