Following the surprise multiplatinum success of his classic 1994 debut Regulate...G Funk Era, Warren G sat back and watched the g-funk genre he helped originate explode. Outside of some production work and scattered guest appearances, Warren was relatively quiet for a full three years, finally dropping the follow-up, "Take a Look Over Your Shoulder (Reality)" in 1997. People seem to be pretty split in their opinions on this album, and I think that's because people were hoping for another Regulate...G Funk Era. That album was an ingenious blend of simple yet catchy, low-fi, and sunny, soulful beats teamed with fun raps. They were so beautifully laidback and made for perfect chilled-out listening. His raps are almost as appealing as his incredible production because he's so real; he seems more like a regular guy than any other Long Beach gangsta rapper. His raps are somewhere between talking and rapping, and his singing is somewhere between rapping and singing. So on this album, rather than just try to duplicate his debut with a sound that had been tiredly imitated for the previous three years, Warren instead took an admirably artistic route and made a very different album. "Take a Look" is pretty experimental, drawing from a more diverse range of influences. The beats are more dense than they were on his debut, often using a fuller range of instrumentation rather than the simple arrangement of synths, bass, and light sampling. He's really inventive a lot of the time, and it's cool. A lot of the music borders closer to R&B than rap, it's definitley hookier, and there are some more obvious singles. One of the coolest things I like about this album is how he reworks famous songs. For instance, his spirited version of Eric Clapton and Bob Marley's "I Shot the Sheriff" is surprisingly successful. He's looking beyond hip hop on "Take a Look," and the result is beautiful.
The one big similarity between this and his debut is the result of the production. These beats are literally the smoothest around. I don't know how he does it, but every gorgeous beat on "Take a Look" is so chilled out and relaxing that it makes for the ultimate summertime or late-night listening. The pure funk and smooth instrumentals just make you feel good. In that way, it is a lot like Regulate...G Funk Era. Lyrically, Warren is on a different page. Mostly, he just lets the beats do the talking, and much of the actual rapping is handled by his large list of guest rappers. There's a much higher-profile feeling to this project, and this is reflected in the lyrics and guests. Whereas his first album featured a small crew of underground Long Beach artists, "Take a Look" has a few more A-list MCs. Unfortunately, Warren would learn the hard way just like his labelmates Jayo Felony, the Dove Shack, Twinz, South Central Cartel, and WC that Def Jam was completely incapable or unwilling to promote its West Coast artists, and the lack of publicity led to disappointing sales for "Take a Look."
After the intro, the album begins with a Nate Dogg collabo called "Annie Mae." Over a quirky and bluesy beat, the duo speak of a woman they both knew, and this song is all-around great. "Smokin' Me Out" features a particularly soulful Ronald Isley, providing an awesome appearance to a beautiful production, the hook is awesome. He kicks some nice lyrics on the cool "Reality," and Jayo Felony and Knee-Hi guest on the discretionary "Young Fun." A matured Mr. Malik, Bad Azz, and Perfec show up to collaborate on the memorable "What We Go Through." "We Brings Heat" has an awesome vibe and features Jah-Skilz and Twinz, Warren's proteges. "Transformers" is gorgeously relaxing, with a space-age hook, and the classic "Relax Ya Mind" follows in a similar fashion. "To All D.J.'s" is the weakest song on the album, the beat's a little too sparse and subject matter a bit uninspired. K9 and PC assume the rapping duties on the funky "Back Up," which is followed by another West Coast classic in "Can You Feel It." His cover of "I Shot the Sheriff" is ingenious, adding a g-funk twist to a classic standard, and Erick Sermon's EPMD remix is also great.
"Take a Look" is musically genius and very experimental and is really a joy to listen to for its phenomenal production. Warren G steps outside the g-funk box to help push his genre even further than it had been pushed before, extending into R&B and pop music for this album. Even ten years after its release, I find this album perfect to pop into the player just to chill and relax, especially in the summer. It's sad that it's out of print now, but as it's still widely available, I highly recommend it. Warren G is a musical genius, and I really can't get enough of his production, and if not for the sheer brilliance of his debut, I believe this would have been hailed as the quality music it is. No, it's not Regulate...G Funk Era, but nothing really is, and "Take a Look" is an underappreciated gem of hip hop.