213 :: The Hard Way
Label: TVT Records
Author: Matt Barone
Before Snoop Dogg introduced the world to his Doggystyle tactics or Nate Dogg and Warren G regulated their G-Funk, the California-bred trio existed as 213. Repping their respective area code, this current super-group honed their skills as an upstart crew, eventually leading into prolific solo careers. From the jumps-off of their individual successes, though, each has continually shouted out their original collective, hinting at the long-awaited reunion of 213 but never seeing it come to fruition. With Snoop Dogg now a worldwide celebrity and Nate Dogg acting as hip-hop's go-to chorus crooner, 213 have finally put together the highly anticipated The Hard Way.
An audio journey attempting to take listeners back to when the West Coast ran this here rap game, The Hard Way ends up being a bigger disappointment than an enjoyable experience, tainted by overly generic left coast production and uninspired verses. Rather than pushing the envelope and crafting 2004's surely welcome G-Funk upgrade, 213 do exactly what they have done since the Dr. Dre's classic "Deep Cover" blessed the masses with the crew's genesis. For die-hard Snoop Dogg supporters, sticking to the proven formula may not be a bad thing. For those with higher standards, though, The Hard Way comes off as a wasted effort.
Snoop Dogg, Nate Dogg, and Warren G all possess high levels of talent, so The Hard Way does have several highlights that help to slightly rescue the album from complete disaster. Newcomer Quaze hits the boards lovely on "Absolutely," sprinkling engaging bells over light conga drums to create a laidback swagger that 213 attacks with refreshing energy. "Lonely Girl" finds producer-on-the-rise Nottz in top form as Warren g and Snoop deliver on-point narratives about saving misguided females, while "Joysticc" is a formulaic sex romp aided by beat-makers Terrance Martin and Marlon Williams' vibrant, synthesizer-heavy sampling of Mtume's "Juicy Fruit." "213 Tha Gangsta Clicc" sports a rougher-edged instrumental and battle-ready bars, and "So Fly" lifts the Missy Elliot-produced backdrop from Monica's "So Gone" nicely, as it fits the vocal stylings of 213 just right. Kanye West keeps his consistency intact on the smooth-as-butter "Another Summer," flipping expert tempo changes and an undeniably cool vibe for Snoop Dogg to kick polished game:
"Pool party after church, G'd up and barbequin'
Ain't no tellin' what your daddy or your momma doin'
Chewing on these baby backs, poppin' bottles with these macks
Everybody swimmin', backyard full of women
I'm entertaining folks
gave the lil' homie twenty dollars just to shine my hundred spokes
Coke with the Hennessy, tends to be the remedy
Family and friends to me, everyone pretends to be kin to me
I can't wait, til' the Fourth of July, to pop some fire works with my kids
And fly some kites high in the sky
See it's the family reunion
and down at the church, they givin' up the annual communion"
These selections are about as good as it gets, unfortunately. The rest of The Hard Way lacks the precision of the aforementioned cuts, and teeters off into a forgettable oblivion. The beat on "Groupie Luv" is even blander than the tired groupie dedications spit by the members of 213, and the Rick James-inspired "Mary Jane" is a messy bore. "Gotta Find A Way" comes close to recapturing some 70s funk nostalgia, but slowly loses steam due to its repetitive sounds. Further wack juice drips onto tracks like "MLK" and "Keep it Gangsta," while the misogynistic nature of both "My Dirty Ho" and "Lil Girl" is laughable in execution and concept.
The Hard Way won't do much to harm the already strong reputations of Snoop Dogg and Nate Dogg, who dominate the festivities throughout. Warren G does little to bolster his stock, however. Dropping raps far from quotable status, Warren G gets lost behind the powerful presences of his 213 comrades. What he should have done was contribute some of his impressive production capabilities to the mix, but for some reason Warren has not one beat on the album.
While it may churn out a few hits, "The Hard Way" is ultimately a letdown. 19 tracks in length, some serious trimming was needed to be done before releasing this exhausting record, as the seemingly endless number of songs only helps to induce the 'been there, done that' reaction. If 213 were to drop The Hard Way seven or eight years earlier, its weaknesses would be less obvious. Hip-hop has progressed considerably in sound over the years, though, making 213's union a stale display of how complacency can hold even the brightest stars back from shining.
Music Vibes: 5 of 10
Lyric Vibes: 6 of 10
TOTAL Vibes: 5.5 of 10
Originally posted: August 17, 2004