213 in 2004 is like Michael Jordan on the Washington Wizards or Joe Montana on the Kansas City Chiefs. Once at the top of their respective leagues, the two were relegated to becoming artifacts for bewildered fans looking to get one last glimpse before each retired.
213, the Long Beach-slash-Compton collection of Snoop Dogg, Warren G, and Nate Dogg, called so for their California area code, formed well before any commercial hit success or fame. Yet, their "debut" album "The Hard Way," which certainly did take the hard way in coming to fruition, only becomes available now, more than a decade after Snoop broke onto the scene with "Doggystyle." While the saying goes "better late than never," and while that certainly does apply here, the trio deliver a solid attempt at regaining some of that missing West Coast gangsta boogie but will not possibly impress those expecting 213 to perform as they did in the early-'90s.
The Fred Wreck-produced "Intro" to "The Hard Way" unfortunately contains the only Fred Wreck contribution to the album, as he captures the bouncy West Coast feel of yesteryear behind phone conversations of a confused 213 group. The biggest problem begins here for 213 with the production aspects of "The Hard Way," which sees Warren G pass up the opportunity to G-funk the album out in favor of others that succeed marginally but fail to truly capture the head-nodding, hydraulic-popping sound of the West Coast.
DJ Hi-Tek's "Twist Yo Body," a piano-banging ode to partying, drinking, girls, and all of the other usual 213 topics, works well as Snoop and Warren G surround a colorful and catchy Nate Dogg jingle to get the party jumping. The mellowed-out vibes of Kanye West's production on "Another Summer," in combination with Snoop's very melodic summer vibe, just screams for convertible tops to come down, barbecues to get fired up, and the volleyball courts to get jumping again. The DJ Pooh creation “Groupie Luv” also bounces with the flair of a 213 track and proves that the boys “still don’t love these h-es!”
Nate Dogg captures the low-riding, cruising-the-boulevard mood of "MLK," despite lackluster verses from Snoop and Warren G, and the heartfelt performances of all three (especially Nate's catchy hook) on "Appreciation" give proof of the sweet music that can escalate from these three when their chemistry is flowing.
Too often on "The Hard Way," however, the production fails 213 and Snoop resorts to his modern-day rhyme scheme and flow (thankfully, the -izzles have been packed away though), Warren G drops forgettable verses, and Nate is left out to dry in his attempts to save the song. "Lonely Girl," "Lil Girl," and "My Dirty Ho" essentially all turn into similar sounding "pimp-my-girl" tracks that, without Nate Dogg, would easily be considered terrible West Coast attempts and reasons to further write the death certificate up for West Coast music as hip-hop once knew it.
Elsewhere, 213 chooses repetitive topics that are either unoriginal or just plain boring, as is the case on the Rick James-influenced weed anthem "Mary Jane" or the ode to the "Joysticc," which comes across as just plain repulsive to those that remember the old "balls out" Snoop of circa-1993. "Ups & Downs," the track furthest from West Coast production, has the group discussing the "ups and downs" of life as if they ARE circa-1993, despite the fact that much of hip-hop has seen the three of these artists grow and develop into the entertainers that they are today (i.e. more ups than downs).
The true gem of the entire 213 album though, and the member that holds "The Hard Way" together, is undoubtedly the always smooth but naughty Nate Dogg. "Hard Way" sees Nate flash back to his roots singing hooks that include lyrics like, "I'll be your daddy, Be what you wanna be, Be sure and give the cheddar to me" (“Lonely Girl”). Nate's longevity and skill has allowed him to branch out into various other artists' songs, but "ain't no party like a West Coast party" rings true primarily because of an infectious Nate Dogg hook.
Sports fans choose to remember Michael Jordan's shot to beat the Utah Jazz rather than his hobbling performances as a Wizard. They will also always remember Montana-to-Clark in the end zone despite his days as a Chief. Unfortunately, 213 did music "the hard way" and gave hip-hop nothing to compare their debut album, "The Hard Way," with. Still, hip-hop fans will somehow just know that "The Hard Way" does not measure up to whatever 213 would have contributed to record during Jordan's first reign in Chicago. And, trust them, that's no bull.