Like quoting John 3:16 on the back page of the CD booklet makes it gospel?
Various Artists - Snoop Dogg Presents Bible of Love (RCA Inspirational)
I get it. The sacred music divisions of multinational music media corporations don't vet for their artists' orthodoxy in pursuit of profit. Considering how apparently thinning profits of such corporations are nowadays, salary for an in-house theologian is among the last things the suits at RCA Inspirational are going to place into the company budget. Since commercial radio soul gospel is nigh exclusively the domain of the steeply downgraded word-faith/signs & wonders/new apostolic reformation African-American church culture, the requirement for Snoop's rapp hermeneutics and exegesis to be sound scripturally would only be at odds with the music's prime demographic.
Even so, the specter of a rapper with a quarter'century's history of less-than-wholesome artistry, who even last year profanely rhapsodized the glories of ganja with fellow marijuana lovers Method Man, Redman, and Cypress Hill's B-Real on "Mt. Kushmore, renders Snoop Dogg Presents The Bible of Love a particularly glaring nadir of gospel market gatekeepers' compromise. That it debuted at #1 on Billboard's gospel album sales chart can be in good measure attributed to the situation described at the end of the previous paragraph.
That is, of course, lest Calvin "Snoop (Doggy) Dogg" Broadus has had a miraculous conversion (but I repeat myself...!) and has forsaken the pharmakeia of marijuana, porn video producing, cussing in his music and otherwise demonstrated fruits that repentance would give him legitimacy as a gospel artist who is about the Gospel.
Regardless of where his eternal destiny yet lies, however, Dogg has compiled a largely musically worthwhile Bible Of Love*. But that's the double-edged sword of today's mainstream soul gospel: though there are obvious hetreodoxies of the types detailed above, it's often enough theologically generalized and merely inspirational enough to be unobjectionable to discerning listeners who wouldn't purposefully sit under the teaching of most of the the pastorate adjacent to the scene can still appreciate the aesthetic give-and-take between black vernacular music's definitely secular and ostensibly sacred sides.
That is to say, Bible often sounds like current adult r&b with lyrics that about God and the singers' relationship with Him. The singers gathered for the 32-track double-CD come not only from currently and historically big names in gospel proper (Fred Hammond, Marvin Sapp, Rance Allen, Mary Mary Mary, John P. Kee, Kim Burrell, Isaac Caree, TYye Tribbett, The Clark Sisters), but urban music performers with gospel backgrounds from multiple generations (Patti Labelle, Charlie Wilson, Jodeci's K-Ci, Mali Music, Faith Evans, Jazze Pha [say "jazzy fay"]) and other up-and-comers and under-the-radar dwellers from Snoop's own camp and elsewhere. If the big Doggy hosts parties in a commensurate manner to putting together a gospel album, attendees must leave well-fed and sufficiently entertained.
And there's copious entertainment value here, as well as some of a ministerial nature, too. Snoop's rapping contributions won't persuade anyone to believe he's been hanging with biblically astute lyricists in the form such as Shai Linne - or maybe even Lectrae - but the bars he drops, reminiscing about going to Sunday services with his granny and being and "brand new man" with his own church, choir and band (really?!) possess the same ingratiating appeal of his rhymes about gin & juice, dropping something while it's hot or, sign, mary jane. It's difficult not to enjoy his verbal dexterity, regardless the reality of his conversion.
Wisely, he lays off adding his own touch to the more traditional here, such as the Clarks' "Pure Gold," and Uncle Chucc & The Zion Messengers' quartet-styled workout, "Going Home." His additions to contributions by Allen, Hammond and Burrell, though, sound naturally complementary as has rapping on r&b singers' tracks starting far back as the late '80's new jack swing era. No Bible chapters have cracked gospel radio's weekly top 30 yet, but there's plenty of singles fodder; I suggest Tribbett's "You," Soopafly's "Praise Him," Wilson's "One More Day" (recalling his days fronting The Gap Band) and the Carree and Pha collaboration, "Changed."
One of Doggy Dogg's collaborators merits special note. The man born Anthony Williams II hasn't been hanging in gospel circles since he stopped calling himself Tonex and adopted the alias of B. Slade around the turn of the current decade. As Tonex, he went from a stylistically eclectic indie label favorite to a major label headliner whose '04 concert album, Out The Box**, went gold. His name change coincided with the dissolution of his marriage and coming out as homosexual. Black gospel has a history of sexual transgressives of both genders closeted to varying degrees. So, it's therefore difficult to ascertain what Snoop's imprimatur of him in a Gospel context means. On the last of Slade's three (!) contributions, also Bible's final and lengthiest selection, the glitchily loping "Words Are Few,"*** both he and his benefactor voice repentance for sundry sins, but...who knows? To many of the gospel (music) faithful, the answer may not matter.
Despite the wholly not reassuring presence of what sounds like a vocal sample from wholly-unorthodox-yet-perennially-popular preacher T.D. Jakes on one track, my hope is Bible Of Love is the product of one of hip-hop's most endurable M.C.'s having a truly salvific change of heart and mind through the truly biblical Christ...and the newness of his faith has left some kinks doctrinal untangled. Barring that, he's nonetheless responsible for pulling together a highly enjoyable album musically. Weighing my doubts and hopes, I give it...
-Jamie Lee Rake
*Here's to not holding my breath on a prequel entitled Bible Of Wrath?
**Even at the peak of his popularity, Tonex was problematic for other reasons. In a spoken word interlude during one Out The Box song, he declared that a person can't be saved without speaking in tongues. uh, yeah...NO!
***Excised of a racial epithet and drug reference from Snoop, showing off a swell singing voice, here's the video for those who want to judge for themselves...