Back in 1994, I remember hearing an edited version of "Regulate" and really liking it. I was only nine-and-a-half then, so I had no idea what the song was really about (a good thing at that age!), but the melody, beats, and flow were just a delight to the ears (I still have it memorized word-for-word). Later that year, I also heard a sanitized version of the entire Regulate album, and I memorized "Do You See" and "This D.J." with similar enthusiasm (I still like singing along to them, incidentally - oddly enough, Warren G and I somehow sound somewhat alike, I kid you not).
Few people know much about Warren G outside of those hits, and part of the reason is he's just not a compelling rapper in his own right. However, he does have a gifted ear as a producer, and further investigation into his catalog is worthwhile for this reason alone. So, while I Want It All (1999) may not be quite up there with Regulate, it's actually not a throwaway album. In fact, Warren G seems to realize he's not a great emcee, so predictably this album is littered with collaborations. Some of these work, especially appearances by Snoop Dogg and Nate Dogg, while others tend to fall short. Again, though, the redeeming value here isn't so much the lyrics but the *overall sound*.
One great example of sound-over-lyrical-substance is the title track. A smooth piano beat, relaxed atmosphere, and lively horns make for a catchy, optimistic, fun, and even classy-sounding tune, never mind that it's just a mindless celebration of materialistic living. Similar is the perfectly-named "Dope Beat," an easygoing, classic G-funk-styled rap where Warren G's reserved flow fits well with the fluid, mid-tempo pacing, even if it's all too easy to tune out his pedestrian 'hood tales.
Not that I Want It All is completely devoid of more thoughtful moments. Even the laconic and party-loving Snoop Dogg gets unusually introspective on "You Never Know," considering how his life may affect his family: "Spend time with my kids on the weekdays / And I holler at my momma and my grandma on the threeway / She say, If you do right, baby boy, I promise you live a long life / I can't argue / I try hard to not blast n*ggas / I walk past n*ggas with my head up to the sky." Later, the gently sung chorus ponders the uncertainty of life: "You never know where this road's gonna take you / Got to be strong / You got to hold on / 'Cause you never know, where this life's gonna lead you / Just hold on / You never know." It's followed by "My Momma," which - while not anywhere near as touching as 2Pac's legendary mother tribute - is heartfelt enough, and it also includes shout-outs to Warren G's father and other family members. As usual, it's quite well-produced, too, with a driving bass line and some old school '70s R&B touches. Just one little side observation - his momma's advice to "quit smoking weed" obviously went unheeded, what with all the other tracks where Warren tokes the joint with gusto. Whoops - sorry, momma?
Elsewhere, other worthy songs include "Gangsta Love," "Why Oh Why," "World Wide Ryders," and "Game Don't Wait." "Gangsta Love" is a nice paradox of laid-back synthesizers with more hard-hitting beats, which more than make up for some pretty embarrassing lyrics (just for the record: RBX's "more naughtier [Nadia] than Comaneci" - almost clever, were it not for the fact that the word "naughtier" makes the inclusion of "more" redundant; Warren G rhyming "Yukon" with "puke on," for real; and Kurupt using the word "n*gga" no less than *fourteen* times in his two brief appearances). The driving piano beat of "Why Oh Why" is another highlight, and the melodic chorus calls to mind how the love of money is the root of all evil as Warren G answers the question of "why oh why do we live a dangerous life, it's just a gangsta life it is?" with "it's only for the money." Less intense, "World Wide Ryders" is mellow and slick with a sensuous bass line and Spanish guitar licks, making it a perfect late night jam. Finally, "Game Don't Wait" stands out due to the lilting, tonally pleasant production, and Snoop and Nate Dogg do it no disservice by telling stories about both the hardships and joys of the rap and street game.
Admittedly, the album *is* a bit bloated: there's a pointless intro, a pointless outro, and a few tunes that are just much less inspired than the rest. Take "Dollars Make Sense" - the beat is atypically awkward for a Warren G production, and the sloppy styles of Kurupt and Crucial Conflict do nothing to redeem it. "We Got That" may not have that kind of content, but it's a desperate attempt to hark back to the more violence-laden mid '90s G-funk rather than Warren G's typically milder take on the genre; Eve's gratuitous lyrics are stomach-wrenching in particular, and additional producers drive up the bombast level, lacking Warren G's finer touches. And the re-mix of the title track is needless - it's a tad too fast-paced this time around, not as smooth or subtle, and lacking the horns of the original.
How good is this album, then? Depends on what you want the most from hip-hop. If you're mostly about the message and the rhymes, you won't find much to get excited about on I Want It All. Late nineties rap has been criticized for over-focusing on the bling, and with albums like this, the criticism is pretty justified. However, personally, I give it 3.5 out of 5 stars because of the ear candy - Warren G has a great talent for artfully blending together sound textures, whether he's dealing with melody, rhythm, or atmosphere, and those are the things to which I am most sensitive as a listener. I say: bring on the gangsta synesthesia, bling or not.