Nate’s name is naturally known throughout the hallowed halls of hip-hop. He’s already reinvented himself once before, after becoming stereotyped as Death Row’s cameo singer for songs by Tha Dogg Pound and Snoop. Perhaps inspired by the latter’s departure, he broke free from Death Row on Breakaway Records and released “G-Funk Classics (Vol. 1 & 2).” Soon afterwards the singer became a ubiquitous coast to coast presence on hit songs. From E-40’s “Nah Nah Nah” to Fabolous’ “You Can’t Deny Me” to Ludacris’ “Area Codes”, his vocals saluted rappers song after song.
The realization that he had a second shot at fifteen minutes of fame probably lead to this new album, “Music & Me.” It’s rather telling that the album is not called “Hip-Hop & Me” though. For better or worse, Nate is a vocalist whose qualities are best appreciated in short appearances such as song hooks or cameo ad-libbing. Nate is clearly a hard sell as a rap artist, even though many people these days seem to have mistaken singers like Destiny’s Child and Usher for hip-hop music. The parts of Nate’s album that work the best are when the guest rappers dominate and the Dogg plays second fiddle. “Keep it G.A.N.G.S.T.A.” featuring Xzibit, “I Pledge Allegiance” with Pharoahe Monch and the latest Ludacris duet “Real Pimp” epitomize this problem. Nate has provided his trademark hooks for all of them in the past, and their raps almost seem contrived as payback for that work; thanks homey, I owed you one, now we’re even.
There’s no denying that Nate’s voice does have appealing qualities. To compare him to traditional singers like Brian McKnight or Luther Vandross doesn’t do him justice. Like so many of the tracks he’s appeared on, his phrasing and musical tonality suggest chronicked out G-funk smoothness. Warren G’s most famous hit “Regulate” took advantage of this by having him tell half of their story in an almost rapping musical flow, and a FEW songs on “Music & Me” utilize this same technique. “Another Short Story” and “Concrete Streets” are perfectly fitted with beats by Mike City and Battlecat respectively, and Nate keeps it simple by telling it straight – he’s a pro, and he don’t love no hoes. If all of his solo tracks were this tight, this album would be dead right – but the sad truth is they’re not.
If any single thing sums up how this album fails to capture Nate Dogg’s distinctive style best, it’s the remix to “I Got Love.” Even newcomer B.R.E.T.T. (who bears strong vocal resemblance to Saafir the Saucee Nomad) is allowed to upstage Nate to the point where the original version at the album’s beginning sounds incomplete without him. The gaps in the first track don’t suggest artistic pause for a singer to catch his breath but instead sound like places where the raps were deleted out. Perhaps that’s ultimately Nate’s curse – he’s been providing hooks for other rappers so long now he sounds lost without them. For Nate Dogg fans his vocals are still quality and the beats are choicer than most, but hip-hop heads who expect rapper + Nate may actually find the reverse is less than they expect, rather than being equivalent.