Dogghouse records and its flagship act, tha Eastsidaz, at first admittedly seemed like a questionable venture on the part of Snoop Dogg back in 1999. After all, his reputation wasn't exactly on solid ground at the time, and his timing wasn't exactly ideal either -- West Coast rap in general had faltered ever since 2Pac's death. Yet despite the odds, everything worked out for Snoop. The debut Eastsidaz album didn't exactly set the charts on fire, but it did garner some respectable sales and, more importantly, it set the precedent for Snoop's post-No Limit sound: Battlecat and Meech Wells laid down the beats; Kokane, Nate Dogg, and Butch Cassidy sung the hooks; Snoop loomed above with his sticky-icky ad-libbing; and Goldie Loc and Tray Deee dropped the gangsta rhymes. Duces 'n Trays finds this sure-fire team of Cali crips returning a year and a half later, far more experienced and with a noticeably greater sense of camaraderie. In practically every way, Duces is a noticeably stronger album than its predecessor -- beats, rhymes, hooks, songwriting -- and it features even more talent with unlikely contributions from Mobb Deep, Hi-Tek, Lil' Mo, and Swizz Beatz. But it's the in-house talent that steals the show on Duces, in particular newcomer LaToiya Williams and the ubiquitous Kokane, two vocalists who offset the gruff rapping in nearly every one of the album's 20 songs with their singing. Furthermore, for every straight-ahead gangsta rap song here, there's an unexpected venture into rap-soul such as "So Low," where there's more singing than rapping. This balance between brash posturing and laid-back crooning seems to be Snoop's new sound, and you can't help but feel that it's an inevitable evolution for the '70s funk/soul-influenced West Coast sound. So even if Duces could use a few more hooks, it shows that Snoop is headed in the right direction. If Dogghouse can avoid inner strife and continue to blossom, it could realistically change the sound of West Coast rap just as Death Row did a decade earlier when Snoop was just a pup.
AllMusic Review by Jason Birchmeier